There is rest; and there is excuse. For the most part, what the modern person considers light activity is rest. What the modern person considers modest activity is still rest. What the modern person considers high activity is probably still rest.
Let me paint a rest day - Yesterday, I slept in until almost 5am. I did cardio and reviewed clients notes. My wife made breakfast, we cleaned around the house, and my kids did basic lessons for 20 minutes. We all played some games and then got ready for the day. We took them to the gym to play in the Kids Club so we could get a “light” workout before their gymnastics classes at another facility. After their classes, we went home for lunch, and some down time. My wife did food and dishes. I changed all the bedding. The kids played games and rode bikes. I started some more laundry. My wife rested. I took a nap. Afterward, we partied. My son and I did an 8 mile bike ride around one of the lakes. When we got back, I picked up groceries while my wife began dinner. Everyone got showered, had dinner, did dishes, put away laundry, flossed and brushed, and cuddled on the couch watching some shows. We got the kids into bed. We hung out for a bit. Rotated more laundry.
That’s rest. I’m 100 percent recovered. What people do in the developing world where they walk 10 miles to find water may not even be a high activity day for them. Don’t delude yourself. Fat cells don’t take an off day. And cell waste and lymph don’t move themselves. Muscle contraction is indispensable.
Less Than 10% of The Populace Has The Skeletal Lengths to Look Like Frame #1; They Improperly Instruct The Other 90% How to Squat
“Feet at hip width, torso upright, chin up, knees behind toes,” they bark. It’s a well-intentioned set of cues... which work for exactly no one. That isn’t entirely fair. They work for a little less than 1 out of 10 people. That same 1 out of 10 then tell the rest of us how to squat, even though it is a physical impossibility for the other 9 out of 10.
Anthropometry. If your coach doesn’t know this word and acutely understand variable level lengths, he’s missing the fundamental tool in how different athletes should move and train. There are many skeletons which cannot even approximate certain positions.
I have a client who is 5 inches shorter than I am, but her ASIS (top front of hip bone) is 2 inches higher. I have a long torso. She has a short torso. There is no amount of effort which will make us look similar in a squat. A lot of coaches don’t know this. It isn’t an issue of muscle tightness, muscle insertion, fiber type, strength, injury history, or skill. Our skeletons CANNOT squat the same way.
In fact, the look of a squat is almost entirely immaterial. There are much more important cues with feel, activation, bracing. These are far more important than what it “looks like.” That’s why Olympic lifting training facilities don’t even have mirrors. Your squat doesn’t need to look like anything. But it does need to feel like something.
Anthropometry is a fascinating subject. It helps us explain why some athletes train far smarter and harder than others, only to lose to less dedicated opponents. It’s why people might call a waify 160lb male “built” if he has a 16 inch collarbone and then NOT call a heavily-muscled 240lb male “built” if he has a 10 inch collarbone. No amount of training can overcome certain skeletal ratios. Some levers define performance. Some levers create an illusion of impressive build. The levers won’t change.
Every squat is going to look different. Every exercise is going to look different in different bodies. Mostly, people must assume a wider than hip stance, and bow much farther forward than they tend to think is prudent for a squat. But then there are a handful of sensory feedbacks which are universal:
Feel glutes control your squat. They must contract powerfully. Feel knees push away from each other. Low lats and hamstrings must be engaged. Feet grab the floor. With breath held, going into the bottom of the squat will feel MORE stable and stronger. These bladders of air we call lungs help brace the torso and produce more force-producing tension.
There is a lot of additional nuance here with ranges, ankle mechanics, spinal position change, etc. Directives around forward knee position are largely overblown. But again, a lot of that is “looks.” You can jut the knee forward and jam it into crazy ranges of motion if you stay aware of proper feel.
We want to focus on feel. What I’ve discovered is that as people become increasingly skillful with replicating feel, they become more reliably athletic. That is, someone whose form looks good doesn’t necessarily have any lower risk of back injury, irritation, and aggravation. But someone whose form looks bad while they have proper activation, breathing, and sequencing, doesn’t get hurt. I have clients who’ve become so skilled with the feel that their risk of injury is almost nil. We could put 1000lbs on the bar. It’ll either move or it won’t. But they won’t they get hurt.
People who haven’t studied anthropometry can’t make this claim, because they’re still stuck in a looks-dictated paradigm. I don’t care about the look. Do you feel the appropriate feedback? No. Then you’re unsafe no matter how good you look. Yes. Then you’re safe no matter how bad you look.
1 Week Since Knee Injection:
PROinflammatory is a whole different world from ANTIinflammatory. PROinflammatory injections address pathology. ANTIinflammtory injections (and drugs) reduce some symptoms, but may worsen the overriding situation.
I’ve still got some bruising and swelling, which is a sign of growth and continued repair. As far as I can tell, though, I’m pretty unrestricted, as this is the greatest depth of sissy squat (8 inch deficit) I’ve ever done (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/ByeLsTlDz-f/). No locking, dislocation or irritation.
This particular exercise seems to me to be the best of several worlds: yogic, mobilization, strength, and conditioning. For those interested, begin shallow. Ensure you tuck the hips into posterior pelvic tilt, and keep them forward. Keep the quads tense, not lax. In time, your feet, toes, and quads (and sundry other structures) will endure greater tension and range.
To commemorate his WWII arrival on the shores of Normandy 75 years prior, Tom Rice jumped out of the sky into Northern France. Meanwhile, some 30-something somewhere is whining about “getting old” and straining an ankle stepping out of his Camry.
“Old” is a state of mind. Time passes. But how strong or how weak our bodies become is coming directly from our choices about how to live.
It was his first day of the big thrill rides. He was juuust over 48 inches tall. Thus, as he looked around, he couldn’t see lots of kids his size going on the big rides. He was THE smallest one. He looked at me.
Me: what’s up, buddy?
E: I’m kinda shy.
E: yeah, like a little nervous.
Me: ah. That’ll usually build until you go down the first hill; then it’s over. Plus, we don’t have to go now. We can go to the water park now.
E: no, it’s ok. I’ll ride now. I’m getting over it.
“I’m getting over it,” he said. Apprehension for the unknown, the perceived threat, the imagined fear - at 7 years old, he’s getting over it. I marveled at him. And the nervousness never grew. That was the peak. He really did get over it even before getting on any of the big rides.
Imagine that. Imagine if you were getting over your emotional baggage, if the threats of the future or the scars of the past didn’t drive your psychological state, your healthy behaviors or lack thereof, your decision-making. Self-sabotage would evaporate. Challenges would be only what they literally are and not a modicum more.
If only imagining, imagine it. Imagine getting over it. Imagine reframing it in order to get over it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stepping forward, moving on, letting go, forgiving, forgetting, starting a new chapter, closing old ones, quitting punishing yourself with repeatedly dredging up pain which might have never been as bad as you thought. Sometimes it’s not so simple. But think of it as a skill which you can train, practice, improve: getting over it.
This is one of those clients who reinforces for you that just about anything truly is possible. He’s lost 60lbs, gained an outrageous amount of strength and athleticism, is off of medications. And here, he is closing in on the 300lb mark for Hatfield split stance (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/ByXkEKBjT8j/).
A couple months ago, he showed up for a half marathon; his skiing ability has surged in the past few years; and he started for the first time this year on snowboarding; and he has a forthcoming FULL MARATHON.
Strength is the key. All else is borne out of it. And it’s never too late to start.
The primary mechanical action of the rectus abdominis isn’t debated. It brings the rib cage and pelvis CLOSER together, invoking a position called spinal or trunk flexion. I have actually searched to find one single photo of one famous fitness personality who has ever once performed a plank with a flexed trunk instead of an extended spine. I’m still searching.
Every infomercial creator, every workout video series, every time, the way they personally perform “abs” or the way they coach “abs” is almost exclusively with an extended spine. When they are in a plank, the back looks like the letter “u”. When they are lying on their backs for leg raise or some such movement, there’s a visible space under the section of the back between the hips and shoulder blades. These positions are not the action of the abs. This isn’t my opinion. Look up the defined action of the rectus abdominis in any legitimate textbook or, heck, even on Wikipedia.
“They get results, so it can’t be THAT bad,” you may be thinking. Well, there are three logical fallacies embedded in that thought -
One: that thought is assuming something without considering the PERCENT effective outcome for highly marketed fitness programs. One thousand testimonials (if they are even real and not paid-for fakes) doesn’t rise to statistical significance if there were one million buyers/users. At the big box clubs, the stats are that at least one out of ten people doing something wrong will still succeed in the short term by accident. So, if a famous program has a hit rate of one in a thousand (1,000 out of 1,000,000 users), they are demonstrably sabotaging even people who would’ve succeeded just by moving their bodies more.
Two: connected to the first is something called sample/survivor bias. We see people who survived bad methodology and we incorrectly attribute success to that defective program. We don’t get to see all the injured people. Or, if we consider the injured people, we lay the blame at their feet for “using bad form.” Yet, as I just stated, the way core exercises are popularly taught is bad form. The spine is supposed to flex when loading abs. Technically, the success testimonials are probably people who didn’t follow the instructions well. And the injured people likely did execute the program as instructed.
Three: if you lookup forums for injuries from popular fitness videos, you’ll find there are numerically far more people on these than all of the showcased success stories combined. And of course this is the case, because, as I stated, the primary mechanical action of the rectus abdominis is not a controversial topic among people educated on exercise science and physiology.
For advanced movement practitioners, we are correcting this in people all the time. Even for high level athletes I coach, abs are excessively long and hip flexors/low back are excessively short. It’s a pandemic. And even newbie trainers and coaches who pay attention can see this propensity. The origin of psoas major (a hip flexor) is the lumbar spine. As people work hip flexion while the back is hyperextended, the risk of pain, irritation and injury go up. The way even decent coaches teach sprinting, jumping, squat and other structural lifts amplifies this imbalance. The vast majority of exercise tweaks and injuries could’ve been avoided if popular voices in the fitness world understood neutral ranges, sequential activation, and non-debated muscle action.
Any fool can throw together a series of movements which get people to sweat. Taking years to obsess about biomechanics and how to prevent or troubleshoot orthopedic issues is a whole other domain of expertise. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any of the famous fitness personalities took that time to develop professionally before cobbling together a well-marketed workout series.
The best way to predict the future is to invent it. - Alan Kay
This works both ways, both from empowerment and disempowerment.
At one location where I worked, there was a guy who, before he even finished new hire orientation, said he was going to set every performance record at that facility. Everyone looked at him like “who does this jerk think he is?” Then he did it, both personally and his recruits/hires created programs which hadn’t even existed there before. The same guy used to say, “I WILL be 260lbs by end of winter,” and then he’d blow up in size and strength precisely as predicted. On the other side of it, he’d say, “I will be 5% bodyfat by end of summer;” and then he would be.
People say, “this work environment is going to destroy me.” Then they’re defeated and exhausted. They say, “with upcoming stress, I won’t be able to __________ .” Then they aren’t. They say, “this system won’t let someone like me get ahead in the world.” And then they don’t.
No magic. Some call it self-fulfilling prophecy. Some call it manifestation. Norman Vincent Peale called it “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Napoleon Hill called it “Think And Grow Rich.” Paulo Coelho called it “The Alchemist.” Rhonda Byrne called it “The Secret.” A scientist like Alan Kay calls it invention, innovation, engineering, creation.
Sure. Life goes sideways. The unexpected perturbs your plans, your desires, your commitment. This is not a new human experience, by the way. Every person you’ve ever looked at in awe or whose achievement you revered had a road with many pot holes. Maybe they didn’t even have a road, when you do. Maybe they didn’t have a scholarship, when you did. Maybe they didn’t have a single helping hand, while you’ve had many.
I used to roll my eyes too. I still do, when someone talks “can do” versus “can’t do” attitudes. But through coaching thousands of hours I’ve found another sneakier “can’t do” attitude. It’s called “try.” Try? You’re going to “try” to make it to your kid’s school performance? You’re going to “try” to make it to work on time? You’re going to “try” to stress less? You’re going to “try” to eat like a grown adult?
I get it. We’ve promised before, only to find something in our way: traffic, road construction, sleep deprivation, overwhelm. We don’t want to break a promise again. So we “try” instead. But the loss of agency is palpable.
I enjoyed Precision Nutrition’s contribution to the coaching community. They put an emphasis on lowering the bar of sequential goals, such that “try” can become a thing of the past. The clients stop saying “I’ll try.” They change the language to “I’m confident I will.” Instead of trying to do anything, it’s a matter of committing to execution. We just lower the ask, so the imposition doesn’t feel too great.
It’s a solid tactic, but insufficient I’ve found. Additionally, there has to be an infectious change in the person’s worldview, a painfully high self-awareness about their self-sabotaging triggers. Then we drive in the opposite direction. This IS life invention.
Put it however you like: you’re the driver, the captain, the pilot. When you drive a car, do you “try” to avoid driving directly into a brick wall? No. You just don’t. Another driver might make it happen, but that’s incredibly unlikely and infrequent. If you’re a captain, do you “try” to avoid sailing through the harbor and running the ship aground? No. You just don’t. A technical malfunction might make it occur, but rarely. When you pilot a plane, do you “try” to not nosedive into a mountain? No. You just don’t. Conditions do make this possible, but seldom.
Even in the very rare circumstances which thwart an otherwise-uneventful drive, cruise, flight, there were MANY events leading up to the crisis. And at each checkpoint, we have the opportunity to lower risk and raise chances of success.
Likewise with any endeavor in life, there are inescapable tragedies and some unavoidable disadvantages. That’s doesn’t stop invention. The greater the challenge, the greater the inventor.
They were high in the remote mountains among 19 of 24 known gorillas in that region. The guide made it very clear to NEVER point at these great apes. Why? Some are 49 years old or so, and they remember when a human finger pointing at their group marked the moment before a gunshot from poachers. To them, a point means “threat” even all these decades later.
Like a tale Jane Goodall might tell, two of my newer clients who are in their 70s booked this fascinating trip where they came within just a few feet of gorillas in the wild. They returned this past week, telling me all about the physical demand of the hike (it started at over 7500 feet and goes UP) and how our training had made it possible for them. The gorillas have been studying us for decades, teaching each other about us, and they know quite well who stands to threaten and who doesn’t. Even so, former trauma drives their emotional response all these years later.
I think about that Pavlovian switch, that trauma trigger in all of us. Many years later, when we’re basically over it, we are not over it. We see it in abused children whose telomeres shorten as if they were much older. We see it in hurt people hurting people. I see it in fitness endeavors wherein once people get a taste of imposition, a sense of former sacrifice, a whisper of prior failures, the non-conscious response is just like if someone points at these gorillas. Ire and pain and irrational defenses pop up to destroy. Nobody wins.
Again, this is why I coach against the excitement of rapid transformations. That momentary euphoria WILL give way, at which point all we have left is a sense of “doing too much.” Instead, ask yourself a critical question: what WILL I do to my health and fitness benefit FOREVER? The emotional response you get should dictate your next steps. Just the thought of “forever” gets a balking shudder from most people. Good. Acknowledge it. Don’t ignore it.
Now, what “forever” practice doesn’t get that shudder? Usually, it’s very minimal. It may ever seem laughably minimal. But in the same way that unarmed 100-250lb peaceful humans pose no rational threat, no perceived threat, to hulking behemoth creatures with 10 times our strength, a minimal practice doesn’t trigger the trauma response in you. Once discovered, still tread lightly, because the difference between a beautiful engagement and an effort gone wrong may be a simple pointing finger.
The signal from depletion in the human body triggers a supra-commensurate response. That is, as you drop blood sugar and leptin (this is before you’ve reached the body fat to be burned) the body desires to reclaim all of that energy PLUS more. Keep in mind, the hunger signal is usually hitting you before or just as you start burning fat.
A recent joint study by Yale and Harvard uncovered how and where the effect transpires: https://news.yale.edu/…/yale-led-study-reveals-biology-lept…
One of the first responses is in the brain. Your brain is ready to gain energy the moment you make the body lose energy. This is why the calories-in/calories-out model of weight loss in American society has been an abject failure in 100% of long-term weight loss studies. Wantonly depleting the body without addressing the brain’s perceived needs WILL ALWAYS FAIL in the long run.
We have to be smarter than our survival machine drive. This requires some awareness about hormonal cascades. “Move more/eat less” says nothing about mental health or neurological function; therefore it says nothing. Nothing at all.
In my career over the course of the past 15 years, I’ve seen too many short-term successes to count. It’s in the thousands. When I was at Bally’s, I met almost every active member and every new member (and many more prospective members) at several clubs from 2004-2010. Six years times twelve months times eighty (low ball estimate) per month is 5,760. At lifetime, I met a lot more. My first five days I collected a list of 250 names among the regular gym-goers. I didn’t allow myself to leave for the day until I’d met 50 new people and gathered some information about them. I came to observe most of the 4,000 active members at one club, and kept an eye on the methodology of my peers who collectively trained over 1,000 clients. In the independent sphere, I’ve met five to ten new people per month for the past six-and-a-half years while coaching around 100 different individuals. On the absolute low end, I’ve seen up close over 10,000 people’s journeys.
It could be 20,000. It doesn’t matter. What matters is among these, there were thousands of short-term successes. Short-term successes are common. The absolute worst trainers on earth have tons of these. All the transformations you see on informercials are the rule, not the exception. Ten year success? You may not know a single one. You certainly haven’t seen one on an infomercial or advertisement. I have many. I have peers who have many. But that’s because we look at sustainability.
Inevitably, people are confronted with mental health and brain health. Depletion isn’t scalable. Sure, you can just starve and sweat your butt off for a few days, a few weeks, maybe a few months. But that brain signal of repletion is pounding louder every day that you don’t manage it.
What’s the takeaway? Primarily, I want to say that you must carefully watch the depletion. This can be managed through trace minerals and vitamins. But in the end, you want to think about the whole effort like you are trying to steal from a heavily fortified and secure facility. You cannot just take it all. You must take tiny increments which won’t set off as many alarms. This takes time. This takes patience. This take planning. This take precision. This takes a different mentality than the short-term excitement of transformation testimonials.
You can’t trust your brain in the moment. Because it is the regulator of depletion. You have to gently ask it to come along. You have to trick it. You have to be convincing and gradual. Depletion is tenuous.