When looking at this photo, how many of you know that he still has 5-10lbs of subcutaneous fat he could cut, and easily yet another 5-10lbs of water to shed? In fact, look up some of his other photos (Helmut Strebl) and you’ll see he has gotten grainier than this wherein you can see the vertical fiber lines in the abs. Sadly, most people look at a world-class endurance athlete who is 5-8 percentage points fatter than this guy and think, “THAT is as lean as humanly possible.” No. Not even close. Runners and cyclists are thin, certainly compared to couch potato standards. But the top pros in the world aren’t even remotely close to lean by even mid-level bodybuilding standards.
To be fair, all of this is more on the extreme end of things. However, my wonder is why we aren’t interested in what’s actually humanly possible.
It’s a problem. When you think you have 20lbs to lose, it’s probably more like 60. When you admit to needing to lose 100lbs, it’s probably more like 160. When people are excited about 15-20lbs lost, that’s fine and all, but usually this is simply a loss of inflammatory water retention. After that is when the work BEGINS. If you’re already thinking the inflammation management was “hard,” you’re defeated before you’ve even begun.
When you’ve worked in a high traffic gym environment, you’ve logged maybe 10,000 skinfold caliper measurements in the first 5-6 years. When you’ve observed thousands of bodpod results, underwater weigh ins, dexa scans, InBody measurements, then, and ONLY then, do you know what is going on with composition. Influencers and online coaches who’ve never even pinched one person don’t know this. Regular people who’ve administered zero body fat assessments don’t know this. Most of the time people are opining on percents and figures with literally no real point of reference. Maybe they’ve received one of these tests. Cute. Maybe they caught a YouTube video. Awe. That’s sweet. Maybe they heard some pundits on TV. Isn’t that precious?
What is “lean”? It’s way further than you currently imagine. And it’s totally possible.
A client said this to me yesterday and it hit harder than usual. She had so much gratitude for NOT devolving. Though she wanted to have lost more weight by this point in her journey, SHE reminded ME that if she had given up any time in the past few years she would now be disabled.
The next day (today) a different client said, “if it weren’t for working with you, I’d be in pain every day.” Good lord. These people get it. This is what fitness is really all about. It’s not about abs. It’s not even about weight loss. It’s about striving for the best version of yourself at whatever point you are and with whatever capacity you realistically can at that point. Pain-free and physically capable sounds good to me.
I’ve been in the fitness industry long enough to see people who made really good progress at one point throw it all away. They gave up because they didn’t think they were losing enough weight; and they are now (or soon will be) invalids. People who could run, jump, rep out burpees and pushups, and deadlift hundreds of pounds are sedentary, gaining weight, and accelerating their aging. People who not long ago were improving are now constantly worsening. Why did they choose this? Because they weren’t getting lean enough fast enough. Because they bought into the marketing noise everywhere. Because they’re distracted by the superficiality. It sounds ludicrous, but it’s sadly very common. Bad trades are everywhere. We throw away our blessings in hand because we demand a different one out of hand.
Don’t give up. In even the most frustrating moments, remember that you are only as far as you are because of your efforts. Would it be nice to be further? Of course. Always. But that will never happen if you cease to persist.
Conventional exercise can hold you back. With lifts or even cardio selection, skeletal lengths matter. A man with a long torso and short wingspan could be completely wasting time training a lot of standard deadlift. A more common example would be how upright cycling keeps the hip in a closed and flexed position, which isn't really good for any body type, though some can tolerate it better than others. At some point, everyone needs to encounter advantageous leverage for PROGRESS. In health, intensity matters. No matter who you are, you have type 2 muscle fibers; so a lot of people are wasting a lot of time on cardio and light weights. If you always avoid intensities that you can only endure for 5, 15, 40 seconds, then you are getting weaker. No opinion here. It’s biology.
Once you embrace this reality, however, you still have to find lifts and exercises that jive with your build, your skeletal bone lengths, your strengths. I recommend sooner than later. I have increasingly learned to “reward” myself with lifts like this weighted hip thrust (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CF2L7MGn5nL/), where I’m “naturally” good or strong at them. I didn’t even know you could put enough weight on a ceramic competition bar to make it flex; NOW, I do 21 reps. The first 20 years of working out, I avoided most movements where I was “good”, not really taking into account that some lifts I might always be “bad” at because of factors which cannot be changed. You cannot change your ratio of reach to torso length to femur length to tibia/fibula length. Some ratios just straight up don't work for many versions of many exercises.
People burn up lots of time pursuing fitness in a way that doesn’t fit them. I know this firsthand, as coach and as client. People with the wrong levers pursue the wrong activity. People with the wrong muscle fiber makeup train loads and ranges which don’t work. People who are overtired and stressed train too much volume and too long of walks/workouts. Weak people avoid strengthening. Adults with low activity eat carbohydrates. And worst of all, heavy people copy light people.
Drug abuse for “fitness” is out of control. I want people to really understand what’s going on here. Humans have always been impatient with unrealistic expectations. But there is something different in the past few years. Listen to this panel (excerpt here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CFjxw5qFUTI/).Everything you see is fake. Even if you rationally “know” that, you’re still unconsciously influenced. Clients will depressingly report that they hit a plateau or had an energy downtick in the past week. Uh... Yeah. THAT is normal. That is real. Heck, that is healthy.
Starting maybe four years ago, just regular people with no foundation, no discipline, and zero background will come in and say, “I want to get my pro card.” THIS is new. They’ll say, “I want to look like this [gesturing to some photo].” Even that person didn’t look like that when they took the photo. In the real world, anything worth achieving took years. YEARS. Not months. Not weeks. Not days. Even genetic freaks who maybe started training hard a year or two ago reaped the benefit of being a genetic freak for the prior two or three decades. We are witnessing ACCUMULATED benefit and outcome, IF we are witnessing anything at all.
At the many gyms and facilities where I worked and visited, ten to fifteen years ago, men and women of a certain age would train consistently hard for years and think, “man, I’m doing pretty well compared to my former self.” Nowadays, they’re comparing themselves to the visual look of twenty-four-year-old photoshopped drug abusers.
I'm not exactly sure how else to drive this home. Train for the RIGHT reasons. Train with REALISTIC expectations. Train for life. Train for health. Train with a healthy mindset.
As the panel says, you now have guys in their twenties with organ failure. Beginners are taking 10-12 different drugs in superhuman dosing. I’ve seen some execs, competitors, and models whom I formerly coached scoff at my slow-and-steady methodology. They go off to work with some nouveau “coach” only to get injured, lose their health prospects, and never again look as good as when I was just having them put in the work. People want fake. And they’re getting precisely what they bargained for.
People are making a very bad trade. I’m not averse to all medication. I’m not even averse to targeted drug use anymore, though I was strongly critical of it and discouraging of it for most of my professional career in the fitness industry. Informed adults should be able to weigh costs and benefits and make intelligent personal decisions. But that isn’t what’s happening. Laypeople with ZERO understanding of physiology are entering the fitness industry with the sole intent of becoming renowned as soon as possible. And then, oftentimes, they are becoming the next expert or influencer, setting the tone to an even worse position.
The human mind is impressionable. So we must remain vigilant. If we subject our minds to continual lies, continual fake stimulus, continual unhealthy comparisons, we will end up at the wrong destination. The average person spends over two hours per day on social media: https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/ . That's at least fourteen hours per week being conditioned to think a certain way. We don't even realize it, but we're constantly being brainwashed into believing all kinds of nonsense. And what I've found is that the people who think they subject themselves to the most "balance" in perspectives actually tend to completely avoid even a few minutes of opposing views. It's not even a conspiracy. The algorithms on YouTube gradually move somewhat intelligent people toward mentally unstable conclusions (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/08/technology/youtube-radical.html).
I'd use the frog boiling analogy, but that analogy isn't true. Plus, the slippery slope in ideological radicalization has ample real world examples everywhere. Otherwise normal and good people soon find themselves storming Pizza shops (https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/dc-pizzagate-shooter-apologizes-in-letter/18235/ ), because they've allowed themselves to buy into the lies, not because there was any evidence or cogent argument, but rather they're subjecting themselves to so many hours of disinformation that the mind settles into thinking these delusions and fantasies are true. We are all seeing widespread delusion right now where making baseless fraud claims is popular, even though there isn't a single piece of evidence. The "evidence" is merely inside of people's imaginations. And they imagine it, because they place themselves inside an echo chamber of the same nonsense for at least two hours every day. Even one minute of contrary realism is too much for them, since the lies are persisting WHILE the losing party's own experts INSIST that this was THE most secure election in American history: https://www.cisa.gov/news/2020/11/12/joint-statement-elections-infrastructure-government-coordinating-council-election#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20November%203rd%20election%20was%20the%20most%20secure%20in%20American%20history.&text=All%20of%20the%20states%20with,benefit%20for%20security%20and%20resilience..
As such, there are more lost people than ever. There are more radical zealots than ever. There are more extremists than ever. I might be one or become one. You might be one or become one. Only when we're willing to consider that we've possibly been misled can we right the ship. Only when we're able to listen and consider AT LENGTH contrary perspective can we protect our minds from extremism. Only when we pause to consider our media diet, how much of each flavor we consume, do we get a reality check. In fitness, it's no different. Our general understanding of fitness is lost, radical, zealous, and extremist. What we see and hear and "know" is based largely on drug abusing fakery and marketing campaigns. Realistic fitness is essentially absent in all of those hours of social media browsing. Healthy fitness is totally missing on the covers of magazines, headlines, influencer posts, and weight loss shows.
Thus, it's likely you've been radicalized to believe that fitness is what you see all the time, what you hear all the time. It's not. Fitness is what it's always been: capability. Build more capability. Don't lose capability. That's it. Everything else is overzealous extremism.
I hear this a lot. And personally I think it far more often. I’ve been missing the anterior wedge of my meniscus on my left knee since 2006, and since Lyme in 2014 my right knee has been tricky, to say the least.
Covering knee prehab and reparative protocols in an exhaustive manner on a blog post can’t be done. But suffice it to say that before you throw your pity party, do yourself a favor and learn foot/ankle dynamics, knee anatomy, and understand hip mechanics.
A few Sundays ago I fielded a distance coaching call with a guy who has had WORSENING outcome after meeting with physical therapists for the past 6 months. With ONE technique we got his knees “40% better” (his words), and in THAT SINGLE first time FaceTime session I got him to painlessly squat below parallel for the first time in over a year. No magic. No bullshit. Just understand anatomy and physiology.
Sometimes I lament the fact that I’ve had so many physical issues over the years. But the truth of the matter is because of personally dealing with and curing chronic pain, injuries, nerve issues, I will go toe-to-toe with any guru on planet earth. Watch these videos (https://www.instagram.com/p/CFeurQLHiiN/)o see Trx sissy French squat for 60 reps; Hatfield French squat 440 x 20; ATG Hatfield 550 x 3. And my knees suck!
Think of every rapid weight loss transformation or testimonial you've seen. Scroll through your memories of infomercials, advertisements, magazine covers, and marketing e-mails. Did you know that those are actually really common? They're so every-day that it's become comical to the point where people share memes like the photo above, and an onlooker might have to give the satire a second glance. Even though you've probably observed thousands of before-and-afters, ironically, you may still be thinking that they are rare or desirable. But they are neither. For about 16 years I've been professionally educating people on the big distractions in health and fitness. This one is perhaps the biggest.
Short-term success stories are actually the rule, not the exception. Every club, every boutique, every trainer, every workout video, has many MANY extreme transformations in the short term. There is nothing special or uncommon about this. In fact, this emphasis on excitement and rapid progress, it appears, causes long term failure. Long-term success stories, you'll find, you won't find.
Look up any statistic you want on the American public awareness of health and fitness, and its involvement in fitness programs and diets, and you will find that it is growing all the time. Every year the supplement industry grows. The fitness industry grows. The healthcare and pharmaceutical companies continue to expand dramatically. Yet, paradoxically, more people are unhealthy than ever. One in two American men and one in three American women will get a cancer diagnosis. If that weren't bad enough, Nepal and a handful of other countries in the world have a one in fifteen-hundred person incidence of cancer. So, this doesn't need to be the way we live. In fact, even within this country, the Amish have a 40-70% lower incidence of cancer than their non-Amish counterparts. Constant stimulation and incessant pursuit of excitement in general is rendering increasingly worse outcomes. And it isn't just that; more people think they aren't overweight than ever while concurrently obesity is at an all-time high.
Obviously, something is wrong. That something is an unwillingness to consider what an enjoyable sustainable healthy lifestyle will look like. It's called the long game. Predominantly the fitness industry pedals rapid transformation, sexy advertising, short-term focus, immediate gratification. Predominantly the consumer wants exactly the same. The answer, however, is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE. We have to find small changes which improve us, small changes which we can keep doing in perpetuity, small changes which add up to something big in the end. Right now most people aim for big initial changes, and these add up to degeneration and failure in the end.
I've written about this before here. This is a significant problem which almost no one is addressing, because there's money to be made by continuing to promote this fallacious narrative, and the consumer continues to be complicit in supporting products and services which have no basis in science or long term effectiveness.
To compound the problem, there's a false dichotomy which obscures a healthy way forward for the populace. You don't need to choose between throwing your hands up or being a fitness fanatic. There's this enormous chasm between the two which houses genuine health and realistic sustainability. We know that overeating and sedentary ambivalence isn't the answer. But the extreme opposite simply doesn't pan out either. Some people who are seemingly "fit" are even less healthy than their overweight counterparts. Being lean can certainly help fight a variety of risk factors; but excessive systemic stress in order to get and stay lean is more than a Faustian bargain. I've met with many former hard-dieters, exercise-purgers and physique competitors whose hormonal profile is shot; and they are having a tragic fight to even get to a normal body composition. Never mind that among the millions of people on earth who have incredibly high quality of life into their 90s and beyond, NONE are carrying mountains of muscle. We want to be strong. We want to retain and build lean tissue. But any extreme is a dice roll with costs; and the bill will come due. Any excess in body mass (even lean tissue) is additional organ demand. Longevity studies on lucid centenarians and supercentenarians find they have lower body mass. Long story short: we need to get smaller, but not via means which overstress or injure us.
It's been interesting to watch the trends of people attempting to do the right thing for their health. At first I was really pleased to see that boutique and specialty fitness programs had had the fastest growth in the fitness world by an enormous margin. They put to shame the combined efforts of all big box gyms; and they are increasingly eating a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. The monster clubs are an anachronistic dinosaur which is breathing its last breath. As I've been following this, I've kept thinking this was an indication of positive changes in health and fitness culture. However, it seems that people aren't investing in the boutiques out of a heightened sense of informed consumerism, educated decision-making or desire to be involved for the long haul. Instead, it's the new status symbol. The focus has completely shifted away from what is productive and beneficial for people, and it is preoccupied solely with feelgood in-crowd bragging rights. What could be and should be a symbol of returning the industry to meaningful practices and improved thinking in the consumer is just another kicking the can down the road. What's worse is that the large fitness organizations, sensing that they are getting absolutely crushed by the boutiques, have retaliated with a doubling down on their emphasis in the short term. If you've paid any attention at the advertising in big boxes, you've noticed they have totally abandoned sincerity. What once was at least a veiled attempt at being honorable is now a nonstop flood of promotion aimed at increasingly short-term practices. As soon as one is over, the next pitch rears its head. I wish this were a joke, but I've seen "member challenges of the week." Yes, we are now trying to pump people up for only seven days. Before you know it, there are going to be programs promoting single day or single hour rapid transformation. The trend is actually moving further away from realistic sustainability and closer to sensationalizing extreme short-term programs.
Watch the videos on this prior post: https://www.elev8wellness.com/wellblog_best_nutrition_training_coaching_experts/rapid-transformations-are-common-and-they-are-the-problem
When we put this obsession with excitement in context, it's really such an oddity. In just about every other facet of life, we take for granted that worthwhile outcomes will be the product of years of commitment. Whether we consider someone's profession, schooling, artistic mastery, parenting, you name it, no one really thinks in timetables of 30-90 day commitments. We measure proficiency over a lifetime, over decades, over at least a few years at minimum. Think about that. Those are just subsets of life. Yet somehow we think it's reasonable that health and fitness, the very foundation for all your pursuits, the centerpiece of your ability to even perform in any and all subsets of life, should warrant an investment measured in days? It's ludicrous. But the deranged thinking that believes in extreme initial excitement as valuable goes hand-in-hand with short timetables.
That's why rapid transformations are not just correlated with long-term failure. They are causal. The mere act of holding up fleeting emotion as admirable IS immaturity. It excludes from its paradigm future success. Frankly, it excludes the future altogether. If your entire budget of energy and focus is aimed at the near term, doesn't that obligate you to divest from the long term? Of course it does.
Here's the deal: we have to change the conversation entirely. Professionals, return to integrity. Please start setting appropriate expectations; and be honest about the fact that the more rapid someone's initial transformation, the less likely they are going to stay plugged in. Yes, it's irritating to see that "success" comes to the dishonest; but that should not be an excuse or equivocation to give up on doing the right thing. Consumers, as hard as it is, think about health and fitness as a lifelong investment. Determine what amount of energy above your current baseline is sustainable. Today, that may be the simple addition of a daily walk, meditative practice, or several glasses of clean water. In the future, it can be bigger and more dramatic investments. It's very much a Road Less Traveled type of situation. This isn't a victim-blaming by any stretch of the imagination. However, you do have to consider that people are conditioned through incentives; and as long as we incentivize "experts" to provide thrilling messages with no substance, the more the "experts" are going to feel the need to provide thrilling messages with no substance.
I hear it all the time: we need that stimulus, that exuberance, that provocative intoxication to get people started; then we can do right by them. It sounds good. It seems to make sense. It feels fair. But it is exactly untrue. There is no evidence, no data, and no study to support that proposition. It's a feel-good lie, without even a few believable anecdotes. The time has come to shun rapid transformation. Seek and hold in esteem only worthwhile long-term or lifelong investment and commitment. Do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. We will never end with integrity if we begin with spin.
Former client: we should get a catch-up session.
Me: sure. Pick an open spot on the calendar.
It’s wild how much of a surprise it comes to some people when I followup with them SOLELY to see how they’re doing. People are so used to everyone else in their lives “wanting something” that I’ve now had probably a dozen followups go this way. Literally and exclusively I am checking up on YOU.
All my coaching days always look like all of this screenshot, all the time, every week, year after year, decade after decade, always. If I say “how are you doing?”, I actually mean “how are you doing?” No games. No inference. No innuendo. Some people genuinely just wonder if you’re doing ok.
I feel like some people may not know this.
Pass it on, please.
In over 10,000 consults I’ve heard people say something like this. They think they’ll get a runner’s body by running. They think they’ll get influencer X’s body by training like influencer X. And all of that makes exactly as much sense as practicing a lot of basketball in order to become 7 feet tall.
Most body types were in NO WAY produced by the sport. It’s the other way around. The body type produced the prowess in the sport. Even in bodybuilding, there are guys who train the hell out of shoulders, press a metric ton, but will NEVER look vast through the shoulders because of a short collarbone. There is no hypertrophy which will change that. A narrow skeleton will NEVER be trained to look like a broad one. Most intermediate-advanced lifters outperform everything Arnold did in his heyday. But 99% of those guys don’t have a 50 inch rib cage at 14 years old.
If you are naturally a wee person, you may discover that you are an awesome runner. If you have a wingspan that is 10 inches more than your height, you may find you make a pretty good boxer, or swimmer, or grappler, or freakish deadlifter. I believe in the value of doing difficult things. BUT, some things are simply wasting your life. Training to have a skeleton you don’t have is a wasted life.
All you can do, and all you should do, is be the best version of YOU. That’s it. Have some tough conversations with yourself about food addiction, techno stress addiction, and life mismanagement.
Stop chasing after the seven foot frame. And simply get to your version of healthy and fit.
Peruse the food entry screenshots. Same company. Same program. Same food. Same brand. 100% conflicting info. Is it 1 patty or 2? Serving size matters PRECISELY. This is why even pretty good food planning and tracking can fail. Entries are not entirely reliable. Calculations err, and not a little.
Now peruse screenshots of this summary of exercise science research below. And the influencer who stated this is one of the smart ones. And I’m not being ironic. Out of all the noise in the fitness sphere, this is one of the more even-handed level-headed guys. And STILL, he’s willing to summarize with nonsense: “increase in muscle mass... due to a reduction in caloric intake.” Huh? The next sentence is worse: this “did not alter... anabolic signaling nor... muscle protein synthesis.” Double huh? So eat less to gain muscle; and gaining muscle is not muscle gain? Perfectly clear. Well done, sir.
So, I absolutely understand why people are frustrated. They should be. Nutritional reference indices can be 100% wrong, and even the smarter voices of reason in the fitness world are willing to say total scientific nonsense.
Let me help: when something works, do more of THAT; when something doesn’t work, do less or none of THAT. Stop wanting to believe in a theory. Just be an emotionless scientist, focused exclusively on what works, removing what isn’t. Then, conflicting info doesn’t matter at all; and you can put your energy into beneficial effect instead of frustrating hope.
Here, I burn 100 calories in under 90 seconds of working effort (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CD4pHqunGb5/). My peak sprints and lifts clock in at 88 kcal/minute, or more precisely ONE POUND OF FAT BURNED PER 40 MINUTES of actual training time. The average Americans won’t lose a pound of fat until they’ve completely starved for 1.5 to 3 days, or finished a 10-15 hour walk while totally fasted. No, really. Do the calculation.
Think long and hard about this. People have been telling me for over 30 years they are going to get fit by walks, jogs, yard work, hikes, and eating well. Guess what the vast majority of outcomes are. On the other hand, I have peers who lift weights, never do cardio, and are shredded year round. But what the hell do I know? I’ve only been studying this for over 30 years and been a wildly successful professional at this for nearly 20.
Here’s the deal; and friggin nobody wants to hear it or for it to be true: you must get STRONGER. That, and ONLY that, will put you in a position to burn more energy per minute. The clock is ticking. Always. You haven’t done 12 hour per day walks 7 days per week yet. You won’t start when you’re even weaker in another year or another five.
You must get fitter IN ADDITION to good eating. The eating is just non-negotiable. It’s a moral imperative to not eat like a total asshole. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, whether you believe in good stewardship toward the earth or not, if you believe at all in respect for your temple, don’t eat like a jerk. That will make you less bad, less worse, less wasteful of talents/advantage/benefit/privilege. But that won’t make you fitter. Only strengthening will.
I talk a lot about stress management. Who do you think manages stress better: weak people or strong people?
Obviously, don’t eat like a jerk. But sprint and lift something heavy, for the love of all that is good and sacred.