Guaranteed more effective than in-person. I guarantee the fittest people on earth can’t make it through an at-home circuit I personalize. Equipment or none, no matter. GUARANTEE. Not one coaching session done at a distance, not one single workout administered over FaceTime is less challenging or less valuable than in-person. A peer of mine and I were discussing how the mode of progressions is all that ever brings about results for anyone anyway. Progressions require one thing: strategic consistency. Virtual appointments are better at strategic consistency than anything else. To their credit, this year my biggest successes by a HUGE MARGIN never have been within 100 miles.
Since my approach went toward the consult/coaching strategy side of things at the end of 2012, I’m not sure how many hours beyond 5,000 I’ve logged with non-in-person appointments. At Bally's and LTF, I doubt I fielded more than a dozen. Once I went independent, it skyrocketed. Sundays I perpetually book no fewer than 11 hours, though often as many as 15. Always, this has been a minimum of 4 distance appointments, but as many as 10. Throughout the rest of the week, another 5-10. Since the Spring, however, most of my roughly 50 appointments per week have been virtual. So, conservatively, let’s say 10 per week since December 2012 to March 2020 (88 months X 4.3 weeks X 10 = 4,162). Then, it’s been closer to 35 of the weekly hours until just before the second lockdown (8 months X 4.3 weeks X 35 = 1,204). Even with trips and vacations, ramp ups and ramp downs, it’s way over 5,000.
From my point-of-view, virtual appointments are far more valuable than in-person. People are more engaged. They’re more consistent. They’re more honest. They’re more awake. They take the time more seriously. They aren’t distracted by commutes and arrival and departure. And they become infinitely more capable when learning that at-home fitness is just as good or superior to relying on external impositions. I understand that the average person, or burning extroverts and social butterflies, feel a certain way, especially during the pandemic. But I’m telling you that even in my own fitness, it was powerful to discontinue training in a classic gym outside of my environment. I can’t overemphasize the part about distractions. This isn’t just anecdote. I’m speaking from over 50,000 hours of professional experience in the fitness industry and some 5,000+ virtual appointments.
My mentor in college didn’t agree with any of my worldview beliefs. None. I still think he was brilliant. All my best teachers have totally opposing points of view. I improve most by interacting with unfamiliar thinking. Don’t enlist expertise to get new facts and figures. When you’re aiming to grow, hire someone to change HOW you think and WHY you behave the way you do. How. Why. Not What.
Last week was a good reminder. Monday, I worked with an expert at the range for hours. Friday, I worked with a different expert, @sir.michaeljames, and we completed 2 hours of tactical drills. I have to recommend him for anyone looking to learn practical multi-disciplinary self-defense, situational awareness, tactical and close combat chops.
In both cases, I spent exactly zero minutes talking about my prior shooting experience, fights I’ve been in, etc. At no point did I say “I know what to do; I just don’t do it” or some other throwaway sentence to shield a fragile ego. Even when I join peers for their workouts, I still say, “speak to me as if I know nothing.” Lead like I have never been inside a gym or seen a barbell. If I ask for input, I mean it.
Humility is the most powerful tool in the universe. “I don’t have the answer” is the closest thing we have to a superpower or the capacity of a demigod. If you are to change, you must destroy the fear of change. You cannot do that until you are ready to annihilate the ego. Then, come to the table as an empty vessel.
To this day, I'm surprised at how much I hear people make some statement about their incredible knowledge, even when it's apparent they don't know anything about a subject, even when they're working with a coach or trainer, even when they're taking a class, even when they're allegedly revising their faulty tactics and thinking. It's common because it's ego protection. The frail ego has a difficult time giving itself up. But, again, I believe letting go of our conceit and ego is the only way to genuinely learn and grow.
Frankly, it's the only point of asking, seeking, or hiring someone to augment or improve your approach.
It’s been shown in so many studies as to be beyond question:
Read those studies. And there are many more. The effect of sleep or lack thereof is so dramatic that we find people with mismanaged stress can DO EVERYTHING ELSE RIGHT and simply lose muscle and gain fat when they think they “should” lose fat and even maintain muscle. Stress is real. Again, this is why simple calories explanations abjectly fail at helping most people achieve health and fitness.
Don’t underestimate stress management. You can diet and exercise at a freakish level and make ZERO progress if overall life balance is rocky and stress is overwhelming.
So, how about that sleep component? How can we optimize? There are the obvious hacks, like regularizing sleep and wake times, getting away from screens, and so on. But you might not know that gut microbes play a substantive role.
Recent research has uncovered that your gut microbes influence your sleep: http://www.tsukuba.ac.jp/en/research-list/p202011271448. So, in part, our symbionts come up in the explanatory model for another facet of health.
It makes sense on multiple fronts, because overstressed people have damaged gut flora. The causal pathway is bidirectional: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6290721/. That is, suboptimal gut health means poor stress management. Poor stress management means reduction in diversity and count of beneficial bacteria. Sleep cycles manage microbes and microbes manage circadian cascades.
Microbiome diversity is positively correlated with effective and efficient sleep: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6779243/.
So, as odd as it may seem to you, starting with caring for your anaerobic bacteria is one of the most profound paths to good sleep. Good sleep is the strongest salvo you can make on fat loss. To change body comp, begin with restoring the gut and improving resilience against stress.
Recent research tried to uncover why obese patients admitted for stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular issues tend to do better than leaner peers: https://jagwire.augusta.edu/lab-results-dont-explain.../. As best as can be determined, the fact that we look for it seems to be the determinant. That is, we see risk markers sooner and have bias that people with greater body mass have higher risk, so we identify and treat problems more effectively.
This is an interesting case study on human psychology and how the human mind isn’t very good at understanding gradients or risk. When one group has HIGHER RISK, people round up and round down. Rather than carry the very simple belief that risk exists for everyone, the human mind forgets that one group has risk and insists the other is destined for a cardiac event. Rather than wrangle with risk on a grey scale, we just go “A is in danger; B isn’t in danger.”
How often do we administer EKG on healthy youths? But we know that we could prevent anomalous issues (ie - WPW-fomented death) if we did this very simple and inexpensive screening on everyone. Why don’t we, then? Because we round down, thinking NO RISK, just because risk is lower. Even if we take a pulse and find murmur, we generally won’t take the 15 minutes to do a simple EKG with ostensibly healthy young people. To be fair, it often doesn’t augur ill. But again, that doesn’t equate to NO RISK.
Thus, we are in a constant philosophical battle with others and ourselves over which risks should be tended to, and which should be watched, and which should be ignored, and which should be denied. Clearly, the last one is a bit extreme. But we see it more and more.
I’ve often surmised that any time we see an orthopedic issue arise, it was long in the making. We have a tendency to think, “my hip isn’t bothering me at the present; ergo, it’s TOTALLY FINE.” Then, when pain or overt injury make this line of thought outdated, we tend to think it “came out of NOWHERE.” Lol. Nothing came from nowhere. All things were building, gathering steam, slowly deterministically trodding to a point where we would finally take notice.
There’s an adage that paranoid people are eventually right. Being wrong 999 times out of a thousand doesn’t dissuade them; because their perspective contains chronic suspicion. They’re only emboldened in their paranoia when they get a 1 in a thousand hit. “Aha!”, they cry. “Nailed it.”
In fitness, we have so many tools at our disposal to identify possible problem areas before they turn into an insurmountable storm. Convincing is another story. You have to not just screen for potential harm, you have to convince people that what doesn’t acutely hurt them this second will become part of why they’ll need a knee replacement in 20 years. It’s a tough sell, because, again, the human mind wants to round up and round down. “If I don’t move at all, I don’t notice total body dysfunction,” is sort of the classic American wisdom. Right. But let’s improve your prospects such that you move everything, everywhere, under load, and suffer very little or not at all. Function can be nice. And I’m not saying that sarcastically or with snark.
So I try to change the wording for people. If you don’t look for opportunity, you won’t find it. If you look for opportunity, mostly you will. To me, being consumed with seeking outer faults is a little wasteful. If you’re hellbent on uncovering an error in someone else or somewhere else, you will. It seems to me more payoff can be made from seeking inner areas of opportunity, though. To look inward for possible growth, possible risk reduction, possible ways to flourish never seems wasteful. If we look inward for areas of opportunity to better our mindset and health, we’ll find them. And to look outward for destruction, and judgment, and scorn, we’ll find it too.
So we’re at last confronted with a pretty palpable question:
What do I really want to find?
Look for it, and there’s a good chance you will.
Well-meaning people look at an example of a metabolic disaster, and say, “at least she’s getting fit.” No. Fitness is not hours of cardio. Fitness is capability to perform all physical tasks. Health and fitness professionals define fitness very clearly, and none of it involves just doing tons of cardio and starvation.
Jogging and cycling are great and all, but during a basic athletic screen I and almost every other tenured fitness professional follow science-based guidelines to check fitness as primarily a product of neuromuscular health and type II muscle fiber development. Cardiovascular endurance training governs NONE of this. And I have seen many advanced endurance athletes abysmally fail on 5 out of 7 NSCA batteries.
Type II muscle development manages balance, risk of fall, ability to get in and out of a chair, keeping osteoporosis and sarcopenia at bay. Period. Take an elite endurance athlete and have him or her perform a BASIC balance drill or BASIC agility test and they may injure themselves irreparably. This isn’t hyperbole. Conversely, observe power athletes and good luck finding deficits in their capabilities. Take a few minutes to peruse sprinters, pole vaulters, long jumpers, high jumpers or triple jumpers, like the one pictured above. Now, I want you to dwell on the implications. Power athletes specialize in the type II muscle effort, type IIX to be specific. That is, they train and work exclusively with the phosphagen system whose duration lasts 5-8 seconds. THINK ABOUT THAT. LESS THAN TEN SECONDS. Look at their mobility, their overall capability, their bodies. This is what training effort in 5-8 seconds of intensity looks like.
Societally, yes, our problem is generally people don’t move much. But physiologically the miss is on strength development, not a need for hours of repetitive single-plane monotony.
An employee of mine was once working with a woman to stall her rapid wasting. She had lost a significant amount of bone density every year for 10 years in a row. Her husband has done almost every ultra and major distance endurance event in Minnesota history. She accompanied him for many runs. But this failed to rectify her chronic loss of bone density. Exercise WILL spike cortisol (which isn’t inherently bad): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315045/. Cortisol is catabolic. This isn't opinion. Without very solid nutrition and high resistance strength training, cortisol will not break down fat. It will only destroy bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, and muscles. Women are at a disadvantage in a cortisol-enriched environment, because they lack the testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF to offset the breaking-down effect. This can often become extremely problematic for people performing lengthy bouts of exercise.
Thus, the woman was strengthening with one of my coaches. No surprise: the strengthening stopped her bone-loss trend. Her husband, who was obviously a great fan of endurance training, was in disbelief. He believed, like many people who don’t understand exercise science, that endurance training ALONE suffices for health and fitness. Scoffing at her, he said, “show me something you do.” She demonstrated a static split stance lunge. No explosiveness. No added weight. No dynamism. Just control under load through a basic range of motion. The husband, continuing his dismissal, arrogantly proceeded to “show her up,” except as he descended into his very first rep he pulled his hamstring. This guy can run 100 miles at 5 degrees of hip flexion, 5 degrees of knee flexion, 2 degrees of ankle range; but the moment he performed not-even-a-full-range lunge, he practically ceased to exist. ZERO mobility. ZERO strength. ZERO frontal and transverse plane development. Even in the sagittal plane, he was a joke.
This isn’t a knock against endurance athletes. They do remarkable things. They have a mental toughness, to be sure. But NO fitness professionals considers endurance by itself a measure of a well-rounded, fit, or even healthy athlete.
Fitness isn’t long distance monotony. It’s capability in total human performance. One single little subset of cardiorespiratory endurance capability is NOT the answer for most Americans, most sedentary people, most struggling with supreme muscle imbalance. For people who are having a really hard time losing fat and managing lean tissue, long bouts of cardio are a very risky proposition, especially for older people or females. Fitness is not adding hours of cardio.
Unfortunately, people often don’t think about the fact that drugs taken for any reason (including cardio-protective) will exert an impact on brain cells. And sadly, epidemiological studies obscure the known mechanistic downside. Headlines read, “statins, which lower risk of stroke, associated with cognitive IMPROVEMENT.” Yes, NOT-having-a-stroke is probably helpful for the brain. No one would argue otherwise. But look closely. This is a very slyly stated and question-begging logical fallacy. Not-having-a-stroke is helpful for the brain. This doesn't say anything about the OTHER ways we know statins impact brain cells. Brain cell membranes are made of cholesterol: There is absolutely no scientific substantiation for the belief that disrupting cholesterol in the body will not have an adverse neurological impact. It would be like concluding that guns are brain protective, because the manufacturing of firearms takes a lot of engineering capability, and, therefore, their production develops the learning centers of the brain. It's a distracting truth which has zero bearing on the cost-benefit analysis anyone cares about.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837572/. Brain cells are more reliant on an abundance of cholesterol than nearly any other tissue in the body.
This isn’t news. There are calcium channels and beta receptors in many organs, not just the heart. Diuretics taken to reduce the effort of the heart will also alter electrolyte management throughout the whole body. Since the 90s, there has been a good body of evidence that high blood pressure medications accelerate cognitive loss: https://www.eurekalert.org/.../1997-12/WFUB-NCCB-021297.php
Sadly, when friends and family members are experiencing cognitive impairment, almost never do people consider the very simple experiment of REMOVING medications to define their role in the cognitive impairment. Why get healthier to improve biomarkers, when you can just take a drug to cheat the test and change a symptom?
Even though most individual medications carry a risk (just read the label) of headache, dizziness, memory loss, and disorientation, somehow we don’t stop to think how multiple drugs taken for years or decades SHOULD give somebody severe neurological damage. Risk is leveraged on a timeline. A short duration of one drug carries low risk. The longer and greater number of drugs, the more assured the risk is.
Well-meaning clinicians and intelligent readers everywhere get confused by artfully-crafted headlines and studies whose objective is specifically to convince the readers that these drugs are not only safe but will secondarily or tertiarily confer BENEFIT, even though their known mechanism is the direct inhibition of brain cells function.
Be on the lookout. People will cite age or family heredity long before considering medications as a possible cause. And what a silly thing to happen, when those same medications have labels which include the very symptoms we might call “Alzheimers” and “dementia."
The more incompetent someone is, the more sure of himself he is: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10626367/. It’s so well known and studied, it has a name, the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It’s so a part of the arrogance of mankind that there are Ancient Greek texts dedicated to the subject. There are even older Biblical passages aplenty. God tells the Hebrews they should have no political leader whatsoever; their response is, “yeah, yeah, give us an earthly king.” Even the chosen people think they know better than the creator of the universe. I mean, why listen and learn when you think you’re one of the chosen ones? Makes sense.
The less knowledge someone has, the more sure of the answer he is. Isn’t that curious? We all encounter this with children, with people who have zero knowledge of our specialities, with the new guy at work. It’s amazing how cocksure people become when they don’t know what they’re talking about. So I find it’s a good reminder for people when sifting through health and fitness information that no one ever arrives AT certainty. We merely reduce uncertainty.
Read it again: certainty cannot be obtained; all we can do is reduce uncertainty. And even that process is a lifelong toilsome one.
Experts who spend whole careers and lives in a given study do not arrive at certainty. They reduce uncertainty. When you earnestly study the scientific method, you find that we never arrive AT certainty, so much as do the best we can to clear out as much possible uncertainty. When you gain proficiency in business tax filings, you discover this wording comes up as reasonable research and development costs. The IRS notes, “any costs incurred to REDUCE UNCERTAINTY.” Medical doctors and lawyers refer to their professions as PRACTICE. Trials can take years to ascertain an approximation of "reasonable doubt" or "reasonable proof." I once attended a firearms course with an instructor who had over forty-five years of military, law enforcement, and tactical teaching experience; in his intro he was very firm in saying that anytime people ask for his opinion on a new story concerning a shooting, he says, "I have none." His very simple follow-up slams the door, "how can you form an opinion until you know every detail about the case?"
Yet, somewhere along the line, it became not just common but even cool for the least knowledgeable to affirmatively state final conclusions, to claim absolute assurance on topics they have at best perused for a few minutes. Look closely at the attached article screenshot. Evidence AGAINST the old school cholesterol hypothesis has been mounting for SIXTY YEARS. People who don’t read research are absolutely sure of the old hypothesis. People who stay on top of scientific research in the field aren’t sure. Instead, they merely work at being less uncertain, less unsure. The less you know on the topic, the more certain you are that dietary fats cause heart disease. The more you know on the topic, the less sure of a final conclusion you become.
When looking for answers in health and fitness, you won’t arrive. It’s not like that. You must merely reduce uncertainty. In professional fitness coaching, I have been personally irresponsible with overstating certainty at times. We all make this mistake. Granted, I would base my claim on decades and tens of thousands of hours of experience while including several peer-reviewed citations. Nonetheless, it wasn’t fair. Some things we do know with a good degree of certainty. That isn’t the same as total certainty.
It seems every week we are afforded a new example of braggadocio ignoramo. Post-doctoral statisticians and genuine math geniuses have no problem sifting through the 2020 national and state voting tabulations without alarm. I had advanced calculus in high school. I studied collegiate statistics. My best man at my wedding and still best friend is an actual mathematician whose current profession is data analytics. None of us have seen one trend which indicates Democratic theft. Republican congresspeople haven’t seen one trend which indicates Democratic theft. The conservative courts haven't. The Attorney General hasn't. The Republican election officials and election security specialists haven't. But you know who is absolutely certain that the numbers show fraud? People who weren’t in my higher level mathematics classes. People who can’t balance a spreadsheet. People who never studied statistics. People who can barely multiply two numbers together. People who don’t even know what a derivative is or a longitudinal analysis, all of a sudden, are experts on BOTH of these things. Why, oh why, is it so hard to just pause, sit back, and say, “I don’t know”? On an opinion in a subject where you really are out of your depth, "I have none"?
It’s embarrassing, for YOU. I’m embarrassed for you. And it’s doubly embarrassing, because you don’t actually know enough to know just how embarrassed you should be. Ignorance plus paranoia doesn't add up to evidence, let alone proof.
Now, this is just the example of the past several weeks. But I’m sure we’ll get more today and tomorrow and forever. Perhaps, as grownups, we can make a deal that we will all try for more patience. Let’s make a deal that we will try to humbly avoid jumping to conclusions. Let’s make a deal that we won’t arrogantly overstate scant or nonexistent evidence. In the case of the completely failed cholesterol hypothesis, perchance, we can stop spreading the falsehoods and lies that were never supported by any science.
People, please stay in your lane.
For years people have asked me questions like these:
Why do you HAVE to work so early?
Do you HAVE to work tomorrow/today/earlier/later/this weekend/that holiday?
You get the picture. The questions imply that I am powerless to do otherwise.
So I always answer, "No; but I GET to."
Nobody HAS to do anything, ever. But we GET to do all kinds of things often.
In any profession, there is no day or time that is a throwaway day or time. As a business owner, it is the same for me. When I was in the big box clubs, it was no different. I GET to show up. You GET to show up. Even for those working 9-5, likewise, it is the same that you show up by choice. You only "HAVE TO" insomuch as you deem the consequences unconscionable.
How can I say that? Well, because a lot of people do walk away from their obligations. Sometimes legitimately. Sometimes not so much. They quit. They file bankruptcy. They walk out on their families or their kids. Heck, some people idolize a guy who walked out on two wives, cheated on the third, and filed bankruptcy seven times.
I've seen not a small number of coaches and trainers sleep in, miss appointments, skip days. Sometimes, the most carefree and unreliable people suffer few or no consequences. Think of the guy I mentioned above. Not only has he never suffered any consequences for walking out on his obligations, he's boasted that he never once asked for forgiveness IN HIS LIFE. Sometimes followers like the idea that a leader is unapologetically flawed. A lot of people love the idea of an unrepentant sinner, flaunting his mistreatment of others and gaming the system. On occasion, it becomes endearing. And we are all familiar with that absentee coworker, manager or director/executive/owner who becomes a workplace joke: "hey guys, do you think so-and-so will show up today or is he out 'sick,' 'in a board meeting,' 'traveling for work' again?" So, you see, no one really HAS to do anything, because, in some cases, there is an advantage to being irresponsible.
However, in my mind, for me, I find that this life is what I GET to do. Everyone you lead will generally be, on average, at least one step less accountable than you, one notch less consistent, one decision less put-together, one degree less responsible and a few degrees less honest. You GET to guide them. Or, you GET to misguide them. I prefer not to misguide.
Someone may argue the semantics, saying I feel I owe it or a sense of duty to my mentees and my family. From my perspective, it is a simple unshackled honesty. When I said I wanted to provide for my kids, I meant more than dollars. I meant examples. When I said I wanted to help people, I didn't say, "only if it's really convenient for me" or "only if I get something out of it." The world won't mend itself if we keep thinking we are trapped under the thumb of "HAVE TO." But everyday we freely "GET TO" serve our fellow man or neighbor.
The universe didn’t owe you this day, this job, this challenge, this life. It didn’t “have to” gift you another chance, another opportunity to live. But... we GET it.
You hear it. Maybe you scoff. I usually do. But I encourage you to pause and ponder it with more patience.
I, like everyone, make a mistake of looking back and carrying a load that isn't there anymore or looking forward to carry a load that will never be. While I'm weighed down by this imaginary burden my mind is elsewhere in a place incapable of thankfulness for where I actually am. It’s a mistake I make less and less as I grow. But it’s human. It’s common. And it’s a big problem.
Whatever's done is done. Whatever will be will be. And I am thankful for that, for the loving souls in my life, for all the dear people who fight to create beauty in the world, and for the simple but enriching moments where I catch a laugh or a smile from my gorgeous little children.
In my coaching, this is probably the most fundamental roadblock. We can address biomechanics. We can implement certain healthy behaviors. But we can’t time travel. And everything I do with clients IS happening in the NOW. So, if they pathologically transport themselves to the worried future or guilted past, none of the PRESENT rectifies their errant thinking.
Especially this time of year, people look back over their failed resolutions and shame themselves for a “wasted” eleven months. Perhaps more this year than any year, we are inclined to lament what the pandemic “stole” from us. But that’s not very PRESENT, is it? Are you going to go back in time? Are you going to magically control space and time and make it so that 5-15% of these novel viral cases don’t need hospitalization?
I find it’s best to ask oneself what is currently productive? Literally, what can you do this second that PRODUCES a beneficial outcome? Basically, everything else can be thrown out.
Now, think it through. Every productive “now” gifts you a slightly better tomorrow. Things add up.
There are many causes. But there is one consistent issue which never helps: hip flexor mismanagement. The reason for this is hip flexors’ normal action can compress the nearby nerves and discs. So regardless of the back problem, imbalanced hip flexor complex is counterproductive.
The hip flexor complex origins run from the end of thoracic spine down the whole length of the lumbar spine and iliac crest. This gets confusing for people, because the discomfort of tension is generally experienced at the origin (back); but as we think about the flexor muscles we tend to focus on the front of the body and where they insert. Thus, A LOT of people forget the role of mobility through the quad and front of the hip as alleviating for the back.
The confusion leads people to move INTO hip flexion, which is categorically going to make long term prospects worse. Yesterday I saw a million-follower post on Instagram telling people to relieve back pain by “stretching” the quadratus lumborum. This is orthopedic nonsense. Like a forward fold hamstring stretch, the person doing it may get instant relief from the spastic pain in the over-fatigued and weak muscles. This is inevitable when lengthening them. A lengthened muscle can’t easily spasm. But lengthening over-fatigued and weak muscles merely further fatigues and damages them. We actually use this principle (called mechanical damage) in overfed and rested athletes to grow muscles. But in an already excessively stressed tissue, no positive adaptation is likely.
Look at the photo. The psoas minor crushes the low back into the pelvis. The psoas major smashes the spine down toward the femur. The ileacus jams the pelvis into the femur. Learn hip extension. Learn posterior pelvic tilt (https://www.instagram.com/p/BujDLHUnfhd/?igshid=128w4haitendh ). Learn neutral spine. Learn a little anatomy. Check some of my prior posts, including the ab series: 3/1-3/3/2019.