People focus on reps. People focus on types of exercises. People will even talk a lot about form and technique. But the quality of the movement extends beyond all of these.
People will report reps to me as if anyone should care. What was the QUALITY of each rep? What was the range of motion? What was the time under tension? What was the degree to which you could connect with the intended muscles?
Reps are A way to describe a performance. It is our jargon for moving a resistance down and up or up and down, from a start position through resistance to a certain distance and back to that start position. But someone can make an exercise easier and less effective BY PERFORMING MORE REPS, even with the exact same exercise with the exact same resistance, IF the range of motion is less, the activation of intended muscles is less, and the tempo is faster.
Imagine someone squats with 100lbs on his back. He takes 5 seconds to descend into a full rock bottom squat (approximately 135 degrees knee flexion). He pauses for 3 seconds. He ascends over the course of 4 seconds. ONE REP. Full range. He can feel the hips and glute muscles working intently and intentionally. Quality. 12 seconds time under tension for a single rep.
In a few months, imagine, he reports back 200lb back squats for 10 reps. Sounds good, right? But then we discover he doesn’t achieve more than 45 degrees knee flexion, and tempo is now .5/0/.5. Garbage quality. The entire set of 10 reps takes less time than the single rep used to. Time under tension is AT LEAST 2 seconds less than it was; and he never interfaces with the myofibril landscape to stimulate progress. He doesn’t feel his glutes working. He isn’t intentional with hips. He’s regressed, become weaker, and I can guarantee he can’t even manage 100lbs in the full squat anymore.
This happens. I have observed it many times. People will speed up and shorten range and REDUCE engagement in order to create the impression that more was done. But it’s actually far less. People will attend group classes where a set of an exercise could be multiple minutes. They pause longer in low effort positions (knees locked or elbows locked). They shorten the amount of joint angle used. They REDUCE the overall work performed, all the while claiming they’ve done more.
The human animal is an energy conservation machine. So it will literally do anything in order to exert less effort. This includes completing more reps or doing more of anything in order to APPEAR to be doing more, when, in fact, the effort and work performed is less. It is to satisfy the mind’s desired belief to be improving. I’ve seen the phenomenon with people in running or endurance programming. I’ve seen it with people in their own strength programs. I’ve fallen prey to it in my own lifts.
In order to combat it, we need to periodically complete super slow reps. Especially power athletes, especially explosive athletes, especially people like me who are wired for more of the max strength tempos, we must from time to time train outrageously lengthy reps. For some clients, I’ve insisted they complete a 10 count on the descent and another on the ascent. Usually, we’ll pick a weight that’s 25-50% of what they’ve been doing. But it almost doesn’t matter at the beginning, because they soon discover there are all sorts of muscles and fibers and tissues and feedback they’ve perhaps never had before. We begin to strengthen sections of the movement they’ve always used momentum to avoid or shortened range of motion to avoid. And people will realize that they are being much more effective and working HARDER than ever before simply by implementing intentionality, slowing down, getting in touch with quality.
You can integrate this into an existing program within the midst of a single set here and there. Or you can completely overhaul your full program by making every set like this.
Simply grab a weigh or hop on a machine or set up for a body weight exercise; take the extra time and care to think about and feel which muscles or area of the body must be involved; and begin the movement, counting, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” taking note the intended muscles are still intentional and the movement is quality, then begin to return to start position, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” Don’t even both counting reps. This is more than enough mental bandwidth. It could be 2. It could be 5. But just keep the intention and the quality.
The cholesterol hypothesis (or "lipid hypothesis") never rose past the threshold of "theory," as it never made useful predictions, nor did it ever get vindicated in reproducibility (the standard of science). Yet a lot of people treat it like a scientific law. In 2010 the Journal of The American Medical Association exposed how the benefit of statins is questionable and that major trials on the subject were influenced by money tied to statin manufacturers: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/416101. Numerous randomized controls trials prior to 2004 suffered scandals and conflicts of interest which led to regulations in hopes of more reliable studies thereafter. However, of the 29 major randomized control trials on the topic since, 27 DID NOT affirm the expectations of the lipid hypothesis: https://amjmed.org/a-reappraisal-of-the-lipid-hypothesis/. When the mainstream authorities place more rigid protections on the reliability of studies and you reach a fail rate of 27 out of 29, what we're talking about is no longer science. It is anti-science. It is pseudoscience. But it is not science.
Now, the problem isn't simply that observational studies consistently fail at substantiating the notion that cholesterol is the boogeyman. The problem is that the hypothesis was always untenable. Cholesterol is what makes all of human biology possible. It heals you. It is the building material for every cell membrane in the body. IF WE REMOVED EVERY SCRAP OF FREE CHOLESTEROL FROM THE BLOOD YOU WOULD NOT MEANINGFULLY CHANGE THE AMOUNT OF CHOLESTEROL IN THE BODY. There are 100 trillion cells in the body, each one wrapped in cholesterol. When you begin to run the math on a 180lb person, 12lbs of whom is blood, you begin to get a sinking sensation that we’ve wasted a lot of ink on the wrong tissue. That 12lbs of blood is about 54 deciliters. If that person has a cholesterol of 200 (as in 200 milligrams per deciliter), we are talking 11 grams of cholesterol in the entire bloodstream. Meanwhile, the other 168lbs of that person is 76,363 grams. Since the cytoplasm makes up almost 70% of a cell, we’ll leave only 30% for the membrane (40% of which is cholesterol). That’s 9,000 grams of cholesterol outside of the blood. Literally, you could zero out your blood levels of cholesterol or triple them and it wouldn’t change the content in the body by even one-half of one percent. After all, we know that people in prolonged fasts have temporary rises in blood serum measurements of cholesterol. Where did all the extra cholesterol come from if they aren’t eating?
Ancel Keys, the University of Minnesota researcher responsible for this 1940s lipid hypothesis belief system, had his heart in the right place and was even a relatively intelligent guy. But he NEVER showed how cholesterol INDEPENDENT OF INFLAMMATORY STRESS (or, more specifically in his work it was HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE AND SMOKING) would constitute a risk. No one else has either.
Of course, they could not. Heart disease is the accumulation of plaques, by definition. And these plaques are caused by inflammation. In fact, researchers have shown that inflammation begins to generate heart disease "even in the absence of traditional risk factors": https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22895665/. It is paramount that you as the reader understand the prior quote. While the body has unhealthy persistent inflammation, LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) can be low or in "healthy" ranges, and heart disease will still occur. That means that LDL cannot be solely or predominantly responsible in the development of atherosclerosis.
Moreover, there are undeniable facts and known biological science which makes the lipid hypothesis impossible:
- There isn’t actually evidence that eating dietary cholesterol has any adverse risk response in the body:
- Most heart attacks occur in people with normal or low cholesterol:
- When people fast for a week (NO FOOD), their bodies actually produces MORE cholesterol for a period of time:
- Lowering “bad cholesterol” to improve health is not supported by data:
- And eating low fat, avoiding saturated fat, and emphasizing seed oils actually appears to increase risk of death (even when cholesterol drops) or AT BEST has zero positive impact on risk:
Physicians and clinicians I've coached and mentored since 2004 are mostly not up-to-date on their own publications altogether, particularly on this front. Anything involving nutrition science is just a minefield for them. However, I have noticed that it is changing little-by-little in recent years. Younger MDs and simply well-read intellectuals in medicine are gradually evolving to accept the preponderance of evidence. Old paradigms die hard, especially when they've been so gleefully (and thoughtlessly) embraced by the broader society. But they do die.
Or so I hoped.
The failure of the lipid hypothesis has been so spectacular in the past three decades that ideologues at the American College of Cardiology walked it back from "cholesterol is bad" to "LDL is bad" to "LDL-C" is bad. To be fair, that statement is less wrong than the prior ones, though none are scientific in nature. But in a British Medical Journal review of 68,094 people, we see that people with high LDL-C live as long or longer than those with low LDL-C: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/6/e010401. No matter how much anyone wants to believe the old lipid hypothesis, honesty at least compels an evaluation along the lines of "results vary." The ACC and its fellows have been involved in enough scandals with conflict of interest that we might disregard anything they say that ends in the purchase of drugs anyway.
There do exist some studies showing that if we intervene to lower LDL-C in some people there may be reduced incidence of cardiac event. However, even in those studies, all we may be seeing is that getting healthier reduces risk, and if the same person gets healthier, that person will produce less LDL-C than was previously in that same person. We are not seeing that LDL-C is causal. We are also left with the very real possibility that statins (which are fundamentally antimicrobial drugs) help some people clear infections which were causing inflammation. Do some people have elevated LDL-C for no particular reason of detriment while others because of infection? If so, brief use of a statin in some people would be indicated. For what reason, other than profiteering, should anyone take an antimicrobial drug in perpetuity?
Most concerning is that there are some new people pushing backward toward the lipid hypothesis. There is this trend where fitness personalities and influencers scan the summary or abstracts in PubMed and purport to be science literate. And it's at least as dangerous as when the scandalous studies with conflicts of interest were shaping our opinions, because these new individuals by themselves are commanding the amount of attention that large organizations used to. What I've noticed is that these guys and gals tend to not even read the full papers which often contain whole paragraphs that refute the influencer's position. And again, like we saw with Ancel Keys, I don't believe they're idiots or evil. Some are very smart, know a lot, and indeed appear to want to help improve health outcomes. However, they're all merely insufficient in their cognitive horsepower with regard to sussing through causality. And to be provocative and gain social media engagement they are agreeing with Ancel Keys’ failed hypothesis. One of the more popular fitness influencers even argues AGAINST discussion of mechanism. I want people to really think about this. There is a guy who is commanding the thoughts of at least a million people every day; and he won't allow discussion of HOW the process of heart disease occurs. He merely cherry picks epidemiology and observational outcomes to substantiate his ideology.
And that might be just fine if people thought of him like a raving lunatic. But he is actually considered one of the more "science-minded" people in that sphere. He refers to himself as a "science ninja." A guy who won't entertain scientific mechanism, known causation, and counter-evidence, is THE SCIENCE NINJA.
Laugh all you like. I did too. But when you have multiple people like this pontificating with religious zeal and altogether across platforms they are maybe shifting the thinking of hundreds of millions of people, we have a serious problem.
For almost 100 years the public has been devotedly following lipid hypothesis thinking. Heart disease prevalence increased. Statin use exploded onto the scene. Heart disease prevalence and cardiac-related death increased. Even if the old paradigm had been true, clearly its interventions and communication is the opposite of effective. That is undeniable. Hell, forget the studies for a moment, and simply look around. Just when the real scientists were beginning to win the war and move authoritative opinion in the other direction, we've now got people making whole careers by trying to convince the public to believe completely refuted hypotheses and ineffective/counterproductive interventions.
Beware. There are educated health professionals who still fear cholesterol.
As a grown adult, I gained 130lbs, lost 70, netting a 60lb increase of muscle while decreasing bodyfat percent. I went to college at 160lbs. I did one of my last real bulks to 285 in Sept 2020, and I’m 240 now in March 2023.
People say, “if there’s no video, it didn’t happen.” But it’s really more like, “if you don’t KEEP reposting about it ad nauseam, and it doesn’t go viral, we all forget completely.” And I’ve come to see that forgetfulness as a convenient amnesia to ignore what’s possible.
I have changed so drastically so many times over the years that I’ve met people who can’t believe I was ever small, others who can’t believe I was ever huge, others who can’t believe I showed up untrained for a marathon, others who can’t believe I did a zero-momentum muscle up at nearly 250lbs, and so many others who are likewise in mutually exclusive disbeliefs… WHILE OBSERVING THE VERY THING THEY SAY THEY CAN’T BELIEVE.
This has taught me:
1.) people will believe the most convenient disempowering do-nothing narrative no matter what proof
2.) “that’ll never be me” has got to be the most popular lie on planet earth, except that people make it true through inaction
There are people reading this right now who haven’t got one person who believes in them. But I believe in them. And once they believe in themselves, that’ll make two. If as a society we can begin to embrace possibility, we might make a strand of three or more. And three cords won’t so easily be broken.
CBS news just ran a segment on how people struggle emotionally with retirement:
In two decades of coaching I have walked dozens of clients through the transition from working, to retiring, to retired. And I’ve noticed their emotional struggle. It comes up so often that I now address it as part of my coaching. And I try to help many prepare for it, because they’re often still thinking about retirement as some fairytale moment. But it’s not. It’s harder. A lot harder. Finding meaning and purpose and joy can be really elusive for people who were thinking of retirement as a magical moment to “begin living.” And we also have to contemplate how physical capability plays a major role in how well the shift does or doesn’t go.
Think of it this way:
Slave until you’re nearly dead; and then, one day, get up every day to go through an unformatted/undirected day where you may have LESS meaning in your life. Add to that, you grind through the day with a battered body which is incapable of doing things it used to. That’s the 1950s to 1990s Western career/retirement model. Since large companies ceased to have retirement plans, pensions, or continued existence, my generation and younger have had to rethink the model anyway. Which is a very good thing. There are almost no stable companies which will keep you employed across a thirty year span without eliminating a division or your title. For most, promotion and reliable employment is a historical artifact.
Frankly, even among the trust fund babies and ultra-successful young people I’ve coached, effectively “retired” young, I find they still have to discover a driving reason to make their weeks matter. The trips and the houses and the cars and the parties grow stale. Simply having free time doesn’t mean you fill it with meaningful moments. The time passes anyway. And often they feel a greater sense of disappointment than working people who at least know they provided for their families that week, tried (successful or not) to give input to their organization that month, and impacted somebody somewhere through sacrifice of their own. LESS growth as MORE time passes doesn’t feed the soul.
That’s what I’ve found it usually takes. Retired people take about three years to get their footing, get a routine, and thrive or not. Intrinsically motivated people do it a little faster. Extrinsically motivated people flounder. Without the imposed structure of work weeks, some people really heartily struggle to create a framework in the week. And as week after week passes, they start to realize they’re merely counting minutes to expiry. It’s not inspiring or motivating. They still don’t write the book they always said they’d write. They still don’t climb the mountain they always said they’d love to climb. They still don’t read all the books they said they didn’t previously have time for. Time passes. Among the lucky ones, by the third round of holidays and birthdays, they at least nail down a balance.
As the CBS article points out, surveys indicate depression hits around a third of retirees. But I’d argue the number is far higher. People are conditioned to say they enjoy retirement, even when they don’t. Ask the most negative complaining retired people, “how’s retirement?”, and within a fraction of a second they’ll retort, “it’s great; it’s wonderful; I love it.” Ask specifically how they’re finding more meaning and more joy, and the facial expression changes. The tone changes too. If they’re candid, the answers change and get murky. Culturally, we want to think of it as a grand time, even when it isn’t. The candor of people admitting the downside is rare. We shouldn’t take that to mean the downside of retirement is rare.
When someone has social connections, weekly appointments, and some structure in retirement, he or she has better emotional footing. Yet, the fact remains that most people are pale physical shadows of what they could be and once were. And that means that even with all the extra free hours, the life lived is less.
They also invest in their physical capability. The CBS segment was right to focus on how financial preparation is insufficient without emotional preparation. But what about physical preparation?
Some of my retired clients have been very clear that they want to achieve physical accomplishments they never previously could do. And we get there. Some say they want to be able to keep crouching down so they can play with the grandkids. And we get there. Some soon-to-be retired clients say they want to be able to hit all the hard hiking trails STILL after retirement. And we get there. Some want to decrease risk of cognitive decline. And we get there. Some just want to reduce risk of osteoporosis or other physical decline. And we get there.
When we train, we can be physically prepared for retirement as well. We can be fittER. Moreover, with physical training, we can retain structure and growth in our weekly schedule. That itself carries a a heft of emotional preparedness. And we shouldn’t easily forget it, because retirement CAN be a good thing. It just isn’t inherently. As such, it might also be wise to remember to live now. Don't wait. Don't wait to live. Don't wait to start improving. Don't wait to invest in your physical self. Don't wait to emotionally prepare. Don't simply wait for a time to arrive and find all you do at that moment is merely wait for the end.
Under the age of 50, the chance of a man getting prostate cancer is about 1 in 500: https://www.pcf.org/about-prostate-cancer/what-is-prostate-cancer/prostate-cancer-survival-rates/.
As his testosterone declines, markedly around this age, the chance skyrockets to 1 in 54. The next decade, as testosterone declines further, risk jumps to 1 in 19. Again, at the next decade, it nearly doubles to 1 in 11. And now, epidemiologists and statisticians agree that into old age the risk approaches 100%. That is, if you live long enough, as testosterone declines toward zero, risk rises to assurance. As a man, if you die of old age, you will die with prostate cancer. Not OF. But WITH. 100%.
Perhaps even more interesting is that prostate cancer incidence is highest in Europe, then North America, then Australia: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2022.811044/full
And of absolutely no surprise, the three regions where we’ve seen the most dramatic drop in testosterone levels over the past decades are these same places where prostate cancer incidence is highest. In fact, the RATE (1% per year: https://www.reuters.com/article/health-testosterone-levels-dc/mens-testosterone-levels-declined-in-last-20-years-idUKKIM16976320061031 ) of drop in population testosterone looks an awful lot like the RATE (3% per year: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/about/key-statistics.html) of increase in prostate cancer incidence.
To be clear, the prevalence of prostate cancer is highest among males with low and/or declining testosterone. The phenomenon essentially didn’t exist in young men, until a society-wide trend developed starting around 1990, wherein a 2% per year increase in prostate cancer risk among 15-40 year olds came to be: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31553489/ . With no need for conspiracy thinking, this dovetails extremely tightly with the decline in testosterone among the same populace during the same timeframe.
Moreover, recent studies on men who are taking synthetic testosterone replacement therapy find they they have a lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer: https://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/JCO.2016.69.5304
Looking at 150,000 men on testosterone replacement therapy determined that risk of prostate cancer did not rise even with higher dosing: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0199194
A study on 17,049 men indicated that the higher the testosterone and androgens, the LOWER the risk of all aggressive cancers, not just prostate cancer: https://aacrjournals.org/cebp/article/15/1/86/258197/Circulating-Steroid-Hormones-and-the-Risk-of
Testosterone protects AGAINST prostate cancer, and a whole lot more.
Extreme Physiques Often Belong to The Least Qualified Fitness Professionals (And The Question No Guru Can Answer)
Look around the world of fitness and bodybuilding. Most of what you'll see are drug addicts with severe chemical dependency and clinical mental disorders. Watch the documentary "Bigger, Faster, Stronger," and peruse the headlines about Rich Piana, Dallas McCarver and Andreas Munzer. A fat free mass index of 25-27 is about the upper human limit without A LOT of drugs. Very fit individuals tend to just scrape into the edge of 23-25 of FFMI; and that's generally still at a cost to their personal lives and wellbeing. This is no preachy moralistic observation. It's reality. Also, I think that for short periods of time there is a strong case to be made for pushing the limits of physiology and even various interventions, including drug therapies. Ultimately, informed adults are entitled to do with themselves what they wish. However, when we're talking about real health and fitness, there is an inverse correlation with "incredible physiques". When we look at happiness indices and the longest-lived, healthiest people on Earth (e.g. - Blue Zones), assuredly people can get pretty lean; but they NEVER carry excessive mass. Therefore, it's questionable that any emotionally-stable expert on health and fitness would deign to risk health with superhuman musculature or persistent extreme leanness.
"Business must be booming, right!?," asked one of my employees when he saw a good friend of mine in between two bodybuilding shows (which were 3 weeks apart). My buddy retorted, "no, actually; it's never been worse - my entire focus is on my own program, meal prep, workouts, supplements, sleep, etc.". It was a deafening gunshot which has stuck with me to this day. The implied belief of the first sentiment was that there's no better way to obtain and keep clients than being photo-ready or show-ready. In fact, the major implication we all think (incorrectly) is that superhuman body composition MUST mean that person has the BEST knowledge applicable to fitness. My buddy's retort, of course, brings us back to the reality that the most impressive physique is developed with a very selfish and obsessive mentality. By definition, no one can be entirely self-consumed without at the same time being the worst mentor, coach, or trainer for others. Beyond that, extreme "success" comes at extreme cost elsewhere in someone's character.
Olympic coaches are FORMER World or Olympic competitors. You don't really see a guy hop off the pommel horse and then don the head coach name-tag and lanyard. How many of the greatest football coaches are out on the field, in pads and jersey, running plays in between directives? Past experience is helpful. There's no doubt. However, physiology and biology as subjects exist entirely independent of individual opinions. Either a method works or it doesn't.
An elite athlete succeeds IN SPITE OF (not BECAUSE OF) bad methodology, oftentimes through sheer stubbornness. That has no application for regular people. An electron behaves the way physics dictates, regardless of expert consensus. Fat tissue is depleted by objective laws, not personal perspective. We have to get away from anecdote and opinions and advice.
I recall a training video of Ronnie Coleman talking about working his "low back." This "low back" exercise to which he referred was a kneeling, supported, one-arm dumbbell row with momentum while a massive weight-belt cinched his spine into complete immobility. Categorically, he was not working his low back. It is inarguable. This is not debatable. We can get into semantics, word choice, muscle activation, fascia theory, stabilizing, core-initiation, isometrics, and on and on. But the fact remains, shoulder retraction and extension isn't primarily mobilized by the lumbar spinal erectors or quadratus lumborum. Any load which might be borne by the lower portion of the latissimus dorsi or trapezius was being strategically removed by the manner in which the exercise was performed. One of the greatest physiques in bodybuilding history was built without a remotely proper understanding of Exercise Science. Results often come IN SPITE of someone's faulty thinking or methodology, not BECAUSE of it.
Listen: I love Ronnie Coleman. You can learn a lot about mindset and work ethic from a guy like that. He got a lot of things right about intensity and discipline. But he's also a survivor. He survived bad methodology. In the same way that the people alive today talking about how they didn't need bike helmets or seatbelts are the ones who survived to tell us as much. Survivors survived. They didn't succeed BECAUSE of the low-benefit risky behaviors. There's a whole can of worms to be opened about athletic outcomes due to artificial selection, not training method at all. Sometimes we just happen to select people who are inherently a better fit for a vocation. It's an absolute fallacy to draw takeaways from their training to apply toward others. When was the last time you saw a better-trained, harder-working, more genetically-gifted, superior-focused and better-hustling basketball team of 5'5" average height dominate a lesser team of 6'8" average height? In physical activities, many outcomes don't rely on method as much as skeletal frame, muscle fiber type, and a whole litany of uncontrollable factors which cannot be applied to others.
On the opposite side of the equation, several employees of mine claimed that their most impressive Exercise Science professor was a dumpy (their words, not mine), elderly, out-of-shape woman who couldn't even walk. Her knowledge was replete. Her appearance and the fact that she was in a wheelchair didn't have any bearing on her ability to coach others. Possibly, it made her that much better. She was brilliant to the point wherein she astounded students obtaining postgraduate degrees in physiology. But sadly, we all know how she'd stack up against vapid ignoramuses if she opened an Instagram account focusing on fitness.
Especially when it comes to physical fitness, it's really difficult for the onlooker to separate expertise from the visual presentation of the expert. That underlying assumption which most of us carry, however, is a logical fallacy. The weight of an argument stands upon itself. It is entirely immaterial who the person is who's saying the argument. This is a really sneaky logical fallacy. But it's everywhere.
That's just the beginning. We have the added pleasure of situational differences further obscuring our ability to determine precisely who is worth our consideration.
In a way, this haunts me, as it should all fitness professionals. The greatest impact I believe I ever made on clients, peers and employees was at some of my most out-of-shape stages. Crushing defeats and the experience of malcontent with my own health and fitness has repeatedly made me far superior to my former self as a coach and businessperson. Was I really a better fitness professional at 4% bodyfat than when I struggled with Lyme disease at 20% bodyfat? I don't think so. I mean, I KNOW I was best when I wasn’t obsessed with my own program.
Sales can be a bad way to measure impact; but it is A way; and, from a certain point of view, the most financially secure I ever am is when all of my focus is on others. When I had over $60,000 in personal productivity in a single month, I was working 7 days a week. I didn't plan any of my own meals then. When I first went independent in 2013, I made close to $40,000 in the first week. I wasn't even working out, let alone "hitting macros." I didn't even have a social media account until years after these periods.
People care about how you manage your fitness UP TO A POINT. Beyond that, you are being selfish. I'm not saying it as a moral judgement. I mean it in the literal sense. This isn't to diminish the importance of inspiration and motivation. Some coaches excel at inspiration and motivation. Incredible physiques and visual presentation does inspire. But here's food for thought: how would you be the best possible coach for a blind person with muscular dystrophy? For years I've asked this of my mentees. Silence is the usual retort. At workshops with the biggest name gurus I get the same response. Cluelessness. And this is a significant problem, because the deepest and most important points of coaching have to be done without a monkey-see-monkey-do mentality. If a client who is already overstressed, exhausted and objects to drug use enlists the help of a trainer who has always had ample sleep and recovery, great genetics and excessive drug use, do you really think that's the best fit?
Underneath the surface is where health resides, physically and mentally. The mere fact that we obsess about external representations of body composition is concerning. Everyone knows unhealthy people who are muscular and lean. A vast portion of my clients hire me because they are trainers/coaches/medical professionals who are suffering inside. Some have businesses built on their exterior look. But they're depressed. They're at an increased risk of all cause mortality. But they purport to be the pinnacle of health and fitness. Some are addicted to purging via hours of exercise in a manner that is neither healthy nor applicable to the regular populace. Others are addicted to anabolics and stimulants. It's unclear whether they even know how to gain mass without drugs. These "experts" all have the same nonsense methodology: raise volume; raise intensity; cycle carbs. This CANNOT work for most people, because most people are already depleted in all the wrong ways. More depletion will not make healthy an unhealthy person who is over-depleted. That's why most of the "experts" out there can only pull it off with excessive amounts of time which aren't realistic for others, or with piles of drugs.
Again, this isn't a knock against intelligent drug use. Before someone gets his lifestyle under control, blood pressure medication makes sense for a short period of time. People with pituitary disorders probably should take growth hormone. And there are plenty legitimate uses of steroids: birth control; recovery from injury; respiratory viruses; pain management; counter against wasting diseases; reduction of hyper immune response; getting through periods of overwhelm in life. I have clients whose lives were turned around with low dose testosterone - it amplified sleep, honed mental focus, stopped osteoporosis, reversed joint damage, and halted sarcopenia. After Lyme disease, my total pec tear and rotator cuff injury, I seriously considered for the first time in my life any substance which might promise recovery. And that was after I had demonstrated the capacity to gain 60lbs of muscle without any banned substance. So I personally understand the allure.
But for physical looks alone? And all the time? Pretty dumb. If you're going to compete in athletics against other users, sure, it's obligatory. And non-drug-users, don't fool yourselves into thinking you'll just outwork your competition. In the bodybuilding world, drug users aren't slackers. They're working harder than anybody, in part because the drugs allow them to recover and stay driven. But this is precisely the point of the article. A non-drug-user cannot replicate the program, even an approximation, of a drug user. A moderate drug users cannot replicate the program of an extreme drug user. And again, we just circle back to selection. Some people will respond because they are inherently primed to respond. Others will break. One person's "success method" is the injury-guarantee for another.
I can't tell you how many members at gyms fail out because the conventional "wisdom" is a program that a normal human being can't replicate. People are slaving away trying to obtain an unnatural body through impossible means, and they get frustrated.
Do what you want with your life. But don't think you live in a vacuum. Some of the fitness lifestyle that's marketed and popularized IS RESPONSIBLE for the fail rates among the general populace. I start clients with A MAXIMUM of two heavy training sessions per week. If they want to do something daily, I tell them to walk at a rate that breaks a sweat every morning while fasted. More is not more. For the average healthy American, even this may be past his/her limit. In fact, there's good evidence that muscular anabolism in natural athletes is amplified by depth and duration of sleep and of NON-EXERCISE hours.
Some of you will raise eyebrows, because you don't have much experience coaching. I've logged over 70,000 professional hours in the fitness industry, not including my own program and interest in studying human health since I was a child. So, I've seen firsthand people who are sedentary and need to REDUCE their activity. You wouldn't know that if you never did hormonal or metabolic testing with thousands of gym members for 20 years. But I've seen people who are past their anaerobic threshold while sitting in a chair. That is, they are performing what you and I consider an incline sprint workout while they're seated. Move more/eat less doesn't work for a lot of people. But again, if you've been a relatively lean athlete your whole life, you just don't know anything practical for the layperson until long after the first 10,000 hours of coaching regular people. This is also why I distrust high-profile athletic coaches; they simply don't have the chops or experience with making a program work for regular people. Their various ignorances are amplified by their surroundings of selection bias.
This is also why I have to laugh at self-proclaimed experts who've been working out for 20-30 years but only coached people 10-20 hours a week for that same period of time. That's just not enough volume to understand the breadth of what the human experience is in health and fitness. Even for really good peers of mine with less than 10 years of coaching 40+ hours per week, I notice enormous misses in their worldview. I mean, they will just spout outright lies as if that's the golden truth of training. I too have giant gaps in my knowledge base at 35 years of studying this and 20 years of professional expertise. I keep uncovering more layers.
That's the point. Personal experience can be great. But it does not LOGICALLY FOLLOW that a person - no matter how smart, how fit, how experienced - has THE RIGHT answer. The right answer exists in the universe independent of the people who subscribe to it.
All that having been said, let us return to the article title. Extreme physiques are unhealthy for most people. They're going to mean incorrect advice for others. And I’m saying all this as a person who believes that most people would benefit from hitting 5% bodyfat at least once in life. That extreme composition can come at costs which will reduce a person's internal wellness and life expectancy. Thus, I think it's a bad idea to do frequently. But in point of fact, why then would we listen to someone who willfully injures their own bodies in order to be complicit in the lie that extreme physiques represent health? I'm not saying hire a fat trainer. I'm saying, let's reinforce for the population what REAL HEALTH is. The more we support narcissism and drug users, and the more we popularize unnatural lifestyles, the more we are harming ourselves and others. Not to be too teetotaler about it, but don't you think there was some valuable reason in traditional cultures warning against the worship of images, human beauty, physical form?
As visual representations of humans abound, a society deals with greater amounts of depression, anger, and violence. Studies keep coming out which show us that constant visual stimulation correlates strongly with unhealthy thought patterns and emotions. Add to that the very people who have risen to multi-million influencer status in the past ten to fifteen years are contributing to WORSE outcomes. Look at statistics on American obesity and mortality. The outcomes have accelerated in worsening. If a person or organization claims to directly influence millions of people, that’s not a good thing. The vast number of outcomes are worse and at a quickening rate. To proclaim oneself an influencer over vast numbers in these worsening statistics is an admission of wrongdoing, not a brag. If you influence millions, and millions of people are getting unhealthier at a faster rate than before you were an influencer of millions, it’s not a big stretch of imagination to conclude you are doing wrong.
But the marketplace (ie - you) has to assume its responsibility as well. The voices of authority and influencers are worsening the world. But we are the ones who have wrongly attributed “right knowledge” to wrong people. We are consistently duped by our non-rational minds to place our attention on people who don’t actually have correct knowledge. We are drawn toward individuals who have achieved some sort of physical appearance, then listening to their advice which is totally divorced from the reality that would help most people. And we need to be incredibly careful about this, because we’ve already seen this popular propensity NOT work at all for the past 40 years; and we’ve witnessed it working increasingly worse for the past 10.
Correct knowledge is correct knowledge. Solid arguments are solid arguments. Incorrect opinions spouted off by impressive-looking people are still incorrect opinions.
Recent research affirms prior studies showing the benefit of LOWERING the weight (ie - moving WITH gravity; eccentric loading):
In this multi-team study, the participants who emphasized the slow and controlled descent of the weight got all the benefits while doing half the work (and significantly less time).
As most experienced coaches will agree, there is a decided DECREASE in outcomes for gym enthusiasts who approach sets and reps with urgency and tension-avoidance. People begin doing quick reps and trying to quickly arrive at a certain rep count, which ends up supplanting the very stimulus which makes strength training make any sense at all.
I’ve observed tens of thousands of gym-goers; and I’ve trained thousands of clients. In every single case where a person was struggling with results, struggling with joint pain/deterioration, or struggling with muscle or bone density gain/maintenance, I witnessed them execute repetitions in a hurry. “Getting it over with” becomes this theme where the descent of the movement is quick and low effort/low muscular tension/low focus.
There is a place for speed training in competitive athletes and advanced enthusiasts. But among most of the populace, a lot more benefit can be gleaned simply by raising awareness, effort, tension, loading, and program emphasis on the eccentric portion (slowly and controllably moving WITH gravity) of the lift.
Slowly lower weight (moving with gravity) with high effort and control. Fewer reps. Less time. More results.
People get in shape in 9 minutes of exercise: https://www.elev8wellness.com/.../9-minutes-of-exercise...
People with average incomes become millionaires:
Not just theory. Not just potential. Not just “could” or “can.” We have real world examples. Not even circumstantial outliers. Just people who chose to be consistent. More importantly, they chose to start.
I have met many people over the years with the most beautiful and elaborate business plans. Gorgeous business plans. Business plans which they even crafted with the help of an Ivy League MBA or mini-MBA program or a premier consulting group. And then… they never launch.
I have met many more people over the years with the most beautiful and elaborate fitness plans. Gorgeous fitness plans. Fitness plans which they purchased from a trendy app or influencer online program, or even drafted with the help of a genuine professional. And then… they never launch.
Every wonderful success story you ever heard had a messy and imperfect start. But… it had a start.
Not after the holidays, on Monday, on the first of the year, when it’s convenient, when everything is lined up, when the time is right, when the beach trip is around the corner. Forget about motivation and inspiration. Forget about the perfect plan. Forget about the right equipment. Forget about the ideal tools, the optimal environment, the supreme season. Forget everything except this:
The language you say you want to learn.
The instrument you say you want to learn.
The step you say you want to take.
The healthy behavior you say you want.
The business you want to launch.
The person you want to support.
The endings we want contain beginnings we choose to avoid. The best start was 5, 10, 20 years ago. The second best is right now.
According to yet another study:
It can be difficult to balance productive pro-inflammatory cascades against anti-inflammatory cascades. Neither inflammation nor lack of inflammation is good or bad. They both must coexist in a give-and-take.
Lengthy periods of psychological distress or physical stress express too long of anti-inflammatory cascades. It’s well-documented that long bouts of either will damage people. We KNOW that lengthy exercise sessions RAISE risk of upper respiratory infections due to suppression of immune function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2803113/.
That is, it’s TOO MUCH anti-inflammation. As such, chronic endurance exercisers can expect to have needlessly accelerated deterioration of long-term joint integrity and health prospects.
Again, this is why moderate or short duration exercise and intense strength training is superior to all other exercise modalities, and not by a small degree.
For persistent long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs, we expect excessive wearing down of tissue. These findings may be surprising to people unfamiliar with how cell repair works. But growth, building, rebuilding, recovery, and healing are all inflammatory functions in biology and human health. Repair is INFLAMMATORY.
According to every single poll and data collection on the topic since 2010, average screen times globally are at or beyond 7 hours per day, and rising.
Somehow, despite that reality, the common question in the ether is, “how do you find the time to exercise?” Whut?! And really, you could replace the word “exercise” in that question with anything productive, and it wouldn’t get a single head to turn.
Why isn’t the opposite a more common question?
I had clients with zero equipment in-home absolutely skyrocket in their fitness during 2020 and 2021. The one guy had NO WEIGHTS all that time; and we still progressed his capability such that now (in person) he’s repping out 200lb squats and deadlifts. Pretty good for a guy in his 70s who’d had aortic valve replacement and quadruple bypass decades ago. Just tiny invested minutes of movement, targeted, with progressions, results in amazing outcomes.
We have to change the conversation on two fronts.
First, people only need to be consistent. They don’t need endless hours and piles of equipment. Frankly, the biggest fitness equipment and tracking tech junkies I know have some of the worst results.
Second, YOU DO HAVE TIME.