Charlatan

noun

  1. a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud.

 

In the health and fitness world there are a number of charlatans. Unfortunately lots of people want to make changes to their physique. May it be losing fat, gaining muscle, or both at the same time. These people are willing to spend money for supplements, personal training, and training programs. The goal here is not to call anyone out, but to help you, dear reader, with understanding some basic points to look for if someone is talking out of the wrong orifice and are going to swindle you out of your hard earned money.

 

Supplements

Does it promise to be “exercise in a pill”, “get you to lose weight without working out”, or “let you eat anything you want”? If so it is either meth which does work, or something that doesn’t really work and don’t waste your money on it. Supplements outside of things like anabolic steroids, growth hormone, clenbuterol, and other illegal substances maybe add 5% to your performance. The real progress you will make is through your own hard work and effort. These can just add a little bit, don’t expect there to be great progress made just by taking a supplement.

 

Training Programs

First off, the program that works for someone else might not work for you. Does the program use compound movements? If it never does move on. Does it progress from week to week (get harder in some way)? Does the person who is selling you this program say that it worked for them so it should for you? Will it also suddenly make you as tall or short as that person? How is this program tapered to your and your goals? Does it train each muscle group in your body more than once per week?

 

Personal Trainers

Ask the trainer who have they trained. If they haven’t trained anyone before, do you want to be their first guinea pig? How do they like to divide up their program, if they just do one body part or muscle group per day for their clients you can do better. If they immediately want to sell you supplements or food plans be wary. Ask them how they like to progress their program, if they don’t know how to answer this question move on. Ask them about what their goals are for your muscle gain or fat loss. If they say they can deliver more than one pound of each per week (and you aren’t over 400lbs.) this is not feasible. Do they seemingly change the exercises and program every single week? If so find someone else.

 

It pains me and annoys me each time I find one of my students buying some crumby Instagram butt model’s or false natty’s (guy who uses steroids and claims that he doesn’t) program that is not only awful, but misleading. There are a number of good programs out there, unfortunately with social media these days there is a lot of noise. Think critically about the things that are being marketed to you. Ask why this should work for you, or why it should work better than anything that you have done before. Thanks as always for reading and let me know if you have any questions over what might fall in this trap.

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Fixed vs. growth mindsets

I recently got to have a fun weekend with a great friend where we talked about life, the universe, and everything. One thing that we kept bringing up is our enjoyment of the book Mindset. Specifically, talking about the main treatise in the book about the fixed vs. growth mindset. The idea that in a specific area you are either improving your skills since they are plastic (growth), or stuck and stagnating where no improvements or changes are occurring (fixed). How often in life have you heard people saying that they are “no good” at one thing or another? Typically they haven’t tried to learn or practice that skill to actually get to the point in the learning curve where they start making improvements. How many people reading this can play the harmonica, ride a unicycle, or fly a paraglider? The way to get good at any of these is to practice and build your abilities. This is why a growth mindset is important no matter how good you are at a task, or you still stagnate and improve no further.

So if you are good at a skill, what are you currently doing to try and get even better? Are you still challenging yourself to learn a new technique, or improving the ones you already have? When is the last time when you wrote something that you actually focused on improving your hand writing? We all started off not being able to write or type. So have you actually tried to improve your ability to do these things?

Not all one way of the other

An important concept here is no one is really all growth or all fixed mindset. We can apply different mindsets in different areas. Maybe you are in a growth mindset with your physical training, but in your daily habits like cooking you are fixed. Think about an area that you haven’t improved for quite some time, and if you did improve it what enhancements in your quality of life would potentially occur.

Work towards growth everywhere.

It will never be enough

I’ve competed in strength sports and trained myself to a pretty high level in powerlifting and strongman. I’ve gotten hurt in training multiple times and have been lucky to only have had one major surgery from training related injuries. This all occurred in the journey to be as strong as possible* (*without drugs, still being able to move, being in decent shape, and not getting to be as large as humanly possible). A problem that I see in myself and other lifters is that we don’t often set what is enough. When are you strong enough? Big enough? Fast enough? Now this is a vain problem when it comes to competing, but the issue these days is usual in the form of social media. A number of my students are chasing bigger glutes, arms, etc. not to be a better athlete, but instead to fulfill an aesthetic. The problem with this is we are holding ourselves to standards that are not enjoyable to actually attain, and frequently our genetics limit us to what we can accomplish.  The goal here is to simply look in to some realities of what is attainable, and what the cost is to get there. At the end of the day, I hope when you look in the mirror you like the person looking back at you. Keep in mind this is a journey, and destination thinking can lead to yoyo dieting and other negative relationships with your own health.

 

Leanness

When it comes to how lean we are there is a genetic component and a huge environmental component. To get down to a health long term body composition for men (8-15% body fat) and women (18-25% body fat) which puts you in the lean to normal categories you figure you will have to work out and eat a sensible diet (heads up, metabolic disease throws a huge wrench it to these numbers). Some lucky souls can walk around at that body fat percentage without really working out whatsoever, while others will have to put in solid work to get to those levels and stay there. Now to get in to those body fat levels you will likely spend some time feeling hungry, but not all the time. In order to get lean and ultra-lean (think bodybuilders on stage) you will have to put in concentrated effort and spend nots mere hours but days and weeks of just being hungry. In order to look “shredded” you are going to have to not only workout, and calorie restrict, but even take a hard look at using drugs to help you get and stay leaner. I have a friend who is a model and his “cheat” food is making a slushie with BCAAs and Splenda. Staying ultra-lean is hard on your mind and your body, it might be fun to peak once in your life and see all of your abs, but if you want to stay a friendly person I suggest accepting the fact that you will only have a little ab definition and actually feel good and full most of the time.

 

Muscle Mass

I’ve posted before on limits to how much muscle mass someone will have if they are drug free. Overall, I can’t say for sure what the limits are to how much muscle mass you can have relative to your height or otherwise, but it definitely seems like a lean mass that puts you at a FFMI of 30 or above is using steroids and other drugs to gain muscle. This means that a guy at 5’10” would only be able to get their lean mass up to 210lbs. (before adding fat on to the body) this means if this guy was 10% body fat he would weigh in 231lbs. For women it is safe to say this number would likely be lower due to the testosterone differences. Now the amount of muscle mass you can gain in a week much less month is hard to say, but likely less than 1lbs. of lean mass. If you are a novice you might be able to do put on over 2lbs. when you first start training, but once you are well trained you are only looking at maybe half a pound per week or less.

 

Speed

Turns out if you weren’t the fastest kid in school growing up you aren’t likely ever going to be the fastest athlete later on in life. A certain amount of speed is influenced by genetics. You can get faster from strength and power training, but figure you aren’t going to make over a 50% improvement, more likely a 25% would be the ceiling for most folks. Meaning if you untrained can sprint a 5 second 40 yard dash you can possibly get this down to a 4.6 (which is real fast). If you can only run a 6 second 40 yard dash you will be unlikely to run a 5 second or less 40 yard dash. Now if you have a huge amount of body fat that you lose you will likely massively improve your speed.

 

Strength

How much you can lift can be increased by over 50% in less than 6 months and you can even double or triple your strength with time. However, genetics again will limit how fast you can improve your strength and what the ceiling that can be attained will be limited. Your bone structure and injury history can all effect how strong you will be. Take your time and look at your health and what you want to be able to do when you get older. I have friends who have already had a hip replacement and aren’t even in their 50s, but they could squat a 1000lbs. at one point.

 

Improving any physical ability will require more time and energy in order to get better and better. Your risk of injury increase the more your push the maximum of your physiology. Understand that we as humans are limited, to have a solid level of physical abilities will require some effort, but nothing absurd. As you increase to the limits of physical performance you are going to put a lot more stress on your life and the ones around you. Have your goals, do your best to attain them but still ground yourself in reality. In the words of a good friend “a man can be two of three things at once; big, lean, or natural.” If you want to push the boundaries at some point you will have to make some decisions and keep investing in to your physical performance, and if you want a family and otherwise be mindful of where you invest your time.

Getting Me those Big Thick Meaty Inner Thighs

In just about any gym you will find the hip abduction and hip adduction machine. Sometimes referred to the “good girl” and “bad girl” machines. You will find a number of people doing nearly infinite number of sets thinking that this will tone and tighten the inner and outer thighs. This is not really how this works.

First off, you use those same muscles when squatting, lunging, or sumo deadlifting a heavy load. Those exercises have the added advantage of training the other muscles of your legs along with your core. They also have a better carryover to daily life and sport.

Second, any time you train a muscle it has only one response to training and that is to get bigger. So if you spend countless hours on these machines you are going to make your groin muscles and outer hip muscles bigger. I personally like this effect since it helps out with things like strong man and powerlifting, however, most of the people doing this don’t want to get thick upper thighs that recreationally eat their pants.

For most people, they should stay off of those machines and use them only as rehabilitation or prehabilitation exercises. If you are looking to achieve a “thigh gap” then this is a great way to make sure that doesn’t happen. What most folks need to do is to lose some fat and keep their muscles the same size or increase their size slightly and you can do this much better by doing things like sprinting, heavy weight training, and most importantly slightly cutting back your calories (take out 100-400 calories per day). Thanks as always for reading.

Stupid Conditioning Workouts: The Hurt Locker

This is not a reference to the movie, but instead a brutal sled conditioning circuit that my sadistic friend came up with. This is the one that nearly got named after me, since I have nearly vomited from it each time I have tried it. The set up is very simple.

Take a sled and load it with 70-100lbs. and push it by the base or low handles for 15 yards. You do this initially on a 40 second clock, then 35, then 30, 25, and the rest with pushing it every 20 seconds. You do this for as long as you can. Simply sprinting down one way and taking the left over time to breathe and turn the sled around to sprint it back. Initially you get plenty of rest, but by the end you are struggling and constantly pushing this sled. As soon as you no longer beat the clock to make the distance in 20 seconds you are finishing the last few moments of this with constant movement. Also, you don’t stop until you don’t make your time for three sprints in a row (one full minute of motion with a sled).

That’s it.

It’s awful and you have been warned. If you give it a shot, may god have mercy on your soul since this workout won’t.

The Set Point Fallacy (also how there isn’t such a thing as a plateau)

Recently I have been having conversations with students about weight gain and loss and how they feel they are stuck at a “set point” for their body. This is a misnomer, but for the lay individual it is a quick explanation for a phenomena that includes a few components. The idea is that your body has a set weight that it wants to be. This “set point” it very hard for you to get above or below. Instead, I like to think of this as three individual pieces that help you converge on a typical body weight. The three pieces are your genetics (things like metabolic rate, predisposition to carry muscle, etc.), your activity levels (exercise, walking, NEET, etc.), and your caloric intake (food).

We all have habits and behaviors for how much exercise we do, how much food we tend to eat, and so on. This tends to get us to eventually stabilize at one weight or another. If we were to just keep eating a bit more than how much we need each day we would very slowly increase our body weight overtime (in fact this is what most Americans do). Now, what a lot of people don’t realize is most people when you increase their calories they will actually increase their activity levels a little bit and their resting metabolic rate will go up. The same is true when you are trying to lose weight, so people will think they are in a caloric deficit, but they will be moving less and using less calories than they would have otherwise which will sabotage their weight loss and make them think they are stuck at their “set point”.

As you gain weight your resting metabolic rate increases and the inverse is true. This means that which was once a surplus will over a long period of time lead to a plateau. The same can be said about progress in the gym that eventually the stress of your training is not enough to cause increased performance unless you do something different to illicit adaptation. There is a lot of subtlety here, so be careful when changing your program to see what is still working, and what needs different stimuli to get progress to begin again.

An example of this would be if you ate a 5 calorie excess every day, but the rest of your training program stayed the exact same. Over the course of a year this would get you over the 3,500kcal that it takes to build a pound of fat. So every year for the rest of your life you would gain another pound. This won’t work, because for each extra pound you weigh your resting metabolic rate would go up by about 3-7 calories so that 5 calories excess would eventually cause you to stabilize at a new body weight. This is how you start to find yourself at a set point.

What is terrifying to understand, is that if you want to lose a large amount of weight and then stay that size after the diet is “over”, you need to eat at a maintenance and keep up the activity levels. This means if you were running every day and eating less to lose weight if you want to maintain that body weight you still need to run every day and eat less than you were before the diet otherwise you are going to go right back to where you started. The same is true if you are trying to gain weight. That increased intake will be what you have to do every day for the rest of your life. This is the basic reason why a number of people successful lose weight, but then fail to keep it off. Look for long term strategies and lifestyles that you can maintain without going insane.

If the set point was true there wouldn’t be this increase in body size throughout the world in just the past 50 years since humans have been around for quite a bit longer than that. There are a lot of factors that go in to how you are built, just try to be aware of how each contributes to your current build and body size.

What to do with this knowledge…

When you are trying to gain or lose weight, track not only your calories, but your total movement by things like a step counter (could be a fitbit, garmin, apple watch, etc.). They aren’t perfect, but you can see if you are falling prey to that moving more or less and killing any progress you would otherwise see. Remember all results you get from your training are due to everything you put in. If you aren’t aware of what you are putting in it can be easy to misattribute some of your progress (or lack thereof) to things that aren’t actually related.

Put something in, take something out.

We all are working with the same 24 hours each day. Due to this limitation it can be easy to think about adding in one more workout, training program, time commitment, etc. But each time we add something in eventually we have to take something out. So with this thought in mind, when you are making changes in your life think not just about what you are going to add in, but what are you going to remove. This can be useful since you can improve your quality of life by removing things like one hour of looking on social media or TV each night and adding in an hour of going for a walk and talking with friends. However, you can start to do things that take away from your health like sleeping one less hour so you can get up and do something else.

Side bar: irregardless of what anyone tells you about being “tough” and going sleep deprived there are volumes of research out there that show undeniably that sleep deprivation decreases not only your health in a myriad of ways, but it decreases your quality of work you perform. This book is a good start to read about how important sleep is.

So when you add in an hour of partying hard or binging on pizza that is one less hour you could spend doing something else. This isn’t meant to be a character judgement, more a simple reminder to be mindful for how you invest your time and energy. We have a finite amount of both, so the better job that you do with optimizing your time and being mindful of its use the better you can make your quality of life.

Honestly, I’m writing this as a thought exercise for myself. I’m not that good at time management, but it is something I’ve been working on and thinking about. What things are you trying to add in to your life? When you do this, what will you have to take out? Let me know if there is anything going on for you right now in this area.

Invest or Withdrawal?

Recently I was traveling for a conference and passed through a number of airports. While there, there was a huge amount of people watching which was interesting to say the least. One thing that fascinates me is tattoos and piercings. I don’t have any, but I find them interesting and often really cool to see. One of the reasons I don’t have any tattoos is that I am very cheap and I’m not about to pay huge amounts of money to get one. This got me thinking about how much money people have invested in their tattoos which then went on to how much people invest in their own body. Then I went down a rabbit hole of a thought exercise and without further ado, here we go.

Investing in yourself

Just like with your retirement you can invest in yourself in a variety of ways. And just like retirement investments some are naturally more risky, but give you greater potential returns. Others are very safe but give you small returns. More importantly some are a waste of time and energy. Now, keep in mind that this is a thought exercise and some things that people invest in are done for psychological reasons, not as a means to enhance themselves which is not the point of this post.

Best safe investments

Your nutrition, sleep, education, and low intensity exercise are your best safe investments for improving your overall health. Paying more for better food, a nice bed, and decent equipment will give you a great return on your investment with your own health and should not be under appreciated.

Volatile investments

High intensity training, very heavy resistance training, large volume aerobic training, and perhaps sauna use. These can give you potentially great enhancements in performance and your health, but there are added risks here with a larger risk of injury. I like to invest in myself with a number of those choices, but turns out I have been hurt doing them as have many of other people.

Useless investments

Hair cuts, tanning, tattoos, piercings are things you can spend money on with yourself but these are either quickly depreciating investments or investments that give you no real added value (but potentially give you psychological value). You can put your resources in to these, but there are better methods to invest in that will give you greater health and performance improvements.

Withdrawal

Now you can invest in yourself to improve yourself, but on the other side of the coin is to withdrawal from your health and performance. This is something that people often overlook. Some examples of withdrawing behaviors is; not sleeping enough, eating garbage foods, being sedentary, and doing drugs (drinking, smoking, etc.). Lifestyle stress is another form of withdrawal and this can be through relationships, work, and the environment that you live in. This is important to remember since a number of folks do invest in themselves but their withdrawing behaviors leave them at a neutral health balance at best and potentially a negative monthly balance.

Your overall health, wellness, and performance are all going to be moved in the direction that your total monthly investment and withdrawals give you. Some investments give you more than others, but do what you enjoy while being mindful of what is easy and safe to improve yourself. Understand that you can be working against yourself as hard as you are investing and due to this you will be effectively going nowhere. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions please let me know.

Better Living Through Science – Tracking Your Health Metrics

Recently I lost a good friend (and great human being) to a heart attack at only the age of 35. This guy was not obese, worked out frequently and lived a good life. Days before he was stunting in a cheerleading gym and could still do a backflip with ease. I miss him, and there is nothing I can do to help him now, but I can spend some time writing about things you can track to make sure that you live the longest life you possibly can by just tracking a few simple health metrics. Often we are told to obsess about our weight in this culture and that can give you good information if you are massively under or over weight, but after that there are a few easy, but effective things to track. Here they are in no particular order:

Your waist size

A larger waist is not necessarily a bad thing since there are muscles that surround your core, however, once this gets to a certain size it is due to the fat deposited. This fat can come in two different forms, the subcutaneous which is right under the skin and then the visceral which is literally wrapped around your organs and makes it harder for them to function as you increase the amount. Aim to keep your waist under 36 inches no matter the gender (I have no clue what this means in women’s sizes, since those aren’t anchored in logical numbers). This does require using an actual measuring tape since jean sizes can be wildly inaccurate for what a person’s waist size is. Aim to do this right around your belly button and don’t be sucking it in when you do so.

Your body fat percentage

How much body fat you carry can have a number effects on your health. Body fat serves as not only an energy store, but also as insulation, stores for some vitamins (and even toxins), along with being important for hormone production. Too much fat can have obvious effects on your athleticism, joint health, and lead to things like diabetes and high blood pressure, what people don’t think about is this fat (specifically the visceral fat) wraps around your internal organs which makes it harder for them to function. Your goal for long term health is to keep your body fat in the normal category to perhaps the lean. For men this tends to be between 8-20% where I would suggest staying under 15% and for women this will be from 18%-30%. Now, we all have predisposition for how much fat we have, but your goal should be to carry enough that you have reserves if anything happens (think real bad stomach flu), but not so much that you are carrying around a lot more load for your body to carry. Tracking this once or twice per year will give you information on how your body is trending and this information can help you decide how you might want to change your training and nutrition. The normal setting for people is to gain fat (and lose muscle mass) with time. Do your best to keep this from trending upward with time.

Your resting heart rate

How many times per minute your heart beats is related to literally how hard your heart needs to work at rest to keep you alive. You can think about this in a number of ways, for example what percentage of your maximal heart rate your resting heart rate represents or just how low that number is. High level marathoners will have a resting heart rate that can even get down to the low thirties or high twenties. Well trained people should have a resting heart rate in the high forties to low fifties since this low heart rate is caused by the heart pumping more blood per beat so it doesn’t have to work as hard at rest. Your goal should be to have a resting heart rate in the 50s-60s and that this number should be consistent with time and perhaps even decrease a bit showing that your heart is becoming even more well trained. Some people do have a naturally high resting heart rate, but being aware of this is important. Also, things like dehydration and caffeine will increase your resting heart rate. Aim to check this when you first wake up in the morning or after you have been sitting relaxed for a few minutes.

Your blood pressure

This is the systolic over the diastolic pressure that you get measured often at the doctor’s office by putting a cuff on your arm. The top number is the highest pressure (measured in your arm) of blood being pushed around your artery. Systolic pressure is when you heart is contracting. The lower number (diastolic) is the pressure in your arteries when your heart is relaxed. Both numbers matter since the first shows how forcefully your heart is contracting (at rest) and the bottom is how much pressure you have on the lines. Just like too high of pressure on pipes in a building, if this pressure becomes too great (for either number) it can cause damage and a massive increase in risk for things like heart attacks and stroke. If you have high blood pressure there is not only a number of medications that you can take, but you can change your diet and often doing exercise consistently will help your bring this down. This is something to have checked once or twice per year at a minimum since it is called the “silent killer” for good reason. Stress, inactivity coupled with high salt intake, and genetics can cause this number to go up.

Your blood lipid profile

There are a number of values that a blood test can give you. I’m not going to get in to all of them, but if you have insurance that will pay for it you should get a full blood panel done once each year. This is important for the fact that you can track how your health metrics are trending like anything else. Also, some of these values will let you see how your body was when you were younger (and often healthier) so you can have some goals for what to attain along with perhaps some numbers to hit if you ever choose to do hormone replacement therapy. The big ones to check are your cholesterol levels (total, HDL, LDL, and particle size), blood glucose, triglycerides, and maybe your thyroid hormone levels (TSH, T4, and T3) along with your sex hormones (testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, etc.). High cholesterol level, specifically high LDL levels and low HDL levels are related to heart disease and stroke risk. High blood glucose levels (along with A1C levels which show what your average blood sugar over the past month or two) shows your trending towards type two diabetes. The sex and thyroid hormones just show what your general metabolism and gender specific numbers are like. Be careful when looking at “normal” values, since this is simply looking at people that are disease free between 18-65 years old. Your goal should be to be optimal, not just merely acceptable. An example of this would be a decent fasting blood sugar but a high A1C level which tells you that you don’t have diabetes when you aren’t eating for long periods to time, but you spend most of the time with food in you.

Your genetics

If you know who your parents are and you grandparents you can get a good idea as to what your disease risks are. If everyone in your family gets diabetes you know what you need to be mindful of. The same is true for any other major disease that can occur which have a genetic component. If you don’t know your parents or want even better information you can get your genetics ran through a number of companies like 23andme along with promethease. This information can you manage your risk for long term health. Once you know this you don’t need to rerun it per say, but knowledge in the area of genetics is constantly improving so having this information can change with time, specifically the interaction of different genes.

Outrunning, pacing, or being overran by your program?

Any program worth its salt incorporates some form of progressive overload. By adding in more weight, sets, reps, etc. you get better with time. The issue with a program is how fast does this progression occur? When you first start off you can make massive changes in a short period of time. You can nearly add 5lbs. do your squat every workout or at the least every week. The issue is as you get older this rate of adaptation declines (older as in training age). So you need to look at the program you are running and ask yourself if it is feasible for you to keep up that level of progression for the long haul. The goal for training is to get better, not to get injured or buried by your training.

Also with these progressions, some programs might progress too slowly for how fast you are improving. As a beginner or intermediate don’t do an advanced person’s program. Take advantage of being able to make rapid improvements while you can and just slowly follow your own progression as you move forward.  Outrunning a program is not necessarily a bad thing, since this allows you to be slightly under stressed by the program, being overran will beat you up badly though. If the program is progressing faster than you are capable of doing then likely your technique will suffer at the least, or simply you will fail to make the lifts needed opening the door for injury over a long enough period of time.

So aside from being a thought exercise, I thought I’d lay out some programs that are popular these days and how fast they progress along with what person they tend to be good for:

Program Progress rate Best for
Starting Strength (ripped off as the strong lifts program) Increase load from one workout to the next Beginners
Texas Method Increase load each week Beginners/Intermediates
Renaissance Periodization Monthly progressions and then back down Nearly anyone
APRE Weekly performance increases depending on performance Beginners to intermediates
5/3/1 Increase your max once a month Nearly anyone
Juggernaut Increase your max once a month Nearly anyone
Cube Method Increase your max once every 10 weeks More advanced trainees

 

With the progress rate of the program, keep in mind that some movements progress faster than others in strength (deadlifts compared to military press) and if you haven’t trained a movement before, but your other lifts are more advanced you can use a more aggressive program for that movement as long as you keep yourself in balance. Look at the program you are thinking about doing and see if the progress rate seems feasible for how fast you have been progressing in the past. If you have any questions about this, feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks as always for reading.