Writing is a pain in the ass.
Seriously. Even though I’ve written my share of words over the years I don’t think I’ve ever had a grand old time doing it.
I procrastinate, lose my train of thought, and will find almost ANYTHING to do rather than tickle the keyboard. However, as the saying goes, while I do not enjoy writing, I love having written. Especially if it’s something that delivers value to most anyone that reads it.
One of my more popular blogs was this one I wrote on my 44th birthday. It wasn’t exactly “The Sun Also Rises” of fitness, but it did have a lot of tips and takeaways that seemed to resonate with people.
I was so motivated by the response I vowed to write a similar blog every week. So I could build a library of good, helpful content.
Yeah, that never happened. Glad I kept that vow to myself.
So to make up for all those weeks I failed to blog, here are 50 things I’ve learned, discovered, or (finally) figured out the past year. They cover a wide range of issues, from fitness and fat loss to becoming a dad, so I hope everyone can find some value here.
Because like I said a year ago, I do what I do to help solve problems and insert some positive energy into a decidedly negative world.
The “having written” thing? I’d rather just go train arms.
The key to a morning routine.
People are figuring out that copying the morning routines of successful people is a ruse. Does anyone really think following Warren Buffet’s lead and grabbing breakfast every day at a McDonalds drive thru will translate into billions in their bank account?
For most that’s just a fast track to heart disease and a car that smells like food court flatulence.
The underlying key isn’t what makes up your morning routine, it’s simply having one. A repeatable, near-automatic routine can set you on course for productive workday (or training day) and not a reactionary, chaos-filled stress-fest.
Repetition + Consistency + Structure = Success.
The meaning of life, from a Meathead.
I type the words sets, reps, and biceps more times a day than any reasonably intelligent person ever should. So, during the time between programs, I either tease my bulldogs with a laser pointer…or ponder issues like the meaning of life.
And, you know—I‘ve almost figured the shit out.
Life is either the pursuit of truth or the expression of kindness. Or maybe both? I think kindness is the higher goal, but you can’t be truly kind if you’re a dishonest person. And you can’t be an honest person if you willingly turn a blind eye to lies.
So perhaps the meaning of life is to pursue truth (even if it’s to your own peril) while also developing a skill-set that not just enriches your life but also the lives of other people.
Yes, even strangers who don’t look like you. They matter too.
Look at that. Saved you thousands in therapy.
Now where’s my laser pointer?
A lesser talked about aspect of loving yourself.
You can want to look better and still love your body. You can even do it without becoming vain or obsessed or insufferably self-absorbed. It’s really not that hard if you’re firm in your values (which might be a whole other conversation).
Having a network of friends who call you on your bullshit never hurts either.
Vows from a father to his son.
When my son arrived I made a number of personal vows.
I’ll share three:
- Spend 15 minutes a day with him; no smartphone, no distractions.
- Never let him see me on Facebook
- Never swear in front of him.
So far I’m doing pretty good, except for the last one.
Dad Bod or Man Candy?
Speaking of my son. My “healthy lifestyle” really took a nose-dive after he was born. Part of it was terrible planning on my part. I knew I was going to be training (and sleeping) a lot less after he showed up so I went on a fairly restrictive fat loss plan leading up to his arrival. Because every Dad should have abs in the delivery room. Right.
All I did was set myself up to be extra hungry, stressed, and sedentary at the same time. Just as my newborn son came somersaulting out of the oven.
Well done, “coach.”
Good news is I got my shit together fast and bounced back with some of the best training of my life. I think wanting to set an example for the mini-me watching every damn thing I did was the big motivator, plus remembering that “this stuff” (training, eating well, living a healthy lifestyle) is more than just a hobby—it’s part of who I am and what I feel I’m meant to do.
So what was the plan? I doubled down on the Big Rocks to “bounce off” the chunk I gained.
(Tip: fat you gain quickly tends to fly off just as fast when you get back on task.)
Once things were really rolling I cranked up the volume on certain days and cycled calories and cardio accordingly.
I’ll map it all out in an upcoming blog. But the biggest takeaway is: I began by nailing the BASICS before I got fancy. And the basics included reminding myself why training and nutrition was important to me in the first place.
Sometimes, maybe, we’re given what we’ve earned.
It’s interesting how often praise for possessing “God-given talent” is accompanied by criticism for being a “type-A perfectionist.”
I think those two might be linked at the hip.
Business coaches can give you so much more.
I frequently get random business gurus offering to help me make more money. “You’re sitting on a potential goldmine,” they say.
Their drumbeat is always “more.” More attention, more clicks, more sales, more money. So you can get a bigger house, a fancy car, a yacht to waterski behind, and more “free time” to spend with loved ones.
And when they say more, they mean it. Because, if you buy into this hyper-materialistic value-system, you’re also more likely to spend more time working, desperately trying to acquire more “more.”
Oh, and the biz guru gets more too, regardless of the outcome.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to make more money. Who doesn’t? But “more” just doesn’t stir me the way it once did.
Life (read: getting my ass kicked by it) and plenty of introspection has taught me that the more joy I allow myself to feel from things that can’t be assigned a dollar value, the happier I am.
For me that’s my family. Walking my dogs. Training and feeding my body well. Surrounding myself with good company and laughing. Oh, and helping people. These are all things that I find truly precious, because they can’t be bought…nor can they be easily replaced.
I still have a very long way to go as a business owner but a potential goldmine? That’s where you’re lost Mr. Business Guru, and where you lost me.
I already have a goldmine.
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Protect your space. Ruthlessly.
Don’t let anyone gaslight you, whether it’s family, the media, politics, and certainly not some douchebag on Facebook. Your headspace is the most important real estate you’ll ever own. Protect it.
Good Coaching for Dummies
Good coaching is about simplicity. It’s not imposing your will and designing some cutting edge plan—it’s working with a person’s current way of traveling and making it better.
From there it’s making subtle tweaks to the plan while keeping a close eye on the lifestyle. You need to be observant, pinpointing current problems, keeping a watchful eye for potential problems down the road, and (even more important) providing real solutions for those real-life problems.
I particularly enjoy helping people connect a healthy lifestyle with something bigger. Wanting to fit into a size 6 or sport veiny arms is cool but for many it’s not enough to keep those motivational fires burning in the long term.
For a kid in college maybe the veiny arms are a means to finding their first girlfriend. For a dad in his late forties, maybe the training is simply so he can keep that same college kid from finally trouncing him in a game of horse. Regardless of the reason, you’ve gotta connect it to something bigger—something real.
Recently I’ve been helping other coaches get better results from their clients and it’s something I plan to do more of. Sounds like a shameless plug for a service I haven’t even defined (isn’t that a marketing trick?) but it’s more to keep me honest.
If I don’t put stuff “in writing” I never do it.
To that end, I also have to quit buying peanut butter.
Building people up feels better than tearing them down. No matter how moral.
I raise an eyebrow when people take a strong anti-bullying position online but then join every single Facebook lynch mob pile-on that surfaces. I get it with big issues, but how a person trains or eats or their chosen political stripe or a piece of content they happen to “like?”
I’ll be honest, I was as guilty of that shit as the next guy. At least until someone who works in mental health pointed out that behavior is a growing cause of social isolation, depression, anxiety, even suicide.
Plenty of things other than a Facebook “like” can give you a dopamine hit. Including helping people.
Like I say, Truth and Kindness.
“Good intentions, doesn’t know any better.”
I find zero value in time management advice from 20-30 something guys who don’t have kids. I file it next to their advice on manhood.
But I do appreciate their mastery of technology. Can somebody ask my tech guy for the address of that “app store” place again?
Some expressions have an expiration date.
A few expressions that I’d like to see go the way of Blockbuster because they’re misguided, outdated, or do real harm to vulnerable people:
- Pull yourself up by your bootstraps
- Look after the pennies and the dollars take care of themselves
- Happy wife, happy life
- You have to secure your own airmask before assisting someone else
- You’re either with us or against us.
- “I’m the furthest thing from a racist but —“
- “I’m as straight as the next guy but —“
Actually, the last one is kinda funny, given my social circle. Might get that put on a t-shirt.
What are you good at?
Screw discovering your passion. Figure out what you’re naturally good at instead, and how you might use it to help people and earn a living. If it’s something you don’t love, don’t quit, stick with it, give it an honest go.
Your level of enjoyment will grow as you experience success (we like doing shit were good at) and helping people is satisfying on many levels. I can’t guarantee you’ll end up wealthy but you will grow rich.
If you want to help, make sure you’re actually helping.
If your primary motivation is to help people then you’re at least on the right track. And anyone earnestly trying to help others is sorta okay in my book.
However, that chiropractor who said his “intent” to heal my shoulder was more important than the actual treatment modality ended up being as useless as tits on a bull.
Intending to be helpful and being helpful are not the same thing.
Most people should cut out alcohol on a fat loss diet. Those who find that statement infuriating probably need to cut out alcohol, period.
The way you look at things matters. A lot.
Reframing is key. For example, the “dreaded fat loss plateau?” Body composition changes are never perfectly linear. So a plateau is really a summit or a sign you’ve reached the next step. You’ve climbed one mountain, now you get to climb a taller one. Don’t get mad – celebrate!
Another example? You’re hungry, but that’s okay. It means you’re burning fat. Okay, maybe not entirely accurate but if it keeps you out of the cookie jar…
Your willpower (probably) isn’t the problem, you just keep poking it too much.
While contest dieting, Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates would dream he was bingeing on sausages and junk food. He’d wake up panic-stricken, and for a brief moment think he just ate those foods—and then remember he didn’t keep junk food in the house.
So, arguably the most focused bodybuilder of all time wasn’t 100% confident in his willpower, nor did he feel it wise to test while dieting.
Just something to consider before bringing three family-sized bags of Doritos home “ just in case company drops by.”
Climate Control for Fat Loss
Trying to lose fat? Don’t confuse weather and climate. One day of bad eating = the weather.
How you eat over many weeks or months = the climate.
A few fat burners I have all my clients try.
The most underrated “fat burners” are consistent sleep/wake/meal times. Get your body in a predictable, repeatable pattern and things tend to happen quicker.
Not to mention, making adjustments is much easier. Consistency allows you to be smart. And being smart allows you to see change.
Fat loss is hard, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
There are many tools and skills you can learn to help you lose fat. But the most important doesn’t require an app. Hell, you won’t even need a calculator:
It’s learning to distinguish between true physiological hunger and cravings (which are often triggered by stress, emotion, or mere habit). Learn that skill and fat loss suddenly becomes really, really simple.
But still not easy. It’s never easy.
You can drill a hole into the bottle…or you can just remove the cork.
Most people are one lifestyle “bottleneck” away from dramatically faster fat loss. Identify it, address it, and good things will start happening.
However, lifestyle bottlenecks are tricky to spot if they’re only visible “down the line” in terms of food choices or behavior.
For example, stress or anxiety can leading to poor sleep, that poor sleep can lead to evening cravings for sweets, and those sweets can lead (obviously) to weight gain. In this equation it’s the stress (and its underlying cause) that’s the real issue, not the food choice.
Find the root of the problem and you can usually remove it as a whole.
The 1 Thing Hindering Your Fat Loss (that coaches don’t want you to know about)
The number one killer of fat loss progress isn’t hidden calories, bingeing, hunger, or not getting in enough steps—its anxiety.
Here’s what happens: Results come slowly, they lose faith in what they’re doing, start listening to Roberta in accounting, the conflicting advice becomes a stressor, and then…they snap.
So clearly, the solution to the diet problem is to allow Roberta to work from home.
After two decades in this industry, I can safely say that “I manage my weight through running” tends to be industry code for “I have unresolved food issues that will require professional unpacking.”
Cardio on a (time) budget.
Can’t find time for 30 minutes of cardio? Go for three 10-minute walks. This fitness thing is like Burger King — you can have it your way. (Just don’t walk to Burger King three times a day).
Sometimes mindfulness is the last thing you need.
I write variations of the phrases “get into a pattern,” “structure and consistency,” and “punch the clock,” far more than popular and exciting words like cardio, fasting, and even protein.
Confessions of a former dork.
My industry is full of smart, helpful people. It’s also full of shitbags and dorks. Though to be clear, dork isn’t really an insult. It’s simply someone new to a field or endeavor that’s still really wet behind the ears and, while they’d claim otherwise, hasn’t quite figured it out yet.
I suppose it’s like the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Though whenever I type that I just end up thinking of Diane Kruger and my day is shot.
Anyway, I was a dork once, and although it took a few decades I turned out okay. In fact, being a former dork is probably the loftiest of goals, because otherwise it means you’re still one. So, take it easy on the dorks.
The shitbags on the other hand? Eesh.
Bodybuilding is incredibly flexible. There’s just no reason to do an exercise that hurts. There’s almost always an alternative exercise or simple tweak that can help, even switching from barbell to dumbbell presses or changing the bench angle or bar path.
Tip: you don’t have to wait until you’re actually injured to start incorporating these subtle changes every few workouts, or even within a workout.
Example: 4 sets of lying EZ bar triceps extensions:
Set 1: lower the bar to the chin
Set 2: lower the bar to the nose,
Set 3: lower the bar third to top of head
Set 4: lower the bar behind head (pullover style).
You can even perform all those permutations in a row as a mechanical advantage drop-set. I stole that from Poliquin 20 years ago.
Basically 80% of my programming is re-packaged Poliquin stuff. I even told him as much the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died.
More on flexibility:
It’s okay to occasionally make up a workout on a scheduled off day, even if it means hitting the same muscle group on back to back days. Shit will still work. The body isn’t that delicate. Try telling anyone who does manual labor for a living how those extra wrist curls have you a little burnt out.
Be simple (with your fitness) before you try being complicated.
I always keep diet as simple and repeatable as possible, especially at first. This not only improves consistency but also “frees up bandwidth” to determine optimal training frequency, volume, and intensity.
The goal is to find a person’s training “Goldilocks zone” as fast as possible, which is not easy when their diet (and sleep) are in disarray.
Good programs evolve, they don’t expire.
You don’t need to change your workout every 4 or 6 or 8 weeks. The goal should be progression, not novelty. So the best workout changes are subtle progressions that build on previous training success, all with the underlying goal of achieving a pre-determined result.
Add volume or intensity or extended set techniques, switch up the angles and attachments, remove stalled lifts, reduce rest intervals, etc.
Or you can go flip a tire.
Intensity, Volume, and Burnout.
Too much volume will burn you out (though high intensity burns out older lifters even faster) but remember to compare apples to apples. A set of calf raises or biceps curl doesn’t have the same physiological impact as a squat or deadlift.
Use that to your advantage. Slap a high rep 15-minute circuit of abs, calves, and forearms onto the end of a workout. It won’t sink your testosterone or blast cortisol into the stratosphere. For those with limited time, because these little lifts are so, well, little, you can perform them during rest intervals for bigger lifts.
I stole that from Thibaudeau. #chequesinthemail
If you want to look like an athlete, stop training like one. Well, not entirely.
Training to build muscle is nothing like athletic training. But there are aspects of athletic programming that work very well in bodybuilding or even “average Joe” training.
An example are having separate training phases, or (in nerd talk) periodization. A bodybuilder might have an 8-12 week strength phase, 12-16 week size or hypertrophy phases (ideally where weak points are addressed), and an 8-12 week fat loss (diet) phase.
This works very well for the “look good naked” crowd as well, though I would add a fourth phase, which I call “summer fallow,” a farming expression that refers to cropland kept out of production for a season. The goal is to allow the soil to replenish nutrients to allow for greater yields next growing season.
So a summer fallow phase for an average Joe would be one where training volume and intensity are reduced and replaced by restorative activities, recreational sports, or just trying new things. Maybe it’s hiking, cycling, swimming, track and field, martial arts, etc.
The key is not to stop training entirely. Even two full body sessions a week will be enough to maintain size, though strength will take a temporary hit.
Stubborn bodyparts don’t want more, they want something different.
Stubborn bodyparts tend to be muscles that have a tough time getting a pump. But the solution isn’t doing more sets or reps and rarely is it going heavier. You need to take a close look at exercise selection, sequencing, rep ranges, even partial reps and varying rep cadence.
You can also group lifts together into a giant set – a strictly performed isolation lift, emphasizing peak contraction, followed by a basic lift, and then concluding with a loaded stretch movement.
Or you can just deadlift more. Or drink more coffee. On the internet that seems to solve all problems.
Over-40 fitness advice is bullshit.
A rarely acknowledged “secret” to looking good at 40 is to not wait until you’re 39 to start. Most older dudes with rock hard physiques have 30+ years of training under their belt. Not saying it’s never too late to start, just to remember there’s no substitute for years under the bar.
Interestingly, people (especially used car salesmen) will comment that I look “good for my age” and I appreciate it. But while I might look above-average for my years spent on this rock, for the number of years I’ve been training I’m far from impressed. If this is what 30 years gets you then I should’ve stuck with the guitar.
There are four key factors that go into building a great physique:
- Hard work
- Doing the above for a long time.
Genetics are out of your control. They’re also a bit of a cop-out. Many “genetically inferior” young lifters eventually develop great physiques and are lauded for their genetic gifts. Remember Carrot Top? Even that dude got damn jacked.
Hard work is a no-brainer. Except it’s not. Most people simply don’t push their bodies beyond their comfort zone. As such, there’s little reason for their body to adapt and improve.
Consistency. A so-so program performed with 100% consistency and a healthy dose of whoop ass will run circles around The Absolute Best Program performed with 80% consistency and mediocre effort. This applies to diet as well.
Doing it a Long Time. Truly impressive results take decades. There’s no way anyone would or should commit to this without considering how it affects the rest of their life.
My approach is to take someone’s current lifestyle and weave physical activity and healthy eating into it, rather than just drop workouts and cardio sessions in with no regard for work, family, and social commitments.
From there it’s practicing Ebb and Flow – blasting forward when life is reasonably normal, then cruising when work or family is top priority.
Most of the “secrets” are secretly free.
I was at a training seminar with a few highly accomplished, over-40 pro bodybuilders. When they “opened the kimono” to reveal all their carefully guarded secrets for bodybuilding success, at least 40% of it revolved around sleep. Consistent sleep/wake times, proper sleep hygiene, and getting to bed earlier rather than sleeping in. It’s free and it works.
The older you get, the more stress management matters.
When you’re under 40 “stress/lifestyle” is a kinda vague thing you sorta consider after training, diet, and sleep are in line. However, on the other side of 40 it joins the other three factors to become a crucial fourth leg of the chair. If any of the legs are underrepresented you’re in for one hell of a tumble.
Don’t let your requirements in the gym surpass your love for it.
There’s stuff we love to do in the gym. And there’s stuff we gotta do. Then there’s a bunch of stuff in the middle. When you’re older the “gotta do” list grows and your “love to do list” typically shrinks. But never let the “gotta” exceed the “love to.” You only go around once. Might as well go with bigger biceps.
Money can sometimes be the truest mirror of all, and how you handle that money can sometimes be the greatest fortune teller.
Money is insidious. Two friends I went to school with had a dot.com start-up in the early 2000s. Right place right time—and it exploded. They made a lot of money.
However, they eventually had a massive failing out, with one basically backstabbing the other and stealing the business. I asked the not so lucky of the two how this could happen. After all, they had been homies since junior high.
“Money can change you,” he said. “It can make people think they’re gifted, with talent that extends into other areas, and don’t have to be decent anymore.”
“We weren’t geniuses,” he said. “We were lucky and then worked hard to make it work. That’s it. All the money did was reveal true character.”
The business has long since gone tits up.
My purpose in life.
A few years ago I became obsessed with discovering what my true purpose was. I mean, it couldn’t be helping people lose fat or fill out a tank top. That’s some superficial shit if there ever was some. People need more.
But then I realized how much “bodybuilding” has given me beyond muscle and veins and an affinity for sleeveless hoodies. It’s taught me discipline, consistency, time management, problem solving, focus, and the virtue of delayed gratification.
In short, it’s taught me some of the most valuable skills you’ll ever learn.
I ended up deciding that was my purpose—to teach others all these cool things that bodybuilding taught me, while avoiding the MANY pitfalls — and I felt really good about it.
Then, literally that night, at the grocery store, I watched a lady train a service dog to help people with PTSD. Can I have two purposes, please?
Hubris (n) – excessive pride or arrogance.
Coaching is like the Matrix and there’s a very big flaw in it. When you help someone lose a lot of weight or build muscle or just look better, you can literally change their life and ratchet up their self-esteem.
As such, these happy clients often put the coach on a pedestal he or she doesn’t deserve—they start seeing them as more than just fitness pros.
Hey, you helped change a life! That must make you an expert at other things! You’re like…. a life coach!
Flaw in the Matrix. Don’t fall for it. And if you’re a coach yourself, don’t buy into it.
That’s hubris. Be better than that.
Truth and Kindness.
See you next year.