I’ve worn my share of hats in the fitness industry. But if I had to distill what I do down to a clean & succinct elevator pitch it would be “I help people reach their physique goals.”
Yet that’s not entirely accurate.
What I really do is help solve physique problems; at least the “solvable”ones, which isn’t always the case. Chronological age might be just a number but your body still has an odometer and it only scrolls in one direction.
Even the problems that I can help solve are rarely simple.
Often they’re deeply personal or have been a life-long battle. And depending on the person they can have many seemingly “plausible” explanations (and solutions), which only further complicates things.
Yet no matter how complicated or emotionally charged the problem, it’s always best to start with Occam’s Razor — a popular heuristic that says when faced with multiple explanations for a problem, the simplest one is usually correct.
In other words, if you suffer from stubborn bodyfat, it’s not due to chronically elevated cortisol or some insidious food allergy. More than likely you’re still eating too many calories. So it behooves us to start our problem solving there.
Occam’s Razor as a coaching philosophy, however, is not perfect.
For one, many body issues are often connected with self-esteem or long-held insecurities, even in seemingly “strong, got my damn shit together” types. So if I take a hard nose approach I just look like an out of touch, insensitive, insufferable asshole. Go me.
Next, correctly identifying the problem doesn’t help fix it. Even if we determine you’re eating too many calories in the evening for example, that still doesn’t tell us why.
Are you eyeballing your portion sizes when you’re hungry or stressed?
Are big meals at night or “cleaning your plate” conditioned habits?
Are you eating too many take-out dinners?
Are you forgetting to take those MyFitnessPal macro numbers with a massive grain of salt or better yet, cross-reference them with another database? (MyFitnessPal admits their user-submitted data can be incorrect).
Are you subconsciously overcompensating for not eating enough during the day?
What role is family, work, or lifestyle dynamics playing?
And that’s just the short list.
Finally, there are times when the simplest answer isn’t the correct one. It happens. Not very often mind you.
But I’ve seen it happen enough over my years to at least keep me humble and not immediately dismiss everything I don’t understand as quackery or woo.
Yet the point remains. Addressing the obvious first has saved me from tumbling down many a coaching rabbit hole, and I encourage anyone trying to improve his or her body to develop a similar no-nonsense skill.
It can save years of frustrating wheel-spinning and unnecessary complication, and also help spare you from being an easy mark for yet another fitness industry shyster.
Here are just 5 examples that I deal with every day. Maybe you struggle with similar challenges?
Problem: “I want to look more aesthetic.”
Context: Usually a male whose been lifting for a few years but is frustrated that they don’t have a magazine-worthy physique.
Popular Solutions: A magic training split, a more complicated or “cutting edge” diet, a laundry list of supplements and/or drugs.
Occam’s Razor Solution: They need to lose bodyfat.
The number one way to dramatically increase the “aesthetic” quality of a physique is to lose excess bodyfat. It’s not even close. Whether you’re cursed with glaring weak points or possess God-given perfect structure, that’s all moot if you’re carrying around too much chunk. So start there. If you’re relatively lean, however, different story.
Problem: “I can’t seem to lose weight.”
Context: Males or females who eat “healthy” but are still overweight.
Popular Solutions: Where do you start? Elimination diets, more cardio, macro cycling, etc.
Occam’s Razor Solution: Being accountable for their food intake.
To lose fat you need to be in a sustained, manageable relative calorie deficit. To accomplish this, the most important thing you can do is control is how much energy you consume, consistently (not occasionally or only when it’s convenient). That means keeping some kind of log of everything you put into your mouth every damn day — including the weekend, after you’ve had a few drinks, and during the last month of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Many find this depressing or arduous (especially at first) and ask, “How long do I have to do this?” My answer is, for as long as you want to lose fat as quickly as possible. That doesn’t mean all year and it sure as hell doesn’t mean for the rest of your life. But to kick-off (or re-start) progress, there’s no better way.
Problem: “I can’t seem to gain weight.”
Context: Usually a male under 30, with an Instagram feed of endless depressing ab selfies.
Popular Solutions: More training, fancy supplements, magic meal frequency/timing, superfoods, drugs.
Occam’s Razor Solution: Eating and living to grow.
Gaining weight is about calories, too, and yet so much more. How much you ate for breakfast or the whole day is insignificant compared to how much (and how well) you fed your body the past week, the past month, even the past year. Also important? How much sleep you get every night (including the weekend), and how well you manage stress.
So even the simple Occam’s razor solution is decidedly multi-faceted. And while a scattered so-so approach to gaining quality weight might still work, a better plan always yields better results.
Problem: “I want to increase the size of X body part”
Context: Usually a male lifter whose been lifting for a few years but is bothered by small arms, no shoulders, etc.
Popular Solutions: A specialization routine to hit said weak points; the usual laundry list of supplements, drugs.
Occam’s Razor Solution: Getting bigger overall.*
Specialization routines have their place but only after years of focusing on improving/building the entire physique overall. It’s amazing how many male (and female) lifters will complain about small arms or no quads yet their training history reveals years of “just the basic lifts” and never following an actual bodybuilding program.
* Honorable mention goes to learning how to perform exercises correctly. And choosing better parents.
Problem: “I will never reach my goal.”
Context: Anyone that’s ever done this shit, ever.
Popular Solution: MORE! More training, more dieting, more intensity, more volume, more supplements, etc.
Occam’s Razor Solution: Focus on the process.
In the quest to build an impressive physique, what separates the successful from the rest is doing what’s required every day to make progress consistently. And doing it for years.
This comes as a disappointing but necessary shock to anyone that wanders into the gym expecting to pull-off a 12-week “transformation.” It also explains the high burnout rate after 3 to 6 months.
Short and long term goals are still important (and I encourage everyone to have them) but it’s best to set them aside and shift your focus towards what you need to do today.
Did you workout, hit your protein and calorie targets, and get enough sleep? Then you moved the Big Rocks, which makes today a win. Put a checkmark on the calendar and repeat it tomorrow.
You can set goals and deadlines and have a crystal clear vision of what you hope to achieve in X months and years, but when the rubber hits the road all you really control is how well you execute the process today.
So the cold, hard fact is, your choices just today are far more important than even the most inspiring and epic goal you’ll ever set.
Small wins repeated consistently add up to very big changes.
How’s that for an elevator pitch?