This past week, I had a friend passing through on his way to Las Vegas for an entrepreneurial seminar. Myke came in from Calgary, and we spent a few days working, training, and chatting. Lots of chilling, eating, and great conversation took place.
Among the good eats, and long days at the coffee shops working alongside each other, we talked about training and dieting, like, a lot.
We discussed our training history, how we got into fitness, and what we’ve struggled with. Like me, Myke is a former fat boy with all of the psychological trappings associated with such a mental state.
Myke, too, has experienced his fair share of injuries as a result of intense training over the years. Alongside those injuries comes a healthy dose of the typical consequences, such as unplanned time off, lack of concern to control our diet, and lots of feeling sorry for ourselves.
This is what typically turns someone, who was once in a great shape, into the person they wish they’d never be again. It’s the story of that guy or gal who pushes too hard for too long, gets an amazing body, only to get injured and a one-way ticket back to their pre-transformation state.
I have a history of being all-or-nothing. My temperament, to put it lightly, used to be very extreme. I had a hard time accepting middle ground, or any gray areas in training, dieting, and my life, in general.
It was black or white, no arguing.
As we talked training, I asked about his injuries, his views on fat loss, longterm training protocols, and how it fits in with his life.
His views stem purely from his own transformational experience. He got lean through intermittent fasting, and a steady dose of low volume training and a big focus on the major movements.
Strength gains were the ultimate benchmark of progress, and ultimately, his success.
The problem came when he got injured. In his view, what got him lean was a lot of heavy deadlifts, squats, presses, and low carb dieting.
But now he couldn’t perform all the movements the way he once could and as a result, Myke proclaimed his impending doom. He admitted defeat.
He exercised less, ate more, and began the downward spiral into depression. He hated how his clothes were getting tighter, but did little about it. It’s a cycle that many of us can relate to.
I know I’ve been there, and I’ve let my shoulder injuries set me back further than they should have in the past.
But what if Myke had some more tricks in his tool belt? What if he wasn’t completely sold on the high intensity, low volume approach? Could he have maintained his fitness, and thusly his confidence, while working around the injury?
A Lesson In Absolutes
Look, I know I’m fairly pragmatic when it comes to this fitness stuff, but in complete transparency, I want you to enjoy a long life of health and movement.
I don’t care to sell you one simple trick to cure all your fitness woes. If that’s what you want, there are plenty of other online resources to check out.
Here’s something I’ve learned over my 13 years of training experience.
Lots of stuff works. You can train as little as twice per week, and all the way up to 12-14 sessions every 7 days and still get results.
You can follow low volume, heavy strength-focused programming, higher volume bodybuilding stuff, or something in the middle. I co-wrote an article on t-nation about finding the middle ground between strength and bodybuilding training, and it comes with sample program, too.
The point is everything works, and sometimes, due to temperament, lifestyle, and age, certain programs work much better than others.
One time I posted the results of a former client on Facebook, along with the image below, and someone rattled off a remark similar to “I’ve tried training this way, and only got smaller, and never lost fat like I wanted. Either this guy is a genetic marvel, or my genetics just suck.”
I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was similar to the statement above.
My friend Bret Contreras had shared the image/article, and replied to the snide remark with something along the lines of “sometimes it’s the right program for the right person at the right time.”
Moral of the story?
Just because something worked super well for someone else doesn’t mean it will work as perfectly for you. In fact, while it might work for a while, your situation could change, or stress levels might increase. You might even get injured.
Then what? How can you adapt to make sure you still make progress?
As you might imagine, there are rarely any absolutes. No one program is going to be perfect. We all need to tweak things for our individual needs.
In some cases, we’re just not suited for a particular type of programming. In Myke’s case, I explained to him that he’d probably benefit from a program that focuses less on max strength, and more on creating intensity through more volume and lower rest periods.
Myke had pinched the nerve near his C7 vertebrae. It really bothered him during most pushing movements, so gone were the days of heavy benching, and overhead pressing.
In fact, I think he could’ve done really well to focus on higher rep movements, along with some corrective exercise until he got things back in proper working order.
Some Nutritional Hiccups And Tunnel Vision
Another thing I noticed when Myke visited was an aversion to carbohydrates. Now it wasn’t complete carbophobia, but when I’d be making breakfast, or lunch, I’d pile up my plate with equal portions of carbs and protein, while he’d opt for mostly, if not only, protein.
I asked him “Are you afraid of carbs?” in a joking manner.
He laughed and said “it’s not a training day, bro!”
I began to prod and pry some more. “Why are you not eating carbohydrates? What does it matter if it’s a training day or not?”
I also noticed him being rather cold in the house while I walked around in shorts and a t-shirt. I asked him if he got cold easily. Turns out he does, and has been for a while.
Aha… Classic signs of a low-carb dieter and/or someone who fasts regularly.
I began to investigate his reasoning, why he did things this way, and it all went back to what worked for him in the past and what he knew about getting results.
When something isn’t working, you need to assess and course-correct.
I asked him “what if we could up your training volume, create intensity through short rest periods, and focus more on the contraction, as opposed to raw loads?
What if we got you eating more carbs, got your body feeling warmer more often, and created a small deficit 4-5 days of the week, as opposed to a big deficit over 3 days per week?”
He was intrigued, but it was so hard for him to wrap his mind around it all.
What The Thinker Thinks, The Prover Proves
There’s an interesting book called Prometheus Rising, but it’s the ultimate mindfunk. I’ve been reading it slowly over the last few months, and have had to start it over a few times because it’s pretty intense.
The first chapter talks about how our minds work, and how we create our personal reality based on our experiences, and what we “prove” to ourselves.
For many of us, especially with fitness, once we find some success, we clamp onto it like our most prized possession. This is why people who’ve finally succeeded on P90X, Crossfit, Paleo, or intermittent fasting are zealous about such protocols.
They first read some success stories, which gets them motivated. Once they determine to finally stick with something, they do so for long enough to see results. Sometimes the results are astonishing.
And when this happens, a belief of “this is the most optimal method” becomes ingrained within their psyche.
So first came the thought. The thinker begins to think that a low-carb diet is the ultimate fat loss solution, and they’ve found proof in others.
And then the prover (thinker) sets out to prove their original idea.
Now it’s not to say there aren’t other possible solutions to the same problem, but they way they went about it just happened to work.
Therefore, by process of reduction, a chiseled physique that came from low volume training coupled with a low carb diet equals the ultimate solution, to them anyway.
This is why we have those annoying Paleo people trying to sell you all the reasons why gluten, or sugar is making you fat. It’s why Crossfit zealots tell you to get the ultimate physique, you must do high rep plyos and Olympic lifts.
But what’s the cost?
What if you get injured from repetitive box jumps? What if all the low carbing, huge calorie deficits, and intense exercise beats your thyroid into submission?
Where will you be then?
What if you could avoid such a ruinous path to the promised land? If you knew there was another way, would you acknowledge it? Would you consider it?
Wrapping Up and the TL;DR
There are multiple ways to achieve fat loss, and a more aesthetic physique. You don’t have to get as strong as possible, or even make rapid strength gains continuously to build or preserve your muscle mass.
Intensity can be increased with lighter weights, and a good dose of volume, short rest periods and super sets.
Carbs are indeed good for you. They’re essential* for thyroid (metabolism) function. They’re essential for optimal brain function.
Injuries are problematic and can be devastating. The older you get, the more concerned you should be. The ultimate goal when it comes to lifelong fitness, and aesthetic improvements, should be continual progression, and as few injuries as possible.
Training for strength is fine and dandy. I’m not suggesting we should be weak. But do you need a 3xbw deadlift to be swole? Of course not.
Do you need to have a big bench press to have big pecs? Hardly.
Must you suffer through rounds of box jumps and kettlebell swings to see your abs, and keep them? Again, no.
The Take Home: I want you to challenge your current beliefs. Ask yourself why you believe them, and then ask if there’s an alternate view that might be true, or equally valuable.
Leave a comment below (or on Facebook), and let me know what you think. Have you challenged any of your old ideals? If so, what have you learned?
*Before you try to tell me that carbohydrates are not essential because of gluconeogenesis, you should understand that it’s very a costly process, and I have no interest in arguing with you. Your body would rather use table sugar (or other carbohydrate), which is easily turned into glucose, for fuel, than break down the beef steak into aminos, and then glucose for your energy needs.