Over the last couple of months, T-Nation has been asking its strength coaches and nutrition gurus to share their ten most powerful tips. To say these guys know a thing or two about training and nutrition is the equivalent to saying Lance Armstrong knows a thing or two about cycling. No surprise, these "Top 10" articles have become Internet gold.
Interestingly, in running this series we noticed something about our readers – they've got some great advice too! Many of the articles provoked in-depth forum discussions in which readers shared the most important lessons they've learned. Now, as we all know, forums can sometimes degenerate into slam fests:
Forum Jackass #1:
Oh yeah, well if your momma wasn't such a ho, you'd realize that "cardio" causes wholesale shifts in muscle fiber architecture!
Forum Jackass #2:
Of course, you're familiar with ho's, having to hire them regularly yourself! And the only cardio you get is walking to the refrigerator, fat boy!
But despite this, the forums here at T-Nation were calm and momma-slam free after our top ten discussions. The forum gods smiled. Perhaps we've discovered the secret to world peace – Top 10 articles.
Okay, okay, perhaps that's a bit too naïve. But what we have discovered is that if you take 100 readers who each have an average of five years training under their belt, you've got 500 years of collective experience. From that you can come up with some powerful lessons.
So, in this installment of the Top 10 series, check out the great advice our T-Nation readers have to share with you.
The Top 10 Reader Tips and Lessons
Lesson #1: While the study of nutrition and training is complex, the actual practice of it should be simple.
This lesson comes from a reader who noticed that there's an interesting juxtaposition between the information many T-Nation writers share and the practical advice that they derive from this info.
For example, intricate, detailed, research-based plans delving into every facet of nutrition including protein needs, nutrient timing, meal combinations, the metabolic actions of insulin, the interaction between exercise and metabolism, free radicals and antioxidant intake, and acid base balance are all very interesting. But, in the end, the best advice is that which takes all of these things into account, yet is simple and easy to follow.
While most see this as a contradiction – a disparity between simple and complex – it's not a contradiction at all. Rather, sometimes, the complex can be described by the simple – as long as the simple is put together in an elegant way.
Think mathematical proofs. The best mathematicians take very complex ideas, formulae and equations and distill them into simple, elegant proofs. In fact, the simpler the proof appears, the more bonus points they get from colleagues. Case in point, perhaps the most famous equation ever describes Einstein's theory of relativity. How much simpler can an equation appear: E=mc2? But think of the worlds of information that little equation contains.
The best training and nutrition experts take worlds of research and experience and distill this huge body of information into simple, easy to follow systems. So don't get fooled by "experts" who turn their explanations into labyrinths of complexity. Either they don't really know what the heck they're talking about or they simply don't know how to communicate it well.
Elegant and simple advice is always the way to go. As long as "simple" doesn't mean "simplistic."
Lesson #2: Learning requires a serious investment.
Want to become someone who can write simple, elegant programs as described in the first lesson? Or maybe you just want to be able to tell the difference between simple and simplistic. Well, you're gonna have to learn a lot!
Any knucklehead can come up with simplistic recommendations, but truly elegant recommendations come from understanding the complete body of literature and then funneling all that knowledge down into critical, indispensable truisms to which you should adhere.
To get to the point where you know enough, you've gotta make some serious investments – probably both time and money are required. As Charles Poliquin once advised:
"The basic rule is that you have to read ten hours a week on a particular topic for five years to develop an appreciable level of expertise on that precise subject. If you're not willing to commit that much time, you might consider a different line of work."
That's a great lesson. You're not ready until you've invested. Think of it as training for your mind. So don't get down on yourself if you still don't feel confident in understanding all the training and nutrition plans out there. Keep training.
And, as a side note, you'd better avoid picking information fights with Waterbury, Thibaudeau, Lowery or any other T-Nation writers until you've done some serious training! How much training does it take? Consult Charles above.
Lesson #3: Don't focus on all the details; focus on the important details.
You don't need to be a full-blown expert to get great results in the gym. Rather, you just need a little "sweat equity".
One T-reader makes a great analogy that we can all relate to our own training and nutrition situations. Here it is:
"I knew a guy in law school who paralyzed himself by focusing on all the details. This guy worried all the time about studying 'the right way.' He went to seminars to learn how to pass law school exams. He read books on how to study correctly and ace tests. He surveyed other students to see what they were doing. In addition, this guy was constantly created worksheets, checklists and colored marker systems."
"Had they tested for studying technique, he would've kicked ass. Unfortunately for him, they tested for legal principals and applications. And this guy spent so much time trying to learn how to study, he never really got down to the studying part!"
"Funny thing, although I made fun of this guy in law school, I made the same damn mistakes in the gym. Everyone wants to know the perfect workout, the perfect supplement stack, what ratio of carbs to fat, etc. They take so long studying up on this stuff that they fail to go work out, eat well, sleep for recovery and repeat. All of the analyzing for optimal success hinders actual success!"
"All the charts and graphs won't help you with the most important thing – 'sweat equity'."
Lesson #4: Frame goals around behaviors.
This is a great tip one of our readers learned from Charles Staley (although Charles has credited this to our good buddy Jeff Smith, author of Stress Free Success).
Now, before I go on to describe this one, I want you to make sure your brain is ready for it. Read through this tip and make sure you can make it concrete immediately. It might just be the most important thing you can do to achieve your goals.
Most people set goals like this:
"I want to lose ten pounds in ten weeks."
"I want to make $100,000 next year."
"I want to sleep with two fitness models at once."
Yet these are outcomes – and outcomes are beyond your control. After all, you can't control your fat cells and their rate of fat mobilization by just hoping they'll shrink. You can't force someone to pay you $100,000 per year. And you can't just hope your way to a fitness model sandwich. But you can control your behaviors.
For example: want to lose ten pounds in ten weeks? Then start by understanding what behaviors you can adopt immediately that'll lead to this result. Make these your goals. Here are a few examples:
• I will exercise for at least five hours per week.
• I will eat five to six meals each day, following JB's 7 Habits article.
• I will eat vegetables with each meal.
• I will avoid alcohol this week.
And how about the financial thing?
• I will go back to school and get an advanced degree in my field.
• I will spend most of my time on big, high return projects.
• I will improve one aspect of my job performance each day.
• I will duplicate the behaviors of others that are making the amount of money I want to make.
And the fitness model thing?
• I will wear bad-ass sunglasses and a winter hat/toque in the gym.
• I will get a Superman tattoo on my shoulder.
• I will shave my head and grow a goatee.
• I will be sure to always carry a steroid bloat.
• I will pimp my ride.
In all seriousness, do you see what I mean about goals and behaviors? Make goals out of behaviors, behaviors you can control, and your external goals (things like your body composition, salary, sex life, etc.) will fall right in line.
Lesson #5: Look for progress "outside the box."
Sometimes we get focused on a specific goal (an outcome) and we fail to monitor other changes taking place. One reader gave this example:
"Last night, I tested my chin-up repetition max and was surprised to knock out a few. Just a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't even do a single one. This random act of progress got me so pumped that I can't wait to get back to the gym again. Gauging progress by just one or two markers (i.e. bench press or squat or scale weight) can be unnecessarily disheartening – you could be making progress in all sorts of ways."
This is a great lesson, especially for beginning exercisers. And data presented by Dr. Claude Bouchard at the 2004 American College of Sports Medicine Conference further underscores this point. At the conference, Dr. Bouchard discussed the fact that there's a poor correlation between independent training outcomes.
What does this mean? Well, let's list some training outcomes. They include improved oxygen capacity, improved muscle mass, decreased fat mass, increased muscle strength and decreased "bad cholesterol" (among others). According to Dr. Bouchard's work, some individuals respond to exercise very quickly with improvements in one or more of these outcomes. But there are no universal responders (people who see equal progress in all areas) and there are no universal non-responders (people who see progress in no areas).
Here's what Dr Bouchard's work tells us: Just because your bench hasn't gone up doesn't mean that you're not making progress in other domains. Likewise, just because you're losing weight doesn't mean your cholesterol is necessarily going down.
Don't put a box around one outcome and look only to it as your measure of progress. In doing so you might miss a dozen other improvements in the process.
Lesson #6: Get a training partner.
According to one reader: "Having a training partner keeps me motivated. Many times I've not wanted to get out of bed come training time. But knowing that my partner was there getting stronger made me get out of bed and get to the gym."
TC likes training around others too: "If I'm at the gym, I can't dog it! People can say, 'Isn't that TC over there? Man, he's not training very hard, is he? God, he's a pansy!' Next thing I know, it's reported on a rival website or in the gossip section of MuscleMag. Call me shallow, but I sometimes need the fear of ridicule to motivate me!"
In a recent study of over 1000 respondents, Gary Homann of the University of Wyoming found that those who make exercise a "lifestyle thing" tend to be involved in what he calls an "exercise community." According to Gary's definition, exercise community involvement means that people become involved with other people, activities, contests and events tied to their regular exercise activities.
Lifelong, regular exercisers are the most involved in exercise community activities and are the most likely to get the best results. Now, there are all types of ways to become involved in an "exercise community" but the easiest, as our reader pointed out above, is to become involved in a training partnership.
As with other things in life, surround yourself with people who share your passions and goals. If those around you don't and you're not accomplishing your goals, the solution is simple: ditch the crappy friends and get some new ones. It's easier said than done. Do it anyway. Chris Shugart wrote this:
"It reminds me of a study conducted by a group of psychologists a few years back. They decided to figure out what factors contribute most to a person's success or failure. In other words, person 'A' turns out happy with a satisfying job and a strong family. Person 'B' ends up a crackhead in the clink where he's forced to be some guy's 'catcher' in exchange for cigarettes. The question is, why? What factor in their lives played the biggest role in how they turned out?"
"The psychologists assumed that where a person ends up in life is determined largely by socioeconomic level or perhaps intelligence. What they found surprised them. It turns out that while the above factors do play a role, they're not all that important. The real determining factor to your potential success or failure is "the people that surround you."
"Let's face the facts, if you hang out with a bunch of drunks, you'll most likely drink more. If you surround yourself with people who don't train and don't care about what they eat, then they will influence you. You may not quit entirely, but you'll likely alter your behavior and make a few bad choices."
"So, what kind of people do you surround yourself with? Are they rubbing off on you? If so, is that a good or bad thing?"
Lesson #7: Don't be fickle with your training and nutrition.
Many people, upon reading a new article or nutrition plan, switch what they're doing immediately to that new system. As one reader points out:
"Don't get sucked into changing your routine every time a new one comes along (yes, even if you think the new one is better). Your best bet is to finish out the routine you're on for the prescribed amount of time then move to a new program once that one is completed."
"This is important for two main reasons: Although changing training variables on a consistent basis is important for continued success, there is such a thing as changing too many variables too often. Your progress will actually be impaired (and can eventually stagnate completely) because you're not giving your body enough time to learn new skills and adapt to the stimulus.
"In order to stay motivated, you need to see progress in the gym. If you can never finish a program, on a subconscious level, you'll think of yourself as a fickle failure."
Another important reason not to be fickle is this: you'll never give yourself time to really see if a program works for you. After all, it probably takes you a good few weeks to learn a new system anyway. So, if you start a new system and abandon it within two weeks because it "didn't work," is it the system that didn't work or is it you that didn't work?
Give your training and nutrition programs a chance to work before dismissing them!
Lesson #8: It's for life.
Because many people frame goals around outcomes and not behaviors, exercise to the general population is a "sometimes thing." In fact, just the other day, during a training session, a client whined to my head Toronto trainer, Ryan Foster, "How long do I have to do this?" She was referring to regular exercise. In true Ryan fashion he replied, "For the rest of your life...next set" as he handed her a barbell.
Maybe it's the diet and exercise book publishers that are to blame:
"Six weeks to your metabolic cure!"
"Eight weeks to abs!"
"Twelve weeks to thin thighs!"
As if you can just up and stop at the end of the six, eight, or twelve week period! As one reader pointed out:
"I have to remind myself regularly that I've made a commitment to fitness for life. Thinking about being in the iron game in the long term, not necessarily in concrete terms, tends to keep me from piling on too much pressure for instant gratification in the short term. This type of thinking will also help to make more gradual improvement which, no doubt, lasts longer than any quick fix. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was any good physique."
"We are truly creatures of habit. What has helped me is to create the mindset that I'm not following a plan, but developing good lifelong habits. I'm not eating good and lifting frequently because the plan says that's what I need to do. I do it because that's what I do; it's part of who I am."
Another reader pointed out:
"There are people out there that are 'all-or-nothing' trainers. They either train six days a week or none. Push some weight three days a week for fifty weeks of the year and you'll be astonished where you are in a couple of years."
That's great advice! Remember, don't follow plans or get transfixed by outcomes. Set behavior goals and keep at them.
Lesson #9: The body is built for moving.
Over the years, I've learned some neat things by examining certain correlations between lifestyle factors and physique balance/performance in my clients. Of course, those lessons are always enhanced when I experience the same things myself. One lesson that's been most salient for me lately (now that I'm spending lots of time at the computer writing books, articles and working on other projects) is that sitting at a desk all day ruins your physique.
Athletes start to fall apart when they get sedentary jobs, especially fast twitch dominant, hardcore weight trainers. The more you make these guys sit, the more they complain of back pain, knee pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, etc., and the more corrective work they need to do in the gym.
Now, although many people will rise up in arms against this idea, I've started to prescribe some daily, low intensity cardio work for my desk-chained anaerobic and strength athletes. (The aerobic athletes don't need it – they're already doing lots.)
Interestingly, when these guys start doing four or five light, low impact cardio sessions per week (15 to 20 minutes in duration), many of their aches and pains go away. It could be a blood flow thing and it could be a recovery thing, but regardless, this has taught me a valuable lesson: The body is built for moving!
As one reader puts it: "Cardio is great active recovery. If I'm sore, 20 minutes on a treadmill or a trail run does me much, much better than just about any anti-inflammatory pain medicine. Likewise, you do burn some calories. The body is built for moving as well as lifting!"
Lesson #10: Passion brings success.
Donald Trump has said it about business. Bill Gates has said it about computers. Lance Armstrong has said it about life. When guys like this give you the secret to their success, guys like us should probably listen. So listen up: Passion brings success.
If you're not passionate about what you do, success will always be elusive – whether or not you make lots of money. Success means goal achievement and contentment. Success means being at the top of your game. Success means making lots of money. And success means lots of other things too. To achieve the intersection of these things, passion must be present. With it, late nights, monumental projects, and minor setbacks mean absolutely nothing – they're all part of the experience. Without it, you're in for a rough life.
As several T-Nation readers pointed out:
"Learn to enjoy your life, your training, your nutrition. Find a way to make it all fun. Learn to love your oatmeal and what it does for you. Learn to yearn to unleash the beast each time you go to hit the iron. If you don't enjoy it and have fun, you won't stick with it."
"Attitude is the most important piece of equipment in the gym."
"If the passion is there, success is sure to follow."
So how do you find your passion in your training? Well, here's one way. Over the years I've drawn from a variety of sources in order to integrate a comprehensive training program that works well for me. I don't photocopy Flex articles or print off some strength coach's recommended workouts (although there's something to be learned from virtually every source). Therefore, I train, eat and supplement using what I've mentally compiled from years of training, listening to strength coaches and bodybuilders, and reading research. Over time I apply the judgment of only one individual to this compilation. That individual is me!
Now before you think me too cocksure, understand that I'm willing to admit I've been wrong before. When I'm wrong, my progress slows down. And when the progress is slow, I search for a cure. At this point, scientific and real-world theories can dictate how I may arrange a workout plan or experiment with new things, but in the end, both the effectiveness I get from a program and the amount of enjoyment I feel in the gym determines a program's worth to me.
I've been training for about ten years without an unplanned break. I hope to train for 40 or 50 more years, so I pay close attention to my own preferences (which may be very different from yours). If I don't like a particular program, I quit doing it. Sure, I train for results, but I also train for an equally important reason: I love to train. I don't plan on letting tedious, un-enjoyable programs ruin this for me.
Experiment with different modes of eating, exercise and living. And when you find the modes that resonate best with who you are, you'll find the passion. Some people luck out and find it early. Others find it only after years of search. The important thing is this – never give up the search.
Listen and Learn
When it comes to training, nutrition and supplementation info, there's no better place to go than T-Nation. But don't just read what we experts have to say. T-Nation readers themselves have a lot to offer. Hey, at the very least, you'll learn some new momma jokes.