Recently, Chad Waterbury and I were emailing back and forth about something, and in discussing his new book, he typed something along the lines of the following:
Originally, I wanted to write a book that would be on the same level as the second coming of Supertraining. When I mentioned it to Lou Schuler, he responded with, "That's great, Chad, but how about you write a book that people would actually like to buy and read?"
Chad is a brilliant guy; there's no doubt in my mind that he could put out an incredible resource that would make us exercise physiology geeks salivate just like the late Mel Siff's original masterpiece did. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask), there are probably 5,000 casual observers of exercise physiology in the world for every geek who would actually read such a book. So, logically, Chad wrote a fantastic book that was suited for the 5,000 rather than the one.
As I look back at my writing (and coaching, for that matter) over the past few years, I can't help but wonder about some of the stuff I've written or said. I was too wordy and technical; did people actually understand me? Hell, did they even pay attention after hearing "scapular downward rotation with associated humeral anterior glide syndrome?" Did anyone actually make it all the way to the end of a Cressey article or forum response?
Without even knowing it, I've progressed in much the same way that Chad has over the past few years. Both of us would love to just write nerdy exercise physiology stuff all day, but the truth of the matter is that we've been more successful as writers by taking the scientific stuff and rephrasing it in terms that ordinary folks can understand. My first book, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, was a perfect example; I've worked with enough athletes to know that there are a lot of them who are a few cards short of a deck, so I wrote the manual for the Average Joes to understand.
Likewise, most people don't have the time to try to "translate" science mumbo-jumbo; that's why they seek out our expertise! How often do you see a guy go to his accountant and ask for the accountant to explain a complex tax code when he could just ask the guy to do his taxes?
To that end, I've found that one way to get my point across both in person and in my writing is to use analogies. Here are a few that I find myself using all the time — and ones that you can use to rationalize your recommendations with the lay folks that you encounter.
Analogy #1: Your "core" is like a tree-trunk — or a twig — in a hurricane.
If you want to perform at a high level and protect your lower back, you simply have to learn to brace the abs — and that means "puffing out" your belly. By "belly breathing," we increase intra-abdominal pressure, which helps the surrounding musculature to stabilize the lumbar spine. We all know, however, that everyone wants a flat tummy, so the idea of "getting distended" for health and performance can be a tough sell. Here's what to tell them...
Imagine a tree in a hurricane. There are winds (shearing and compressive forces) through it in every different direction.
The tree has its roots (your lower body) and a bunch of branches (your upper body) to support, and the only thing connecting those two things is the tree trunk (your core). Would you prefer to have a thick tree trunk, or a twig supporting the branches above? Wouldn't a thick tree trunk provide a better base of support?
Analogy #2: Your metabolism is like a fireplace.
You and I both know that frequent meals are the absolutely best way to get bigger, leaner, stronger, faster, and healthier. Unfortunately, your fat uncle Guido doesn't, and insists that one big pasta meal at dinner and nothing during the day will be sufficient to get him lean. You've got two options to get the message across to him:
1. Give him this study, which showed significantly greater fat loss in subjects consuming six meals instead of two meals — even when total calories were held constant.
Iwao S, et al. Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 1996 Oct;6(5):265-72.
2. Tell him this:
Pretend that you wake up in the morning, and you want to start a fire in your fireplace (your metabolism). To get the fire going, you need to add more than you'd need to simply keep it going — so start with a few logs, some newspaper, and kindling (plenty of food at breakfast). After the fire is already going, you'll need to add a log or two (smaller meals) every 2-3 hours to keep it going strong.
Sometimes, the wood might be drier, so you'll need to add more wood at particular times of the day (post-exercise). Generally, though, your fire will burn strong all day long if you just keep adding a log here and there.
If, however, you don't put in the time to get it going first-thing in the morning (skipping breakfast), there isn't going to be a fire for the rest of the day. Likewise, if you just put a bunch of wood in there at the beginning of the day and then ignore it until the evening (dinner), you're going to have a cold house at dinnertime!
Analogy #3: Neural efficiency is like a construction crew.
One of the most important adaptations that kicks in with resistance training is the ability to recruit more muscle fibers. Over time, our brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves become more and more efficient at telling muscles to fire — and do so quickly and forcefully. A complete beginner might only be able to recruit 50% of the muscle fibers in his body, while a highly trained lifter might approach 90%. Neural efficiency is the reason why big guys aren't always the strongest guys. Here's how you can explain this to your buddy who's new to lifting:
Think of a construction crew (muscles) that's just meeting for the first time to make a building (get bigger). There's a blueprint in place (training program), and plenty of building supplies (food and training equipment), but the foreman (nervous system) doesn't know how to motivate his new employees, especially since he doesn't even speak Spanish and they're all illegal Mexican immigrants (okay, a bit sidetracked).
Over the next few weeks, the foreman finds a translator and figures out how to get his workers on the ball (improved neural efficiency). They all get better (stronger) at their jobs, and the building gets bigger and bigger (muscle growth). Originally, there's little growth (neural efficiency is building the foundation), and then it progresses to rapid growth (the more fibers recruited, the faster the building grows).
Eventually, the building project comes down to fine-tuning with less noticeable tasks (the end of newbie gains), but the project comes closer and closer to completion. The building gets finished, but it can always be improved upon with renovations (new training programs).
Analogy #4: In-season lifting is like a millionaire CEO on vacation.
Unfortunately, a lot of athletes (and parents) have yet to appreciate how important it is to lift during competitive seasons. Based on my own experiences, several published studies, and discussions with other coaches, I can say without hesitation that lifting in-season reduces injury rates. That's hard to fathom for the casual observer to performance training, so here's an analogy for you.
Let's say a CEO of a major corporation decides that since he's worked hard for several months (the off-season), and deserves to go on a trip (in-season) around the world. Do you think this CEO is going to completely shut himself off from his corporation during his travels? Or, do you think that he's going to take action to ensure that he has revenue streams in place to continue earning him money for now (reduce injury risk and maintain flexibility, strength, and power) and the future (subsequent athletic endeavors)? It's as simple as putting systems in place (pre-planning lifts) and checking his email every few days (training) by the pool in the Bahamas.
Off-season lifting is like putting money in the bank for the short- and long-term, and in-season lifting is about keeping it there until you have time to work more hours and make more cash.
Analogy #5: Insulin is like the asshole with the drum set in the college dorm during final exams.
As perfect evidence of how I used to write (and could continue to write), check out this paper I published back in 2003. It was actually a midterm paper for an Exercise Endocrinology course I was taking during my graduate program at the University of Connecticut:
Once you've woken up from your nap, we'll move on...
Basically, the take-home message I'd like the lay population to have when it comes to insulin is that it works in opposition to several crucial hormones — glucagons, growth hormone, cortisol, and the catecholamines — that promote lipolysis (the liberation of fatty acids for transport to mitochondria for oxidation). Unfortunately, none of the science jargon in that article is going to get the job done. To that end...
Remember back in college when you were trying to buckle down and actually study (eat right) for your finals (fat loss), and there was that one kid who wouldn't shut up? For the sake of this story, let's say that this schmuck had a drum set (insulin). The drumming was all well and good at certain times — like on weekends (during- and post-exercise) when everyone was hammered and care-free (insulin sensitivity was great). Unfortunately, the rest of the time, it was just plain annoying (fattening).
Conveniently, an insulin-resistant drummer (who likely still lives in his parents' basement)
How do you get rid of the drumming? Well, you could beat the kid to a bloody pulp, but that wouldn't fit too well with my analogy, so we'll just say that you took away his drumsticks (high-GI carbs). Either you canned them altogether, or gave him some of those muffled drumsticks (healthier carbs like vegetables). In both cases, you got peace and quiet (upregulation of lypolysis-promoting hormones) because that bastard drummer (insulin) wasn't getting between you and your goal.
And if this analogy doesn't work, you can always just point them to the 847,346 studies now available that verify that low-carbohydrate diets far outperform low-fat diets.
Analogy #6: Coaches/trainers are like chefs.
Let's face it; we have a tremendously unregulated industry. People can get weekend certifications and then do nothing more in the rest of their careers to advance professionally. Unfortunately, to the uninformed consumer, with the exception of referrals from friends, there isn't much that differentiates Personal Trainer or Coach A from Personal Trainer or Coach B. When someone implies that one trainer is as good as the next, here's what you can say:
Why is a steak (fitness results) so much better at an actual steakhouse (good trainer/coach) than it is at local drive-through (bad trainer/coach)?
• The steakhouse chef probably uses better raw materials (better exercise selection).
• The steakhouse chef probably has a better recipe (better training program design).
• The steakhouse chef probably follows that recipe better than an Ordinary Joe just staring at a list of directions (better coaching experience and talent).
• The steakhouse chef has tasted the best steaks and holds himself to a higher standard (is in shape and has a frame of reference on how to get you in shape).
• The steakhouse chef has made thousands of steaks, gone to culinary school, and talked shop with other great chefs (experience, education, and internships).
• The steakhouse chef is always reading culinary magazines and attending tradeshows (continuing education).
If all chefs were created equal, we'd just be able to score recipes and magically create great steaks for ourselves all the time.
Analogy #7: The healthy lifestyle is like a math progression.
Everyone here has met the overzealous newbie who wants every supplement and fancy training program — and he wants them yesterday. Unfortunately, he's still eating potato chips at every meal and doing curls in the squat rack. Most of us know this kid needs to get the basics down first, but that's not always an easy sell when you're dealing with a teenage mind that's hopped up on sugar and Olsen-twin-induced hormone surges. Tell him to take a cold shower, and then share this.
Think back to grade school, when they taught you basic math: addition (healthier food choices) and subtraction (exercise regularly). Eventually, they added in multiplication (staple supplements like Flameout and protein powder) and division (more lifting and interval training, less cardio). Next, they tossed in fractions (exercise-nutrition interactions and nutrient timing: i.e., Surge) and decimals (more strength work — sets of 5-8). If they had thrown fractions at you before any of the other four topics, you wouldn't have picked them up as easily — or possibly at all.*
*This is one reason why I'll often have a client start out with Low-Carb Metabolic Drive plus a banana for post-training nutrition before I move them on to Surge; it's an easier "sell" and more in line with the healthy eating progression.
The progression continues to algebra I (macronutrient rearranging), geometry (fluctuation of training stress), algebra II (heavier loading — sets of 1-5), advanced math (rest/recovery protocols), calculus (proven supplements), and statistics (supplements you think might be worth trying). The important thing to remember is that you can't skip a step. The basics are requisites for the more advanced stuff, which only comprises a small percentage of what you use in your daily life.
Along these same lines, I highly recommend checking out Chris Shugart's article, The Bodybuilder's Hierarchy of Needs.
Hopefully these analogies set you straight on something that may have been a bit hazy — or gave you some ammunition to use on a spouse, relative, friend, or co-worker who needs to hear things in their own language in order get things straight.