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
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
Imagine a tree in a hurricane. There are winds (shearing
and compressive forces) through it in every different
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Once you’ve woken up from your nap, we’ll move
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
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
• 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
Analogy #7: The healthy lifestyle is like a math
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
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
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
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.