Many have adopted the expression “turn disaster into opportunity” during the latest economic recession.
After my recent interview with educator, author, speaker, and exercise expert Paul Chek, I had the opportunity to find out exactly what that expression meant.
My one-hour conversation with Paul Chek was just coming to a close when I suddenly realized that my voice recorder wasn’t, well, recording voices.
Fortunately, I’d taken notes; 20 feverish pages of them, in fact. But Paul Chek, one of the most controversial, outspoken figures in the industry today, isn’t exactly known for speaking in short, MTV-friendly sound bites.
Paul Chek is a man on a mission and when he speaks, his words reflect that. He is unapologetic in his belief that many “modern” approaches to health care are either misguided, flat-out wrong, or agenda-driven practices designed solely to pump up the bank accounts of the big pharmaceutical machine.
Because of his hard line approach, Paul has alienated a lot of his peers who would normally be praising him as a visionary who’s revolutionized the field of corrective exercise. Instead, they question his practices, his criticism of the scientific method, and his holistic approach to health and wellness. Some say he’s simply an excellent therapist that’s gone too far, others say he’s flat-out crazy.
The criticisms only make Paul talk louder.
As a result of my technical mishap, I had to think a lot about what Paul had said. I had to look at my short hand scribblings and ask myself if that was what he really said, or if I’d somehow misinterpreted the message? I had to cross-reference what I thought I heard with other work he’s published, and finally trade emails with Paul just to make sure I wasn’t subconsciously hearing things that I wanted to hear, or inserting my “programming” when I should have been listening to his voice.
In the end, I’m glad I took the time to seek out the voice behind his message and I encourage you to try to do the same.
Remember, it’s easy (and lazy) to dismiss the things that challenge your beliefs; it takes effort and maturity to let down your defenses and try to understand them. Cause you never know where an opportunity may be waiting for you.
So without further ado, meet Paul Chek.
T-Nation: Paul, you’ve been the force behind many training concepts that are now considered staples, like Swiss ball work, heavy ab training …
Paul Chek: I’m going to stop you there. I’m glad you brought up the Swiss ball and core training, as these are indeed areas that I helped develop and bring to the public.
I go to public gyms sometimes, and I see trainers having their clients roll around on Swiss balls or do routines that I designed. But when I go on the Internet and make the mistake of reading some of the shit people say about me, you’d think I was a frigging idiot.
When I started using the Swiss ball with athletes, people thought I was crazy. Certifiably insane, even though I was getting results that were unheard of at the time.
But today, every trainer with a half-day certification has their clients do Swiss ball work, and they have no idea where the idea even came from! The same guy they think is so insane that he should be locked up in a padded cell is also responsible for bringing into awareness a lot of the training principles used by coaches and trainers worldwide.
T-Nation: I assume that must piss you off.
Paul: Yes and no. On the one hand, when people criticize my philosophies, they’re also discrediting a lot of work my team has put into observing, testing, and verifying these theories. I have over 10,000 Chek Practitioners and CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coaches, and believe me, these aren’t stupid people.
So when someone logs onto a discussion board after reading a half paragraph of something I wrote, and writes that Paul Chek is an idiot, that can get…irritating at times. Dismissing 25 years of work and contributions to a field because you don’t agree with a reference I made to spirituality or organic farming? Come on, that’s just narrow minded and lazy.
But on the other hand, if history has taught us anything, it’s that in any field, all true pioneers have arrows in their backs. I have been and possibly will always be a pioneer in this industry. So if that means some underdeveloped mind on a computer will say I’m crazy, so be it.
T-Nation: You mentioned spirituality. Why do you consider spirituality to be such an integral part of strength training?
Paul: Research shows that the number one fear people have is fear of dying, followed closely by public speaking. I believe people fear death simply because they don’t understand it. Death is but an “inward-turning” of consciousness.
There, you sit within your mind, which is composed of your judgments. In life, we have an opportunity to decorate our coffin so-to-speak. All we can take with us is what we’ve become as a person. Nothing else fits through the metaphorical eye of the needle the soul passes through.
When you die, you don’t take your car with you, or your house, or your bank account full of money, or that collection of bodybuilding trophies you have in your garage. All you take with you is what you’ve become. Have you learned to love? Have you grown as a person, become more self-aware, a self-actualized person?
T-Nation: That sounds like Maslow.
Paul: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should be on a poster in every steroid-infested gym on the planet. At the top of the pyramid of a whole, complete, developed person is Self Actualization. Things like vitality, meaningfulness, and creativity are part of the Self Actualized person.
Way at the bottom of the pyramid are things like physiological needs, where I guess having more muscle would reside. So my point is, why just focus on building muscle if you’re still an idiot? If you’re not learning how to love, aren’t you just adding muscle to an idiot?
My definition of an “idiot” is someone that repeatedly uses the same methods that haven’t gotten the results they wanted in the past, while still expecting a better result, or someone who acts irresponsibly when they should be acting responsibly; which is actually the definition of a neurotic but it works interchangeably.
In short, why spend time in the gym increasing your squat, deadlift, or the size of your arms if there is no enhancement of your mental-emotional strengths and abilities, which is “spiritual awareness”?
T-Nation: Paul, a lot of lifters tune out when the subject turns to God and spirituality. You’ve been in the lifting game longer than many people, so you must understand that lifters are very skeptical of anything that isn’t easily measurable or observable. How do you get lifters to buy in to these abstract concepts?
Paul: First thing I have to address is the idea of making assumptions. When I talk about God, spirituality, and dreams, people make assumptions that I’m talking about the same things they are. For example, what is your definition of spirituality?
T-Nation: I don’t know. I would say a spiritual person is someone who tries to live their life in a way that acknowledges that they are a part of something bigger.
Paul: I’ve asked that question a thousand times and that’s actually one of the better definitions I’ve heard.
As I said earlier, my definition of spirituality is taking responsibility for what you create, moment to moment. A spiritual person doesn’t blame others for their situation, and accepts full responsibility for their actions.
Are you familiar with the theory of projection bias as used in psychology?
T-Nation: Sure, I remember that from university. That’s the Freudian idea of projecting your ideas onto others rather than considering what they’re really thinking.
Paul: Right. So getting back to spirituality, nowhere in my definition are words like religion, heaven, hell, or any other constructs that you’d find in a Bible. Yet that’s what people project onto me when I start discussing these concepts.
They hear me say spirituality, their minds flash back to some traumatic religious experience they’ve had, and they tune me out. They project their assumptions of spirituality onto me, rather than ask me exactly what I’m talking about.
Then, years later and they’re on my treatment table and they finally allow themselves to listen to what I have to say and they’re like “Oh, that’s what you meant by God or spirituality? I should’ve just asked you back then.”
T-Nation: So you can honestly connect the dots from spiritual development and real world physical development or healing?
Paul: You can’t separate the body, mind and the spirit. Body is as the body of your laptop; mind is as the software on your laptop, and spirit is as the electromotive force that “enlivens” your laptop — remove any of the above and you’ve lost all reasonable functionality.
I’ve had patients with major back pain make a full recovery once they addressed what was truly bothering them, whether it was financial stress or a lousy marriage that their religion had forbidden them to leave. These people were at their wits end and had “tried everything” to relieve their pain, but only once they addressed the true source of their problems did they begin to heal, without touching or treatment, just by addressing what was destroying them spiritually.
T-Nation: A popular criticism of you is that it appears you give far too little credit to the basics (clean diet, consistent, heavy weight training) and give far too much credit to the mysticism.
Paul: That is absolute bullshit! I have over 400 published articles, with 90% of them being about how to lift, how the body works, anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology. I have 65 videos and 25 correspondence courses, 90% of which are about how the physical body moves and works. People who make these kind of criticisms just aren’t doing their damn homework. If you don’t believe me, Google Paul Chek and see for yourself.
If I just practiced “mysticism” and didn’t know my stuff, would I have the professional client base that I have? If I didn’t get real world, tangible results, would I be hired and re-hired by professional teams? I think not.
T-Nation: Can you explain how you would approach working with a professional athlete?
Paul: When I consult with an athlete or anyone for that matter, the most important thing I do is find out what their dream is. This is actually a four-step process.
Step one is finding out what their one love is. In other words, what is their primary goal? Why are you lifting weights? Are you trying to go to the Olympics? As a coach and therapist, I need to know this. How do I know what is optimal for you if you don’t even know yet where you want to end up?
Without a clearly defined dream and a clear compass bearing, you’ll just keep following whatever bullshit is written in magazines and probably get injured. A clear dream is like a GPS or compass bearing, and as the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.
The second step is to explain that there are only two forces in this world, yin (female) and yang (male). The male is more expressive of the fire principle, about “doing”, building, making things happen. The fire principle is catabolic in nature and shows up in many as a love of working out and training, both of which are catabolic in nature.
The female, or water principle is more anabolic, oriented toward growing, nurturing, holding a family together, and recuperating. Once I know your dream, we then have to balance these two essential but opposing forces.
So if your goal is to compete in the Olympics and your regular training is fully established, as a therapist or coach, I have to look at your recovery side or your use of yin energies. Is that game of pick-up basketball or bashing tennis balls with your buddy every Saturday helping you reach your dream, or is it adding too much catabolic energy, limiting recovery, and therefore, holding you back? Make sense so far?
T-Nation: Absolutely. And steps three and four?
Paul: Step three is to look at choices; choices relative to the core values I help my athletes and patients develop as a means of achieving their dream the most efficient way.
Only by having clearly defined core values or modes of behavior as a guiding philosophy can you effectively know when or how to make important decisions that either support, or detract from your overall objective. If your dream is to win a MMA fight and you’re sleeping five hours a night, that’s a bad choice. Sleep is the chief engine of our anabolism; why spend hundreds of dollars on supplements if you’re sleep deprived?
I work with clients to have clear core values relative to the objectives at hand. I teach them to see that with every objective there are three possible choices: Number one is the optimal choice, which is best for everyone involved with achieving your dream. It’s the choice that is in harmony not with just you but with all others involved.
Choice option number two is sub-optimal. It offers instant gratification, but creates stress with others because the decision is typically made with only you in mind.
No matter who you are, or what the dream is, there is someone out there who’s feeding you, taking your garbage to the dump, cooking for you in restaurants, driving ambulances, and others helping keep the roads safe…there are many in service to each and every one of us, and vice versa.
The sub-optimal choice is to do something that benefits you at the risk of ignoring the needs of others who support your dream directly or indirectly.
Choice number three is simply to do nothing at all. This is the worst choice you can make, as it benefits no one.
The fourth and final step of 1-2-3-4 for achieving your dream is where I introduce my Four Doctors living philosophy, and these should be the only doctors you’ll ever need:
Dr. Quiet, who deals with rest management and your inner life.
Dr. Movement, who governs how you spend energy and teaches you how to use movement such that you don’t disrupt the dynamic balance of your yin/anabolic and yang/catabolic energies. This includes how you move, train, exercise, play, and your work: rest ratio, etc.
Dr. Happiness, who deals with getting clear on your dream and establishing your core-values.
Dr. Diet, who deals with how you feed your body.
T-Nation: Ok, I can imagine that a lot of readers might be rolling their eyes right now or scrolling down to see today’s Powerful Image, but I think that if you framed this a bit differently it would sound quite similar to what other coaches have put forth. Specifically, setting goals, establishing priorities, emphasizing rest and nutrition, the importance of mental clarity and sound choices. But you say words like dreams…
Paul: The closed minds out there hear what they want to hear. As I said earlier, if you’re with a teacher who starts talking about God or spirituality, the intelligent student would first clarify with the teacher exactly what they were talking about.
But so many of us are so wounded in our egos that it’s much easier to make someone else wrong or project your ideas onto them so you can find fault and justify doing the same things over and over that haven’t really ever worked well to begin with… you remember that definition don’t you?
T-Nation: Sure do. Your method of analysis has been criticized as observing things in “the real world” and then seek research that supports your observations. Is this true? Is that not backwards science?
Paul: I’ve heard that many times, and it’s funny that people would think that. I’ve studied 125 or more of history’s greatest thinkers. Einstein, Newton; every single one of them had a method of reaching far greater conclusions than the science of the day could accomplish.
Look at Einstein. He was famous for doing experiments in his bathtub. He said once that you couldn’t solve a problem with the same science that created it. You’re subconsciously limited by their viewpoints, their bias. In fact, I’d argue that there could be no objectivity in science if the researcher has any attachment to the outcome whatsoever. This fact is objectively borne out in Schrödinger’s cat experiment, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and The Copenhagen Interpretation in quantum physics, all of which imply that “consciousness directed at any given result influences outcome.”
T-Nation: So it’s fair to say you’re skeptical of a lot of the published research?
Paul: A huge percentage of published science is bullshit. It’s manipulated data, conducted by lab coats funded by big corporations. The scientists either get the results the corporation wants, or they’re simply fired — so they go at it until they figure out how to make it work for their agenda, all in the name of science. There’s no real objectivity!
In fact, a few years back, Dynamic Chiropractic published research showing that 79% of all medical advertising was found to be bogus and could not back up it’s claims objectively what-so-ever! Yet, people read this stuff like gospel and often lose their lives because of it.
T-Nation: So what do you do, Paul?
Paul: I observe athletes, observe individuals. I look at flow patterns in the real world and when I see a consistent outcome, I look for research that supports this.
A traditional researcher is like a scientist observing a frog in a glass jar. The frog jumps against the glass repeatedly until it’s bleeding and dies because it’s stressed, it’s locked up in a glass jar! But the scientist erroneously concludes that because a frog will do this it must be stupid.
The way I do things is like a biologist observing a frog in its natural environment. It’s a much more complete, natural way of observing behavior.
So the truth is, I’m an empirical scientist, not a laboratory, nor theoretical scientist; I don’t get paid for theories, only results. But, my clinical, coaching, and training observations are often used in clinical research. For example, years ago, I consistently observed cervical pain in patients with a certain degree of first rib angle and pelvic tilt.
There was no medical instrument that could measure first rib angle other than a radiograph, so I built a caliper that made these measurements. I found that if a person’s first rib was at a 25 degree or greater angle, problems would often occur due to strangulation of the brachial plexus in the thoracic outlet or impingement along the neurovascular pathway.
After I went public with my observations, a number of scientists and researchers asked for my help to design or support studies looking into these things and went on to validate my findings objectively. They even used the caliper I built to do so.
The bottom line is, I’m a therapist, not a scientist. I get paid to help people heal, win, and achieve their dreams, not do research.
T-Nation: So do you think all research in our industry is completely useless?
Paul: Of course not. I subscribe to 40-50 scientific journals; I have about 1.5 million dollars in books, videos, and DVDs. I would hasten a guess that I’m more in touch with the published literature than most out there. But I don’t use it solely to make decisions.
I’m constantly looking at the new research in our field, but the first thing I do is look at the study’s design. As I mentioned earlier, research shows that 79% of all published medical claims couldn’t be backed by research, even though to get FDA approval you must provide research showing a drugs safety.
Once I see how the study was designed, and who paid for it, I then have a good idea how reliable the data is and if in any way I can use good research, I certainly do!
T-Nation: Do you have any examples you could share?
Paul: Sure, look at the vast majority of research on core function. There’s no acknowledgement of organ or joint health. This is completely useless, as the body does not operate in such an independent fashion. The body is a cybernetic system, which is a system of systems.
All systems in the human body are highly interdependent and any research efforts that create the illusion, for example, of musculoskeletal independence, should be read and interpreted with due caution.
For example, look at heart attacks, the physical symptom of a myocardial infarction is pain in the arm and shortness of breath. In other words, an organ crisis is represented by a musculoskeletal symptom. Same with appendicitis. The first thing an ER doc will look for is a rock-hard abdominal wall with acute pain in the lower right quadrant.
Every woman out there is aware that symptoms such as back pain, SI joint pain, diminished balance and weakness in the legs are common and well-known pre-menstrual symptoms. So if we already know all these things, even in the public sector, how can we keep pumping out incomplete research and teaching and preaching it as though it was “The Word” or law, or worse yet, gospel…
T-Nation: The number one symptom PMS symptom I see are guys making themselves scarce.
Paul: Ha, that’s probably sound thinking. But my point is, you never see a core study that qualifies for normal orthopedic function. I bring this point up with researchers all the time and they often will tell me that they agree with me, but that science just can’t manage this many variables at a given time. So they publish research of musculoskeletal function or core function independent of organ health. They publish half-truths at best!
T-Nation: Let’s change gears. You’ve said that health has been lost in bodybuilding. What are the most important steps we can take to get health back in without compromising our bodybuilding or athletic aspirations?
Paul: Become your own guinea pig. Keep a detailed training journal and food diary. Pay close attention to your skin, your recoverability, your sleep, sexual performance, and your bowel movements.
This kind of info allows you to gain objective feedback from your body and is of more value to you personally than 100 so-called “scientific” studies. I’ve been running a 25-year experiment — being aware of my self and my reactions to any and all relevant training variables, including all diet and lifestyle factors of potential influence. If you’re not, you should start today because no scientist is going to do this for you.
Stop eating and drinking shit, including supplements that are useless. I have clients that take a gym bag full of pills and powders but won’t spring for organic food or clean water. They don’t sleep well and there skin is a mess because they’re constantly detoxifying all the chemicals they consume.
Look at bodybuilders; they have probably the worst skin I’ve seen among any group from all the crap they take. Their bodies’ detoxification systems are overloaded; they’re tired, moody, and constipated. If they just ate better and took less shit, they’d be miles ahead.
Go back to the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s or prior. Eugene Sandow lifted 301 pounds over his head with one friggin’ hand without so much as a multi-vitamin. Guys just ate clean, natural foods and lived health and strength as their philosophy. Did you know bodybuilders used to be health nuts? How many bodybuilders can say that today?
I got guys on my treatment table in their 20’s who can’t get it up. They’re barely out of their teens and need fucking Viagara. I tell them, I’m 48; you’d better keep your girlfriend away from me!
Of course, science is there to “help” us with Viagara and Cialis but as usual everyone misses the big picture. A man’s ability to reproduce is a sign of his health and vitality. If you can’t get it up, Mother Nature doesn’t want you to reproduce.
By taking these boner pills, once again you’re just treating a symptom of an underlying problem, and in this case, one that indicates problems much more threatening to an athlete’s overall health and performance.
But it’s big business, and there’s a lot of money to be made off of chronically sick people. It’s the same system that produces these studies that show chemical farming grows the same quality produce as organic farms.
It’s only when you dig deep that you discover that many of these studies are funded by companies like Heinz, General Mills, Coke, and Pepsi Co. These mega-companies own a bunch of so-called organic farms and even started their own organic certification system, just so they can produce studies that show organic farming is no better than chemical farming practices.
I mean, really, who the hell honestly believes that food grown out of chemically stripped, dead soil is as nutritious as food grown out of nutrient-rich soil?
Trust your instincts and be skeptical, and when all else fails, follow the money!
T-Nation: What are three things that the average lifter could do tomorrow in the gym or in the kitchen that could improve their training or their health?
Paul: Number one, if it’s deader than you are, don’t eat it. When you eat crap, you must invest considerable energy into processing and utilizing it. Don’t further stress an already stressed system.
Most people are unaware that the body utilizes between 50-70% or more of its daily calories just to cover the energetic and nutritional costs of running food from mouth to anus (digestion, assimilation, metabolism, and elimination).
Just to keep the lights on! If you’re eating food that costs more to run through the body than it delivers in energy and resources, naturally, you can expect trouble. Consider, in this regard, that 90% of all the food eaten in the US is fast food!
Number two, drink water! Not coffee, not tea, not Red Bull, Monster, but water. You need an average of half-ounce per pound of bodyweight, so a 200-pound guy would need 100 ounces a day. We live in a polluted world, and the best solution to pollution is dilution. About 90% of the population is dehydrated, and it’s an easy, cheap way to improve how you look and perform.
Number three, 50-60% of the population is gluten sensitive or intolerant. I suggest trying an elimination diet where you eliminate all forms of gluten, seeds, and nuts from the diet.
I put my clients on my version of the so-called “caveman diet,” which is composed of vegetables and meats, and I allow the use of butter, or ghee for the really sick ones. This allows one to easily begin to identify any offending food because after the seven days is over, you begin introducing any potential offender one at a time and monitoring your responses.
T-Nation: Whoa, I’ve heard eliminate gluten before, but eliminate nuts? They’re on basically every nutritional authority’s “good foods” list?
Paul: And what research are these “authorities” basing their recommendations off of? Each other’s bullshit, incestuous, agenda-driven research.
I’m a clinician. I work with patients every day, and 95% of the time when I remove all gluten, nuts, and seeds, I see dramatic improvements within five days.
Nuts and seeds have phytic acid in their coating, which is a known mineral and enzyme blocker and is broken down in the sprouting process. If eaten without breaking it down first, phytic acid inhibits the absorption of a variety of minerals and trace minerals, and can neutralize our own digestive enzymes.
This results in many of the digestive disorders experienced by people that eat unsprouted grains. Eating nuts and seeds without soaking them in quality drinking water for at least 8-12 hours to break down the phytic acid can, and frequently does, block our digestive enzymes from functioning. This has led to un-estimable problems with digestion, which can, and often do lead to disease.
I go into all this in my book How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy.
T-Nation: Interesting. Now the signature question, the franchise question, if you will. Can you tell us something we don’t know?
Paul: No, I cant. There’s nothing that you don’t know. Everything you would ever want to know is available to you if you just relax your mind and go beyond your mental boundaries.
Learn meditation, and embrace what the Buddhists call the “no-mind”, which means stop thinking so you can see the wholeness of life in and before you! Then you don’t have to read books and rely on other people’s experiences with no reference of your own. We’re all a beautiful expression of the creative force in the universe. All the answers are right there if you learn to access the no-mind, which is effectively done through a variety of meditation techniques.
Look at the mystics, saints, and sages of history. Scientists today are blown away at what these people were able to accomplish, with no computers, no calculators, and no “science.” They understood complexities that baffle scientists today because they had access to no-mind.
You, your readers, everyone caught in their ego-programming are all just computers running software until you learn to access no-mind, or the state of thoughtlessness. To do this one needs “de-programming”, which can only come through conscious awareness.
Rather than telling you something you don’t know, perhaps a better question is: are you motivated to truly find answers?
T-Nation: Dave…my mind is going. I can feel it. Thanks for doing this today, Paul.
Paul: It was my pleasure.