How do you conduct yourself at the gym? At Lift Lab we have a pretty big Weightlifting team. We have a decent amount of stud athletes, but more importantly, we get a lot of first timers who have never tried the sport. This is a big deal because we have the opportunity to continue to develop athletes in the sport we love. When we get new people in the door it is very important that we hold ourselves to a standard of excellence. This means that we hold our more experienced lifters accountable to how they act. There is a reason everyone on the team is friendly and most make a conscious attempt to introduce themselves to anyone new to make them feel more comfortable in the novel setting. We try to produce a very "team-like" atmosphere and set a good example for new lifters. This brings me to my main point of the post. I think most people have this idea in their heads that they aren't good enough for people to take notice of them. I'm hear to tell you that is not true. Everyone has different perceptions of what is good and people notice behavior that stands out--good or bad. For some, a 100kg snatch is the coolest thing ever. Athletes more advanced in their career may look towards a 150kg snatch to motivate them. Which athlete you are doesn't matter. Just know that someone else is alway watching you. You are always an example to someone. I've seen people throw shit after a missed lift in training. You would've thought they were 8 years old and their parents never gave them anything. I've seen very advanced lifters take time out of their training session to help someone brand new to the sport. I've seen intermediate lifters not say a word during a training session, but just keep their head down and get to work. A year later they are putting up huge numbers. I've seen advanced lifters not be able to shut their mouths all training session and not get a lick done. Whether you are putting up a sub par total right now or you are competing for a podium spot at Nationals, your behavior matters. Someone is always watching. People are always taking notice. How you conduct yourself matters. Don't be that person that ruins the sport for someone who was never able to get their career off the ground in the first place.
You may find yourself asking, "what is the best exercise program for me?" You may want to know which program is going to get you the fastest results and which program you are going to enjoy. You may also want to know the program with the best price and has the location nearest to your house, BUT, I am willing to bet you would go with the more expensive program if it got you results AND you enjoyed it. I think these are the only two aspects of any program that matter. Results and enjoyment are the only things that are going to make you adhere to a program for the long term. In my experience those are the only two reasons most people stop with their current training program. People may say that it is due to other factors, but at the same time, they were probably getting bored, burnt out, or weren't seeing the results they wanted, and a few other small life factors finally caused them to make the decision to stop training. So, how do you find these two qualities in a program? I honestly don't know if I have the perfect answers for that because many people are different. I have seen people find a lot of success on a program that doesn't seem enjoyable to most people and doesn't seem to be too in line with the science of training, BUT, they were getting results and they were probably having fun too. If I could offer any bit of advice on this front it would be to find a coach, and a gym with a supportive community and one that has shown to have results with their clients. If you can find a coach or a gym with these qualities they likely know how to get results and they likely know how to keep it enjoyable for their clients as well. We know that only getting results will only go so far for so long. I would even say that it becomes much harder to get results if you aren't enjoying the process because you aren't bought into the program and will likely not give it your best effort. In today's age it can be super confusing to find the best program for you in regards to exercise and fitness. There is simply too much information out there and no one expects everyone to know all the research to find the best place for them. Find something that you can enjoy and will likely adhere to in the long run. Results mainly come down to being able to accumulate work over a period of time. This is only going to happen if you can stick with a program and that's only going to happen if you enjoy it. The best exercise program for you is the one that you do. If you have any questions please feel free to shoot me an email at Justin@liftlabco.com. I would love to consult with you on your health and fitness needs.
Is It Really As Simple As Calories In vs. Calories Out?
Yes. The blog post could probably end now, but let me elaborate.... I think many people are a little skeptical about the calories in vs. calories out idea because they feel like they don't eat that much and are still gaining weight. Here's the kicker, you don't know how much you are eating until you are tracking how much you are actually eating. And that means tracking EVERYTHING. Even that late night sugary snack you eat right before bed. Yes, that counts. You will probably soon realize that you are eating a lot more than you think you are. I highly encourage you to track all of your food for one week and see what your consistency really looks like. Then from there you can make a plan. The bottom line is that your body obeys the law of thermodynamics. You can't get around that. If you consume more energy than you are expending, your body will hold on to and conserve that excess energy. This excess energy turns into extra body weight. This extra weight turns into muscle for some, and fat for others. This is entirely dependent on what kind of foods you are eating and what your training does or doesn't look like. The person that strength trains hard and eats a lot of protein, even if they are in a caloric surplus, will likely add muscle to their frame and not fat. The next question is how to go about creating the right amount of caloric deficit or surplus, depending on your goals. Most people's goal is to lose weight and look lean while doing it. Meaning, they want to hold on to (or gain) muscle, while losing body fat. This is where tracking your food for the week will come in handy. Once you know how many calories you are eating on a daily basis that is contributing to your weight gain or weight maintenance, you can start to create a plan to minimize that if your goal is to lose weight. A strong suggestion if you want to lose weight is to start in a small caloric deficit. Dropping down to 700 calories a day is not healthy and I highly encourage you not to do that. Start with just a 100-200 drop in calories and see how your body adjusts. Try to eat a lot of protein and as healthy of foods as possible (we all have an intuitive sense as to what those are). You can lose weight just by adjusting your calorie intake to be in a deficit. You don't even have to train. But, I highly encourage you to train. The benefits of exercise go way beyond body composition and I think it is one of the most important things any human could be doing in the year 2020. The reason I think more people are overweight than ever before is because there is an extraordinary amount of available fast food that is highly caloric, and people are more sedentary than ever before. My first suggestion for anyone wanting to lose weight would be to exercise more than they currently are. Even if it is going for a walk every day. Our ancestors were very fit and healthy. I don't think that is solely because they only ate meat and berries. It's because they moved non stop. This movement dictated how hungry they would be and when they would eat. They weren't tracking their calories, but they were in a constant state of energy expenditure. It was virtually impossible for them to be overweight. But, if you dropped a few McDonalds in the savanna, and gave them some couches and T.V., I think this would change in no time. I understand tracking your food can be hard and it can lead to a psychological state of being neurotic around food, which is never a good thing. But, I highly encourage it, even if it is for a little bit to gain the understanding. It is important to enjoy life. It can also be super rewarding to achieve your goals and the body you want. If you would like a consultation with a coach from Lift Lab where we can create a more elaborate plan for you, email Justin@liftlabco.com. We would love to help you make the change you want to see!
"I’m in pain. Does that mean something is wrong?" I have this conversation with clients and anyone going through pain all the time so I figured I should write about it. Here’s deal…You can put someone under an MRI or X-Ray and see that something is structurally wrong. This person can experience no symptoms of pain. Put another person in an MRI and X-Ray and nothing is structurally wrong, but this person is experiencing a good deal of pain every day. You could also see examples of structural pathology synonymous with pain and vice versa. So, this basically tells us that we don’t understand pain in relation to physiology super well. What can we do? I often tell people that it’s impossible to fully understand what is causing pain in most cases. Spraining your ankle and feeling pain afterwards is a lot more straightforward than the random onset of elbow pain. Especially when there are a lot of variables involved. First order of business would be to chose interventions that don’t cause a lot of pain, and reassess every so often and see if the pain is there. You can also try to find exercises that bias an increase in motion and see if that helps suddenly and/or long-term. You can also pick surgery. There is no guarantee that this will help, because as I said before, it’s hard to fully understand pain in relation to structure. At the end of the day I am not a doctor. If your bone is sticking out of your skin you probably want to get that fixed. All I am saying is your bulged disc or spinal asymmetry isn’t as straightforward. I’m willing to place a bet that if 90%+ of humans got an X-Ray today, you would see spinal asymmetry. No spine is perfectly straight. Your guts aren’t even weighted symmetrically in your stomach, bro. Beware of the snake oil salesmen that uses your structural pathology as a means for you to keep giving them money.
What is the most important skill to develop early on in your coaching career? We've been working with a few interns and new coaches recently and have been thinking quite a bit about this… I remember being the intern. I remember not having a clue about anything. Everything seems like information overload. I think what you suck at most should be your first guide. Mine was communication and client interaction. So, that was the first thing I needed get better at. Technical skills could come later. It seems to me that you have to develop people skills early on. No one will pay you for training if they don’t feel comfortable around you. If your technical skills are good enough and your people skills are on point, you will do just fine. Next, what do you want to learn? Interns are typically given the same speeches about programming, exercise technique, periodization, etc. You have to learn the fundamentals but I think it should be taken a step further. Not sure what you want to learn more of? Ask very specific questions. This, I think could be the most important point. Let these questions guide your study. You will likely find yourself down a rabbit hole and once that gets boring or you feel like there is nothing left there, ask another very specific question. Don't get too hung up on broad training concepts. The more detailed questions you can ask, the more you will broaden your understanding and the better coach you will become. Lastly, don’t be shy about asking for help. Most people out there are more than happy to share their experience and lend a hand. When I left my last job I reached out to pretty much any gym owner I could. Not one person turned down a conversation with me. I’m extremely grateful for that and I think that is mostly what the industry is full of. Get off instagram for a second. When I was at Ball State as an intern, legendary strength coach Al Vermeil spent a whole day with us and basically told us everything he thought he knew about strength and conditioning. It was awesome to hear from such a veteran. Very last thing….experience trumps all. Go getchu some.
I don’t think there are any high level strength athletes that will say they aren’t experiencing some degree of pain any given day. I don’t even think there are moderate level strength athletes that wouldn’t say the same. At some point when you start to push the degree of performance to become the best you can be at a sport you will start to experience some pain. Add enough stress and the system will slowly start to break down. This is a conversation I’ve had with people more than once in regards to Olympic lifting and Powerlifting. Through my experience there seems to be just a few ways people want to deal with this onset of pain. One way is to let up on the gas and take a step back. The goal here is finding anyway to reduce volume and intensity. While this might be what you need in some circumstances, most of the times letting up on the gas results is not giving the adequate amount of stress needed to still improve performance. The opposite way is to continue to push on the gas and move forward with training as per usual. It is my thought that this is probably the way to go. Not to deny anyone’s perceived pain as I truly won’t ever know what someone is perceiving, but I’m willing to guess most experiences of pain aren’t bad enough to need to drastically reduce volume and intensity. You will also have the people that are stuck pushing the gas all the way down to the floor and they wonder why they aren’t seeing the progress they want. Ultimately, I think we have to continue to find strategies for people where we aren’t eliminating work but finding ways to work. The accumulation of stress is the only way you will see increases in performance. If you want to excel at a sport I think you have to get comfortable with some pain. If your goal is not performance but general fitness, I think we have to find ways to eliminate pain all together while still accumulating work. I think the difference between the high performance end of the spectrum and the general fitness end is the specificity of the tasks. To increase performance you want to maintain as much specificity as possible. For increasing general fitness qualities I think you have to find ways that offer more variability.
I was recently listening to a podcast and the woman being interviewed was a journalist who went on leave to play professional poker. She was being mentored by one of the most prominent professional poker players and he told her something along the lines of, "distinguish the action and the outcome from the thought process." In poker this means that you can't be married to the outcome because sometimes you might have the thought process right, but you end up with the low end of the probability stick. The probability was in your favor but you simply got unlucky. In poker, making decisions in uncertainty means you have to align your process with the highest probabilities. I want to talk about how distinguishing the outcome from the process is important for your health and fitness life as well... When people come into the gym they have specific goals. They want to lose 20lbs of fat, gain 15lbs of muscle, lose 40lbs, increase the strength on their squat, etc. I think it is important to have a clear understanding and outline of your goals, but you shouldn't be too married to them. What do I mean? I think it is much more important to be more attached to the process. If you become too focused on your long-term goals you can start to get discouraged by any sort of deviation away from them. Say you lose 5lbs in two weeks, but on the third week you gain back a pound. You are still on a net negative weight loss from when you started, but the gain of a pound sticks out more in our minds. That is just how we are wired as humans. Losses effect us to a greater degree than positives. If you can focus more on the process and what habits you can create, whose effect will compound over time, you are much more likely to achieve your goals. More importantly, you start to change your identity. You start to become someone who is healthy and who exercises consistently. This change in your mind is just as important than the work itself. If you are constantly worried about your end goal and what you don't have it becomes a losing strategy. Scott Adams who wrote the Dilbert comic strip says, "a goal is, by definition, one way to win and infinite ways to lose. A good system gives you lots of ways to win and far fewer ways to fail." I think we need to be more systems and process oriented. The last thing I will leave you with, which is another reason I think you should focus more on the process than the outcome, is something I recently heard in a podcast. A guy was describing something his meditation teacher said to him about exercise. He said, "don't exercise because you hate your body, exercise because you love your body." What can you do today that will start creating a better process? Email me at if you need any help in starting to create better systems to reach your goals!
At Lift Lab we mostly talk about better training and how to optimize your time spent at the gym. Today, I want to go a slightly different route and talk about nutrition a bit. I’m not an expert in nutrition, but I do have a decent understanding of biology and physiology. You are free to take whatever I say in this post with a grain of salt, but it is very unlikely that many experts will disagree with anything that I have to say. We see a lot of people that want to lose weight, feel better about themselves, and have more energy throughout the day. I would say we do a really good job at training these people in the gym, but at some point, nutrition has to be dialed in outside of the gym for optimal progress. You can be doing everything right in the gym but still not see the progress you want if you aren’t making the right decisions on the nutrition front. Below are some very simple steps that you can start to take right now to encourage a better nutritional lifestyle and one that is likely on track with your goals… Drink Mostly Water You may or may not be surprised that one of the biggest things that hinders people’s progress with nutrition is what they drink. Think about all the people you know that drink mostly pop throughout the day, or other sugary drinks. I get it, people hate water. I’m not a big fan either, but it isn’t quite hard to guzzle some water down throughout the day. There are even other options out there such as sparkling water to make your water drinking experience a little bit more enjoyable. We all know drinking water is important to keep all our systems functioning at optimum capacity, but drinking a lot of water also keeps you from drinking other stuff that isn’t on track with your goals. It’s okay to have your cup of coffee and even a soda now and then but keep 90%+ of all of your fluid intake coming from water. Eat Mostly Protein When talking with current and new clients about nutrition it is obvious that most don’t eat enough protein. A lot don’t even know how much they eat on a daily basis. I always tell people the easiest guideline is to eat your body weight in grams of protein a day. You’re probably thinking that’s a lot, and it probably is compared to what you’re currently eating. Protein intake is important because it helps increase and maintain muscle mass. The more muscle you have the less fat you have, and the more calories your body burns at rest. If your goal is to lose weight or lean out, this is what you want. The last note about protein is that it keeps you from eating a bunch of other junk. You may find that when you you’re eating something that most people consider “junk” it is filled with carbs and fat. Most things are now a days, which is why people find it hard to eat a lot of protein. If you focus on eating a lot of protein this will likely keep you eating fresh foods and less carbs and fat because these are the foods that are filled with protein. It’s hard to find “junk” food filled with protein. You will likely have to cook more of your meals which leads me to my last point. (Real quick note on protein: I train a decent number of clients that are vegetarian, which makes it harder to eat a lot of protein. This is a great time to find quality protein shake sources and drink one or two of those throughout the day.) Cook Most of Your Meals We all know how hard it is to eat like crap if we cook our meals. Most of our bad eating habits come when we are on the run and have to make a stop at the nearest fast food restaurant. Cooking all of your meals can be hard, but there are many simple recipes out there. If you cook most of your meals, you are much more likely to eat foods that are on track with your goals and are filled with nutrients that should give you more energy throughout the day. I would find it quite hard to believe you won’t see progress if most of your meals are cooked directly by you. You may have noticed that I used the word “most” or “mostly” for all of the above points. This was on purpose. I don’t believe in one size fits all programs and I also believe in living a little bit. I would fail at many things if I didn’t have a little bit of flexibility. I want the same thing for you. So, give yourself a little bit of wiggle room but stay on track MOST of the time. If you can dial in the three points above, I think you will be well on your way to a better nutritional lifestyle.
If you’re someone who is struggling with changing behaviors right now, my goal is to make your life a whole lot easier. When we’re talking weight loss goals, strength goals, or anything in the realm of fitness what we are obviously trying to do is change behaviors. You have to become someone different to get somewhere you’ve never been. Behavior change is hard, but at the same time it is simple. The biggest reason we run into problems when we try to change behaviors is that we try to do too much. Rather than managing and improving upon one variable we try to prefect six. This can be enticing because we all would love if progress just happened to us over night. But, that’s not how the world works. You should start with something simple and manageable. If you want to get up early in the morning start by eliminating what causes you to go to bed so late. If you want to go to the gym start by putting on your gym clothes at the same time every day. If you want to eat better start by adding one cup of vegetables to all of your meals. You may be thinking that there is no way you will be able to achieve your goals starting this small or going this slow, but the key to change is starting by one habit at a time and perfecting that habit. Once you have established that habit it will be time to move on to another one. Before you know it, over the course of a year you will look like a completely new person to the old you. This philosophy to behavior change isn’t as sexy as the idea that you should just be motivated and disciplined 24 hours a day, but it is more realistic. The truth is, our willpower is a limited resource. The real key to change is to start small and build from there.
We live in a complex world. Our perceptions of the world differ from actual reality. There is so much information that our brains use filters to help decipher the overload of information, leading us to have a very incomplete picture of the world. There is so much we don’t know, leaving us to be very bad at prediction. Given this foundation, this sets us up to not be very good goal accomplishers. There is just too much uncertainty. You are better off setting up systems for yourself to succeed. Rather than having a goal of losing 5lbs/month for the next three months try just getting your gym clothes on each day. Some days you might go to the gym and workout and other days you just might not. Either way, you aren’t a failure because you aren’t in the goal setting business. We know that our brains have limited supplies of willpower. If you muster up all of your willpower just to go to the gym and train for an hour when you would rather just sit at home after a long day of work, you will have no willpower left to use on other things. Over time this is a losing strategy. Systems are great because it is a reflection of your daily habits and actions. If done right, it shouldn't take any willpower. Everybody’s system will be very different. You want to find one that works for you. One that brings you energy and helps you succeed. Any morning I am not at the gym early, I make a cup of coffee and read first thing. This doesn’t take me any energy to do. I love coffee and I love a great book. After I am done with this I actually feel like I have more energy to do the things that I wouldn’t originally want to do. Like write this blog. Goals are a specific event at a specific point in time. Due to the uncertainty and complexity of the world you are likely to fail. No matter your intentions or no matter how much work you put in. You are better off setting up a system that you enjoy, that brings you energy, and helps luck and success find you. If you are still adamant about setting goals. Set a goal, but set up a system that will lead you to the general vicinity of your original goal.
It appears to me that intensity is the biggest predictor of injury. Intensity relative to the structures being imposed. Driving 5mph into a wall isn’t dangerous and isn’t likely to lead to injury. Driving 50mph into a wall is a different story. A defensive back falling on your knee might not cause too much damage, but an offensive lineman getting thrown into your knee is also a different story. Deadlifting 100lbs if your max is 500 ins’t going to challenge your tissues too much, but if you keep trying to max out over 500lbs, again, this is a different story, which is why during training we manipulate intensities and volumes to not impose too much of the same stress to the system at once. Intensity will not always lead to injury. But, the more you ramp up intensity, the demand on your system goes up, and the probability for injury is just simply higher. I hate the injury prevention talk, because in a world full of randomness it’s hard to prevent anything. But, if looking at injuries through this framework, it seems to me that the best way to “prevent” injury is to create tissues, or more so, a system that is more resilient or robust. I think there are many ways to create this resilience and robustness, and with this framework in mind it becomes easier to pick the tools at your disposal to drive the adaptations you want.
I’m sure most of us have heard the expression, “you only have so many eggs to put in so many baskets.” This is simply a statement about priorities and energy expenditure. You only have so much energy you can put into so many things each day. What do you want to be really good at? Where do you want to find success? Whatever your answers to these questions are, that is where you should put most of your energy and focus. In the modern age with access to so much, I see way to often people wanting to put a few eggs in many different baskets. If your only goal is to experience a lot of different things and you don’t really care how good you get at each thing, then this isn’t a problematic strategy. However, if you want to be a really successful at Olympic lifting, Powerlifting, Crossfit, Bodybuilding, or Jiu-Jitsu, it’s probably not best to do all of those things. It can be very enticing when training starts to become mundane and boring to want to switch to something that offers a bit more novelty. Again, this isn’t a huge problem if you aren’t trying to get onto the National stage in a specific sport, but it is 100% a losing strategy if your goal is to compete with the best. This idea also has implications in the general fitness setting as well. If you haven’t trained in a long time, if you haven’t been creating healthy habits around food, if your sleep is awful, and your lifestyle is overall sedentary, it is probably best to spend most of your energy on the move that’s going to conquer the most chess pieces. Starting the keto diet, training 4x/week, meal prepping, eliminating all processed foods, and starting a supplement regime is probably a losing strategy. What is the one thing you can do that will provide the biggest results? After that is accomplished, focus on something else you can start. One quality about the greats is that they all have a relentlessly narrow focus. They put all of their eggs in one basket. You get to choose where you place your eggs. There isn’t a right answer, but just know the consequences of placing too many eggs in too many baskets.