I Yell Because I Care

Back when I worked for Ranger, my co-worker Chris told me that he was going to buy me a t-shirt that said “I YELL BECAUSE I CARE”. He never did, but he talked about the t-shirt often. It shouldn’t be surprising that I yelled at him a lot at that job. I didn’t handle stress very well and Chris was very good at helping me feel stress. He was a friend before we started working together so he had 10 years of history that allowed us to have very free and spirited interactions.

Every now and then he would take me aside and tell me that he didn’t appreciate my behavior. Any time he did this, I would apologize for it and we’d work on figuring out what the real issue was. Chris was funny like that, he seemed to know when he had it coming and he was sure to see that my reaction was only going to impact the catalyst. Often reactions impact people who have nothing to do with the situation and he wasn’t going to be the victim in one of these situations.

It has been a long time since Ranger and I have matured past yelling at people simply because I have passion for the job. I still have the fire, I just direct it towards people in a more appropriate problem solving way. It’s a lesson that has stuck with me and one that I find myself using on telemarketers a fair bit. As much as I would like to yell at them for calling, I stay polite and get off the phone as calmly and quickly as possible because while they are choosing to work in that field, I doubt any of them are choosing to call me in particular.

Lessons From A Lifting Mentor

I have been lucky enough to have listened to a few mentors in my life. One of them is my friend Adam who I meet when I worked for GoodLife Fitness Clubs in Milton before I moved to Chatham. He was an unlikely mentor because he’s about 10 years younger than I am but when I met him there was a stillness to his demeanor that struck me as significant. Here are some of the most important lessons that I have learned from him:

Almost everything is right, at least for someone on the planet. Adam doesn’t say that stuff is wrong (other than some of the moral things like murder, theft and dishonesty) because there is someone on the planet that it applies to. I once asked him which were better front squats or rear squats. He looked at me blankly and said both. When I asked him what he meant he answered with the question “which is better oranges or a car?” I laughed and saw his point. Oranges are better for make juice out of but a car is better for driving somewhere. Front squats are better for some and back squats are better for others.

Question the origin of common knowledge. Just because it is common doesn’t mean that it is accurate. One of the first common notions he got me to question had to do with squats. In the fitness industry there is a prevailing thought that one should never squat below 90 degrees because it will destroy the knees. I held onto this belief too until Adam asked me where it came from. He was unsatisfied with my answer “it’s just what everyone tells me” because it lacked any scientific evidence. So I went looking for a study that explained why squatting below 90 degrees is bad for the knees. I haven’t found one. In fact, I found a lot of them that said that it is better for someone who has good flexibility and no connective tissue damage in their knees to squat right down. There is significant evidence indicating that the vastus lateralis is more fully engaged when squatting below 90 degrees.

It’s okay to be the only person in the gym who does Olympic lifts. Adam used to do some weird stuff in the gym. It stopped being weird when I realized that he was packing on the muscle and getting really strong while everyone else remained more or less the same. Olympic lifts (the clean and jerk, and the snatch) are Olympic lifts because of the amount of muscle recruitment they facilitate – both lifts require massive neural coordination and motor firing to complete successfully. It is not surprising that most world class throwers and sprinters incorporate these lifts into their training cycles. It is also not surprising that most ego lifters don’t go near them as it is humbling to struggle with a sub 100 pound clean and press when you’re able to rep 225 on front squats.

You keep the journey alive when you continue to learn. I’m not sure Adam will ever be complete because I’m not sure he knows where he is going. He knows that he wants to learn as much as he can and grow his knowledge so he can be an expert in many areas but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have any intention of ever saying “I have arrived”. His quest for wisdom is inspiring because it is about the journey and not about the destination. Every lift is special, every paragraph or lecture is an opportunity to grow, every conversation is another chance to learn. He doesn’t waste a moment.

Changing Body Composition – Find And Listen To An Expert

I remember thinking when I heard about JFK Jr. crashing his plane ”why do people think lawyers can fly?” It was sad, because he was young, and two other people died along with him. But it wasn’t that surprising to me, because he was a lawyer. He was a hobby pilot at best, and frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go flying with hobby pilots. If you want to fly, get an expert pilot to fly the plane.

I hold the same opinion when it comes to changing body composition. When I need to change something about the way my body looks; I ask an expert for their advice. I then follow their advice until I look the way I want to, or I realize that their advice doesn’t apply to me. It’s pretty simple. If I don’t look the way I want to it is because I don’t know how to make myself look that way. If I did know I would be doing what I needed to make it happen.

When I was a trainer at GoodLife it became obvious that almost everyone THINKS they know how to eat in order to change the way they look IN SPITE of the fact that they don’t already look the way they want to. When I asked them why they hadn’t achieved their fitness goals yet, their answers were all basically the same – it was due to a lack of effort and not a lack of knowledge. Hearing these excuses day in and day out was the main reason I made the decision to stop training people, and focus most of my energies on my own fitness and health related goals.

I give a lot of nutrition presentations to parents of young athletes, and I find it remarkable that so many sceptical people trust their children’s training to us, but don’t believe me when I offer them guidance concerning optimal nutrition for athletes. Sure there are some who agree with everything I say, and there are others who agree, but admit that it’s difficult and expensive to eat that way. But I’m baffled by the people who continue to tell me that fat is bad; that human beings need lots of grain; that too much protein will destroy the kidneys, and that supplements shouldn’t be given to young people. When I ask them how they know these things; they say that they don’t know how they know; they just know that they know. I don’t try to convince them, because my role is to educate, and people can only be educated when they are open to new information.

I try to win them over by saying that what they have been doing is not bad or dangerous because they are still alive. I suggest that it is just not optimal. I inject some science into what has traditionally been taught by parents. Serving size and food choices are perfect examples of this – we tend to eat the same foods and similar amounts of food that our parents feed us. In talking to these people, I try to make them doubt the scientific basis of their knowledge in an attempt to get them to open their minds a little. Over time, some of what I say may get in and make a difference at a later date – an approach that has worked with a number of my peers and clients. Those who are receptive to what I say begin to make the changes they have always wanted while those who remain sceptical tend to remain on the same path they have been on most of their lives.

I do consider myself an expert on nutrition; at least as it applies to body composition, because I have done everything that I recommend. I have also been a heavy guy who needed to learn the right way to eat, because my food choices were making me fat. It took a long time to figure it out, but once I did, I was able to bring about the changes I needed in order to improve the quality of my life, and to make my body look the way I had always wanted it to. But I only gained my knowledge because I remained open to what experts had to say about nutrition, and the results came only because I listened to their advice.

If you want to change the way you look, chances are that you are not an expert. Your first step is to accept that you don’t know how to make it happen. Your second step is to find someone who does know. And your final step is to follow their advice COMPLETELY. It’s very simple, the best people get the best results EVERY TIME.

Changes In My Training Since I Started at SST

I have gained 8 lbs since I started working at SST. My body fat has remained more or less the same. I credit this to a number of variables but the most significant one is the dramatic decrease in the amount of cardio exercise I am doing. I’ve gone from riding 2 to 3 hours a day to doing 1 or 2 cycling classes a week. Doing 15-20 hours of cardio training a week is stressful on the body and causes a dramatic increase in the amount of cortisol that the body releases and, since cortisol helps the body liberate energy from protein, I wasn’t growing very much when I was riding in the summer.

I have been aware of the theoretical implications of excessive cortisol secretion for a while, this is just the first time that I set out to eliminate it. When I was bulking last year, I cut out most of the cardio and dramatically increased the amount of resistance and strength training that I was doing but did so much of it that I don’t think there was as big a decrease in cortisol secretion as there has been recently (heavy lifting is very stressful on the body and it causes a release of cortisol). I’m doing about 4 hours of lifting with one hour of cycling per week vs about 10 -12 hours of lifting last year.

Given the time of year and the dramatic drop in temperature recently, I don’t miss riding so much because I’m used to having to stop. I also don’t miss doing hours of indoor riding. In fact, I enjoy the one class I teach a week MORE than ever because I have enough energy to give it 100%. The intensity is much higher when you have had enough time to recover completely and I am more authentic on the bike – when the choreography calls for breathless I am able to get to breathless which makes the participants work that much harder – a big change from the summer when I was teaching 7 or 8 classes a week, most of them in the evening after riding the trails for a couple of hours.

The approach I am taking this year is smarter because I have a lot more support from the coaching team at SST. They have filled in many of the gaps I had in my understanding of how the body functions and what I need to do to get more growth out of it. Their insistence that I eliminate most of the steady state cardio to decrease cortisol secretion and keep testosterone levels high has made my body more anabolic, and their suggestion to change my diet to replace most of the grain carbohydrates with fish oil and protein has helped me avoid gaining fat.

I know the summer will return and I’ll race again next season, so I’ll be back on the bike again next spring. But for now I’m enjoying the changes in my body composition that the decrease in cortisol and the off season bring.