By Tom Venuto, Iron Magazine
Yes, I know it’s the most clichéd end of the year post… “Stuff I learned in the past year.” But actually, I like this topic. I think it’s valuable to take time for reflection and recapitulation. I enjoy “lessons learned” posts from other people as well when they’re written by experts I respect. I always pick up some insights that benefit me when I read them. I haven’t written a post like this in a long time, so I suppose I could say this is stuff I’ve learned in the last 5 years, but it all came to mind now in December of 2011 in this one big brain dump. Hope you find it helpful – and in parts, entertaining…
FOCUS is your most valuable discipline today. The internet is pulling our attention in a thousand directions and all it takes is one click. Experts tell us that it’s literally changing the way our brains are wired, cutting our attentions spans and making us more distractible in everything we do. If you spend a lot of time online and feel like you’re becoming more and more ADD, it’s not your imagination. The ability to concentrate has always been a trait of champion athletes, business achievers and fitness success stories. It’s now more important than ever to train yourself to focus.
Deadlines + motivation + rewards can spark extraordinary efforts and results. If you have true deadline pressure and high levels of motivation plus reward for goal achievement, you can make a fitness transformation so far above the average that people will think you’re taking drugs or photoshopping your pictures. Next to actually getting onstage to compete, the body transformation contest is the best example of this I have ever seen. Seek out these types of challenges and watch your results skyrocket! (our next transformation challenge: May 2012 at www.burnthefatinnercircle.com)
Personal responsibility is necessary for personal change. Why do so many weight loss sales pitches start off with, “it’s not your fault?” It’s because taking responsibility off your shoulders opens the door to selling you a gimmick. The truth is, you have no power to change until you accept responsibility for where you are today and for your future results. In fact, if you’re not responsible for all your results, then how do you expect to change anything? Blaming or absolving yourself of responsibility is giving up your power.
It’s more important than ever to embrace evidence-based fitness. There are so many scams online today in weight loss, health and fitness and the internet can deliver them so persuasively and quickly before they come and go, you must learn to demand proof before you buy into anything. Investigate before you invest. Logic and common sense help, but I’m talking about science; peer reviewed, published research. And remember what Carl Sagan said: the more extraordinary the claims, the more extraordinary the evidence must be.
Don’t get so caught up in research papers that you ignore real world results. The greatest philosophy of all: see what the research says. See what the real world says. Take BOTH into consideration. Ultimately the results from your “experiment of one” are what count. Recent conversation: Reader: “Hey Tom, some of that stuff you bodybuilders do is ‘broscience’ …. Tom: “Thanks for your opinion. Now, let me show you my trophy room”
The best signature file I’ve seen all year. Scientific literacy is important, but this signature file gave me the best chuckle of the year: “Bro science: a term used by the scientific and pseudo-scientific community to try to discredit people who often have more experience and better results, but may not be able to argue as well about unimportant things on the internet.”
Bodybuilding nutrition and training works. Always did. Always will. The best looking physiques in the world were built on bodybuilding training – split routines – and bodybuilding nutrition – high protein; frequent meals, clean eating. Diets and workouts of the day come and go. Bodybuilding nutrition has been here for decades. It worked before I lifted my first weight in 1983, it worked when I did my first competition in 1989, it worked in 2011 and it will continue to work … forever. Bodybuilding may not fit everyone’s lifestyle, but you can’t say doesn’t work.
Natural bodybuilding and physique sports are overtaking pro (untested) bodybuilding. Open pro bodybuilding will never go backwards in standards and therefore will continue to promote “mass monsters.” Therefore it will never become a mainstream sport. Natural (drug tested) bodybuilding and physique sports on the other hand, are enjoying a huge revival and a burst in popularity and appreciation like never before.
Fitness model and physique divisions are the real deal. I admit it – at first, I rolled my eyes when men’s fitness model and men’s physique were added as new divisions alongside bodybuilding. Now, I (gladly) recant. Many of the bodies in the fitness model and physique divisions are damn impressive. They are serious athletes who work their tails off. Plus the smaller, but ripped and shapely physiques have great appeal to the general public who can’t identify with the massive pro body builders, and this is helping all the physique sports grow.
The best bodies in the world were built with many hours of weekly training. Thinking you can achieve maximum fat loss with minimum work is delusional. Fitness marketers who promise you the greatest results with just minutes of training per day (or week) are BS’ing you. Of course you can lose weight by training just minutes a day – just cut your food intake low enough so you have a large calorie deficit. But then whatever minimalist training program you followed was almost irrelevant – the diet did it all. So don’t listen to the gurus who blather on about their miraculous “just minutes a day fat loss workouts.” The best bodies in the world were built with many hours of training.
You can get 80% of the way there with a fairly modest effort. Why do so some people get results despite what appears to be a sub-optimal program or sub-optimal effort? My theory: Any halfway decent program and even a modest effort can get you 80% of the way there, especially if you’re a beginner. It doesn’t take a huge time investment, it doesn’t take a complicated training system, and it doesn’t require killing yourself in the gym. It only requires you to get started and be consistent. This explains why you’ll always see success stories from every kind of program and why you see results even from people who work out on minimalist programs. This is good news for most people. But for the competitor and anyone else who wants to achieve as close to 100% of their potential as possible, hard work, details, precision and putting in the hours are absolute musts.
A lot of online health and fitness advice has been getting reduced to the ridiculous. Some internet fitness writers think that bodybuilders are obsessively meticulous and health food enthusiasts are too picky about what they eat. We need to “relax, drink a beer and take a chill pill before we turn into orthorexics,” they chide. “One meal a day or six meals? No difference, as long as everything is equal at the end of the day. Twinkies or oatmeal? Doesn’t matter, as long as your calories and macros are right, eat what you want. Alcohol? It’s ok. Drink up, as long as your calories are in check! Cheat meals? Take more! You guys are too strict!” I agree that there’s virtue in simplicity, and as I mentioned above, just “show up” and you’re 80% of the way there. But lately, some writers – all too often young bloggers with little experience – have reduced it to the ridiculous. News flash for the amateurs: details matter. Discipline matters. To the competitor or advanced trainee, details and discipline are everything and “positive obsession” is the price of winning.
Contrarianism is a current trend in online fitness writing. All you have to do to get attention today is pick a sacred cow and slay it. Readers who are not absolutely certain and steadfast in their current beliefs and personal philosophies will get sucked in like a black hole. (like the first time a high carber heard, “fat doesn’t make you fat, carbs are making you fat” - it got under your skin didn’t it?) It’s been happening on nearly every topic in fitness. Many online writers are contrarian just for attention mongering and marketing. There’s always the possibility that the opposite of what we initially believed is true. In most cases today however, we find out that we were right all along and we abandoned what was already working for us to hop on the latest “against the grain” fad.
2 Definitions of insanity. Definition #1: doing the same thing that’s not working over and over again and expecting a different result. Definition #2: Changing something that’s already working for you.
NEVER second guess yourself. It’s understandable to want even better results or faster results. But if it’s not broken don’t try to fix it. If your approach is working, keep doing more of it, no matter what anyone tells you.
2011: Fat burner supplements and diet pills are STILL a waste of money. Even the stuff that “works” barely works (think 25 to 75 or so extra calories burned per day – in 24 hours - which usually doesn’t pan out into long term fat loss in pounds, which to me translates to: Doesn’t work). Best “fat burner?” Try working out and eating right!
OF COURSE calories matter! A lot of people still believe “calories don’t count.” They’re still wrong. Of course there’s more to good nutrition than calories. For health, the quality of your food matters – a lot. For body composition, food choices and macronutrient ratios matter too, especially if you swap carbs for protein. That doesn’t change the fact that a calorie deficit has to be there first for weight loss to occur. Ignore calories at your own peril.
Establishing a daily meal plan and following it consistently is even more important than what time of day or how often you eat. Haphazard eating or just going into your day and eating whatever comes across your path is a recipe for failure. If you don’t have a consistent meal plan, it’s nearly impossible to troubleshoot fat loss plateaus and you may be causing metabolic dysfunction.
Reduced carb diets are a legitimate approach. Low carb diets shouldn’t be dumped in the fad category. They’re not for everyone, but can work very well for many people. Low-medium carb, high protein diets work exceptionally well for controlling calories, regulating appetite and retaining lean body mass. Keep in mind, there are many different types of low carb diets. Low carb doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating all carbs, nor does it mean eating bacon, sausage and pork rinds. Reducing carbs could be as simple as dropping some white sugar and refined grains and replacing them with some lean protein and healthy fat.
Carbs are not bad or evil. Saying a low carb diet is a viable diet option is not the same as saying carbohydrates are responsible for obesity. In 2012, if anyone tells you carbs are fattening, beyond the ability of sugar and refined carbs to easily deliver an overload of calories, listen to them at your own peril – they may mean well, but they don’t get it yet.
Reading the great books is one of the greatest disciplines. Shut off the TV and get off the internet for a while and read the great books on self-development. Re-read the classics as often as you can (There’s a reason everyone talks about books like Psycho Cybernetics, Think and Grow Rich and As a Man Thinketh – why not read them and find out). The people who have continued to be readers and not just web surfers are pulling far, far ahead of the pack in every area of their lives – physically, mentally, financially and socially.
People who denounce goal setting, positive thinking and personal development will continue to stunt the growth of themselves and everyone around them. Every year I see people criticizing the personal development disciplines. People who tell you “goal setting doesn’t work” could not be giving worse advice. Goal setting is the master skill of success. If you don’t do it consciously, your unconscious will set goals by default anyway based on whatever type of thinking and input you feed it. It’s better to be in conscious control of the process. Positive thinking is the precursor to positive action and does a lot more good than pessimism (and makes you a nicer person to be around). Visualization? Scientifically proven and used by every top athlete and business achiever. Sure, there is junk information in the self help field, as there is in every field. But time and efforts spent improving the kind of person you are is the best investment you’ll ever make.
Don’t feed the trolls. Intelligent debate on subjects that matter, with people that matter, is one of the highest uses of your time. It advances the knowledge of everyone. On the other hand, there are a lot of ignorant, biased, hostile and downright mean people on the internet. Don’t even reply. Don’t even engage. Haters and trolls aren’t worth one second of your precious time.
Overtraining happens, but it’s probably the least of your worries. I can’t believe how much paranoia I read about how “everyone is overtraining.” Actually most people are undertraining, especially in intensity. More is not always better and simply going to the gym and beating the crap out of yourself every time is not smart training. But your body is capable of far more than you give it credit for and most people have no concept of what hard training is until after they’ve experienced it. So don’t be timid; put your body into high gear, push yourself and see what your body can REALLY do.
Train with a champion at every opportunity you have. Seeing the contrast between the level of a champion’s training and everyone else’s training will astonish you. Every time you get the chance, train with and around people at levels far above yours. If you’re serious about your training, the appreciation of that difference will change your standards forever.
High rep training not only has its place, it can actually create some surprising muscle gains. If you don’t think high reps can put on muscle, when was the last time you tried 20 rep squats (Randall Strossen style) or high rep dumbbell rows (Kroc style)? I went back to both this year and reaped some nice gains and a lot of satisfaction for the achievement.
There’s more than one way to get lean, to build muscle or to get fitter. Gurus and dogmatic followers of gurus need to get over themselves and their “only way” to get in shape. There’s more than one way to do it. For me it’s bodybuilding. For you it may be something different. When you find the approach that suits your lifestyle, personality and disposition, it’s a beautiful thing. (Just be SURE you lift some heavy stuff, ok?)
Compliance – your ability to stick with your program – is the most important factor for long term fat loss success. It’s not what program you follow, it’s what makes you follow your program. What makes you follow your program has more to do with mental, emotional and social factors than it does physical factors or what you eat. (learn more in my book, The Body Fat Solution, available in paperback, hardcover and on kindle)
Coffee is humankind’s greatest invention. Sip. (But coffee is only for closers. Sip).
Happy New Year! May you make 2012 the best year of your life!