Feb 22, 2019

Leadership in Life and In Dance (reissue, edited)

Fellow Toastmasters, guests, and judges,

I’ve often read that a leader's job, among other things, is to take responsibility. When things don’t go as planned, there can be a strong temptation to find someone to blame.

However, unless that information will form part of the solution, the energy spent assigning blame is a waste of time at best, and may well make things worse.

My wife and I have been ballroom dancing for a few years. Tonight, I would like to show the parallel between leadership in life and leading on the dance floor and how ballroom dancing is an amazing opportunity to learn and apply leadership principles that will apply to all aspects of life.

The thing about dancing is that the feedback as to whether you're an effective lead or not can be almost instantaneous. (if you avoid looking to blame someone else.)

When your role in business or as a parent for example demands leadership, your effectiveness in that role, or lack thereof, may not become obvious until you have the benefit of hindsight. By that time, it may be too late to correct your errors, or even to detect what errors you may have made.

Now, in ballroom dancing, I’ve often seen couples stopped on the floor, debating which of them is guilty of making a mistake. (I've actually seen people storm off the floor!)

As with levying blame in business.... this serves no purpose and only makes things worse. (Believe me on this, or if not, feel free to ask my wife.)

The true leader simply takes responsibility for the solution. If I'm leading, (and I maintain this proper frame of mind), and the dance isn't smooth, it's my job to correct it. Now some of you may suggest that I'm taking more than my share of responsiblity as perhaps my wife is, in fact, the one who has made the mistake.

I would respond to this in two ways..... firstly, who actually made the mistake is besides the point. Secondly, those who know a little about ballroom dancing (especially the ladies) will know that, if my lead is "perfect", my partner's role becomes much, much easier; actually, it will be more difficult for her to make a mistake then to do it right. To do it wrong would require that she go against my lead to do it incorrectly which will feel very unnatural and forced to her. Conversely, when my lead falls short, the result is not neutral for her, it is an added challenge over and above her just knowing her steps, and just as she would have to resist a good lead to do it wrong, she now has to compensate for my errant leadership in order to get it right. (Difficult if not impossible)

You see, , I'm always leading her in the right direction or in the wrong direction, never a neutral one. A leader is always helping or hurting... food for thought.


"Leadership would be easy if it weren't for people!"; "They're so irrational and difficult to deal with!". You may have heard these complaints, only half jokingly.

When a musician makes a mistake, he doesn't usually blame his instrument.... it is an inanimate object.... alternatively, dealing with people is very different because they are far less predictable.

Learning to play a musical instrument. although not easy may be more straightforward. A friend once told me, "my guitar is always in the mood".

But leadership is not about leading inanimate objects, it's about leading people with all their wonderful diversity of moods and motivations, and, in dancing, it is a wonderful opportunity (sometimes very humbling) to see just how good you really are with people. (as much or more so than how good you are at dancing.)

One of the things I’ve told men to encourage them to take ballroom dance lessons, is that ballroom dancing may be the last bastion of male dominance left in society. The man leads and the lady follows!

However, what I conveniently leave out at that stage, is that, as with the quote from the Spider Man movie, “with great power, comes great responsibility”.... there is very big catch to this...what do I mean? Simply, if I make a mistake, it’s my fault, if my partner makes a mistake, it’s still my fault, because my lead was bad.

In ballroom dancing, to be a good lead, which by the way, is very much of an aspirational goal for me with lots of work yet to do, you have to maintain a “good frame”.... in fact, in many ways, the lady is the beautiful painting, and the man’s job is to make her look good.

A good frame is akin to leading by example, being a good role model... it is essentially the opposite of don’t do what I do, do what I say!

If my frame is off, it’s like a leader who lacks integrity. My leaning over my wife, or pulling her out of her frame, can make her life very difficult.

Also, when my frame is proper, then my signals can be very subtle, so much so, that my partner is barely aware of being led, she simply perceives that she is doing what comes naturally as if any other alternative would seem odd. She feels inspired.

If my frame is not proper, I will tend to force my lead, literally using my strength to practically wrestle my partner into submission. It can appear to work, but it comes at a high price, and there is a very good chance you may soon be looking for a new partner. She feels manipulated.

It is easy to start a dance in frame, but forget about it, and start to slouch or lower your arms, part way through. Maintaining a good frame requires us to focus on being vigilant of it, even when we may feel overwhelmed by the new steps we are just learning at the time. Maintaining integrity in life also requires focused vigilance. You can do the right thing or the easy thing. They are never the same.

Regardless of any titles, we truly are all leading people in one direction or another. So, if I get frustrated with people I lead, I try to reflect whether their behaviour is a mirror of my own shortcomings as a leader, and how I can improve.

If I catch myself thinking “what wrong with THEM?”....is it an example of one finger pointing at them, and three pointing back at me?

Certainly human beings have free will, and I'm not suggesting that one take responsibility for everyone else's actions but.... as a leader, I can strive not to waste time on assigning blame, but to first look within when it comes to finding the solution.

A bumper sticker I once read, said: "Dancing is Life"... I think there is a whole lot of truth there...

Thanks for listening!

Posted by Richard Chartrand CFP, Certified Personal Trainer at 2:26 PM


Jan 2, 2019

SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS Safe Strength Training

Welcome to SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS. This article is to answer the following questions?

What is safe, sustainable strength training? What is the underlying philosophy/science it is based on? Who is this is for? Who might this not be for?

Safe Sustainable Strength Training, is based on concepts that have been around since at least the early 70's, popularized at that time by Arthur Jones, founder and inventor of Nautilus machines. His Nautilus bulletin #1 and #2 summarized his thoughts on the topic. Many of the general guidelines had been around long before Nautilus, and in many respects some have opined that this is a return to basics, while at the same time being reaffirmed by the latest in exercise research. Many have contributed over the years to either further popularizing or helping to evolve what is often referred to as High Intensity Training (HIT). In doing so, various branding has come to include Prescribed Exercise, Superslow, Slow Burn, and Renaissance to name but a few. Some of the originators of these modalities may readily acknowledge being under the umbrella of High Intensity Training, while others may feel the differences are sufficient to distinguish them as a separate and superior modality. Some years ago, Ken Hutchins defined proper exercise (see immediately below), and this does in fact still fit what we do.

The Definition
Exercise is a process whereby the body performs work of a demanding nature, in accordance with muscle and joint function, in a clinically-controlled environment, within the constraints of safety, meaningfully loading the muscular structures to inroad their strength levels to stimulate a growth mechanism within minimum time.

In any case, common threads among each which are part and parcel of safe sustainable strength training include:

SAFETY: While the benefits of exercise have long been established, what gets less attention is the fact that the rate of injury, either chronic or acute, that results from so called fitness activities is extremely high. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is not only often accepted but sometimes even seen as some sort of macho badge of honour. Our facility seeks to administer exercise in a clinical setting, emphasizing low force, perfect form and posture, in order to first and foremost adhere to the medical imperative of "first, do no harm".

DOSE-RESPONSE: Another common error that is made in exercise as well as many other life aspects, is the assumption that if a little is good, then more is better. In fact, proper exercise is a form of stress, that is beneficial only as a result of the adaptations we are able to make to protect ourselves from such stress, which otherwise would threaten our survival. The ability for our bodies to make adaptations is often referred to as our "recovery ability" and is closely linked to our immune system. While the human body is amazingly adaptable, there are limits. Therefore, the goal with our facility is to provide adequate stimulus to have our bodies initiate these adaptations, but to regulate the stimulus, volume and frequency in such a way as to enable our bodies to actually recover and adapt, avoiding overtraining, which can result in long term detriment to our health. In fact, optimum health has been described as keeping proper balance between anabolism (building up) and catabolism (breaking down). Thus, DOSE-RESPONSE refers to the "therapeutic window" where, using the analogy of administering exercise as you would a drug; too little is ineffective, too much is toxic, but as with Goldilocks, the right balance will yield the best results. Recovery ability will vary greatly from individual to individual as well as within the same individual depending on nutrition, sleep, and other stresses that affect them.

EFFICIENCY and INTENSITY: Safety is of course, a critical advantage of this modality, as your physical conditioning will not improve if you are forced to stop exercising due to injury, or if, as you age, you are plagued with aches and pains as a result of wear and tear on your connective tissues. Another critical advantage is efficiency. Virtually all exercise modalities require you to be in the gym or out running for multiple weekly sessions ranging from 30 minutes to hours. This is one of the main reasons why people either don't start or do not continue long term with their program. While you may actually feel guilty that you are not prepared to make and stick to the necessary time commitment, the good news is that proper exercise only requires a few minutes a week. Also check this link. However, if this sounds too good to be true, there is, in fact a "catch": The intensity of effort needs to be very high, which means a level of discomfort that most people will not enjoy, however, it doesn't last long. Also, with some modalities that encourage higher intensity, they achieve this intensity by moving more quickly which can subject your body to forces that can create injury. In our facility, each exercise is carried to momentary muscular fatigue. This is done however utilizing low force slow movements, so that we achieve intensity (even higher because slower movement creates continuous tension whereas quick movement, uses momentum), while still maintaining maximum safety.

EXERCISE VS RECREATION: Most of our clients will spontaneously become more active as a result of the increased energy and functional ability which will be the result of the exercise they do with us. We encourage clients to be active between workouts with a few caveats.

While this may seem like splitting hairs, we do not necessarily encourage being active between workout because of the benefits of such activity, but rather to avoid the harm that can come from spending too much time stationery, whether in front of a computer screen or television. It is simply a matter of moving around regularly to avoid this.

If clients happen to enjoy running, biking or playing a sport (I play weekly hockey and my wife and I ballroom dance) than, again, some distinctions. We categorize these activities as "recreation" vs exercise, and this is not to downplay the value of recreation which can have some physical and especially psychological and quality of life benefits. It is simply not to confuse exercise vs recreation, with the former being simply a matter of maximum conditioning in the safest, most efficient manner, and the latter being what we may enjoy doing, and which, depending on the activity may carry a degree of injury risk. More good news in that your new found fitness will help you to minimize injury risk during these activities. One way of looking at it, is that you don't play sports to get in shape, you get in shape to improve your performance when playing sports and to help minimize the risk of injuries. It should be noted that if what you enjoy doing is reading or photography or some other sedentary activity, you have no need for additional exercise beyond your weekly or twice weekly exercise at our facility, along with just regularly moving around during the day.

In the event that you are an athlete, whether amateur or professional and part of your goal in coming to us is to improve your performance, then you will find our programs to be ideal. Because of the safety factor, you will avoid "hurting yourself in the weight room" plus the low time commitment will allow you spend more time practicing the specific skills of your chosen sport.

EXERCISE, FAT LOSS, NUTRITION: The role of exercise in fat loss, while important, has been dramatically overestimated. The simple truth is that you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet. Proper strength training can help to ensure that the weight lost is more from fat than from muscle, which is, in itself, important as this will help with the appearance of the person losing weight. It will also help to keep metabolism high (perhaps not as much as once thought but every little bit helps) which is helpful in long term maintenance of weight loss. Another benefit is that it helps a person to burn calories long after the actual exercise. However, the calories burnt during and after any type of exercise plays a small role at best. Being active,(as long as not excessive) seems to signal the body that it is okay to give up some of the fat stores that it might otherwise hoard for survival purposes in anticipation of a coming famine. In the end, though, if your diet is bad, none of the above will be enough to offset this.

Nutrition itself is widely debated, to say the least, and can create a great deal of confusion. While the calories in calories out model has been challenged and or defended, it is widely agreed that overall calories do play a part to be sure. Macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates and fat) ratios have also been a huge source of confusion. In the end, where we come at it is summarized this way:

If you are eating a reasonably balanced diet with at least adequate complete protein from quality sources, with the balance coming from some of each of fat and carbohydrates, (again from quality sources) and that your overall food intake is not excessive, it is very unlikely that the amount of fat and or carbs you consume will be detrimental. In other words, for most people it is not so much that they consume too much fat and/or too many carbs, it is just that they are consuming too much food overall. The human body has shown that it can be very adaptable in utilizing either fat or carbs as energy. While science may eventually come up with some sort of optimal diet, and some people may do better with more of one or the other depending on how much and what type of activity they engage in, we believe that the above guidelines will result in a massive improvement for the vast majority of clients over the typical Canadian diet. In discussing nutrition with clients, we delve deeper into what we mean by quality sources.

The statistics with weight loss can be very daunting in that it has been estimated that the vast majority of people who lose weight, eventually gain all of it back and add even more. There are also some indications that losing and gaining throughout life repeatedly may actually be as harmful if not more harmful than simply being over fat. For this reason, anyone taking on the challenge of improving their body composition, must, as with many aspects of life, take on a long term SUSTAINABLE strategy to do so, and they must make daily commitments. For this reason, we highly recommend support systems, whether it be smartphone apps, support groups, or the use of quality meal replacements. Over the years, I've worked with many of these methods, and of late have found that the Isagenix products and system are quite effective, and we can explain the specifics to clients who are interested. However, each client should choose whatever system they are comfortable with and that includes accountability parameters, and some sort of support system.

I use a martial art analogy, in stating that if your goal is PERMANENT weight loss/maintenance, you are getting in the ring with a formidable adversary, and underestimating this opponent by going in with less than a well structured game plan taking into account lasting through an almost infinite (lifetime) number of rounds will in fact make you one more statistic among the yo yo dieters.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Is this for everyone? While my obvious bias would automatically answer yes, and I could make a case (as I've tried to do above) for the many benefits and advantages, there are definitely people who may not gravitate towards this methodology. They may include:

-People who genuinely enjoy spending a lot of the time in a gym, either because of the social aspect or just enjoy spending longer periods actually lifting weights.
-People who feel that their exercise needs to be "fun" for them to stick to it long term. (The intensity of effort will cause discomfort, however, it is brief and you will have more time and energy to devote to other "fun" activities.)
-People who simply would prefer not to work as hard as this modality requires i.e. going to momentary muscular fatigue/failure. (while the intensity can be reduced and compensated for by adding a degree of additional volume and/or frequency, results will not come without outright hard work; again the good news is that it is brief and relatively infrequent.)
-People who are looking to achieve fitness by practicing a sport and are motivated by a spirit of competition against others. While this is not necessarily exclusive to this type of conditioning, the two should not be confused. It is our view, as previously stated, that you get in shape to practice a sport, and not the other way around.

Much of the above and then some is very well summarized on a free e-book available on the HitUni site that provides certification courses for strength training.

I look forward to comments or questions.

Dec 29, 2018

Exercise and Investing..... or Health and Financial Planning.... Different but Many Similarities.... and How They Overlap

In the book, "Body by Science" by Doug McGuff and John Little, the basic starting exercise routine that is suggested, is referred to as a "Big 5". This consists of 2 upper body pulling movements (some sort of pull down and some sort of row), 2 upper body pushing movements (usually a vertical shoulder press and a horizontal chest press) and 1 lower body movement (leg press) that targets most if not all of the musculature in the lower body.

Some love and swear by the "Big 5" and others have pointed out its shortcomings, in not addressing all body parts or how it can be improved. The authors, however, do not claim it to be the perfect exercise routine or be all, end all, but rather a good starting point, and for many people will indeed serve them well for a lifetime with little variety. They draw the analogy to a good mutual fund, which for the majority of investors will get the job done, while acknowledging that some will have better results by stepping outside these parameters, whether it be with the investment of their money or the investment of the time and effort they put into their physical conditioning.

As someone who has been a student of both financial planning and exercise, (having worked with an insurance/investment company for over 30 years, plus having studied and practiced strength training for over 35 years), I might add that, many people, however, will also get "hurt" physically or financially by trying to overcomplicate things.

There are some basic requirements for success in both fields. In finances, the main rule is to spend less than you make, and with exercise, at a minimum, you have to engage in some form of physical conditioning, and in both cases, you have to maintain these over time.

Neither of these will guarantee success in either area, however, without these basics, success is impossible.

You could spend less than you make, but squander your savings in get rich quick schemes on the one hand, or in investments that don't even keep up with inflation on the other.

Unfortunately, in the case of exercise, much of what has been promoted over the years, while providing some sort of stimulus for your body to create adaptations and improve, has done so, in manners that have been extremely inefficient, making the time commitment impractical for most to sustain when juggling careers, family and other obligations, or worse, outrightly dangerous, creating either acute or chronic physical problems.

Just as with the "get rich quick" mentality, the idea of "looking good at the beach THIS summer" or "fitting into a dress for a wedding", leads people to short term thinking that prevent them from reaching what should be their long term goals.

Neither financial planning or exercise should be about impressing people, but rather the achievement of life quality. (that is not to say that vanity cannot play a part in motivating us, and there is nothing wrong with taking pride in our appearance or our financial success)

By the way, my definition of quality of life is just two words: "having choices". Without adequate financial and functional ability, your life will consist of doing "what you can" rather than "what you choose."

A financial investment can be evaluated based on three or four aspects. They are

1. Liquidity.
2. Safety of Capital.
3. Rate of Return.
4. Tax Efficiency.

If you can find an investment where you didn't need to tie up your money (liquidity), there was 0 chance of losing a penny (safety), you could make double digit returns (rate of return), and the government allowed you to keep most if not all of your returns (tax efficiency), that would pretty much be the perfect investment. Please let me know if you hear of such an investment. I am unaware of any on this particular planet.

The reality however is that, in general, if you want more liquidity you need to give up some of either returns, safety or both. Same thing if you want higher returns and or more safety... you have to give up some of one or both of the other two.

Kind of like the restaurant, where you are told, you can have it cheap and good, but it won't be fast; or you can have it cheap and fast, but it won't be good; or you can have it fast and good, but it won't be cheap. Take your pick.

In exercise, the comparison would be.

1. Time commitment (how much liquidity of your other time will you still have after you're through in the gym)
2. Safety: avoiding chronic or acute injuries.
3. Results: How much will your physical condition actually improve over time.
4. Genetics: This tax analogy doesn't match as well, because there is something you can do about taxes, but depending on what jurisdiction you live in, that may be limited by your local or national tax schemes. In the case of genetics, you are not totally at the mercy of your genes, but the degree to which you can influence this is much smaller.
5. Effort: the level of intensity with which you exercise.

The good news, and this is borne out by the latest research, is that if you are able to put in enough of #5, (effort: momentary muscular fatigue) then you may not have to have to put in much of #1,(time commitment, literally only minutes a week) and you can achieve #3 (results) safely, if you use proper form and low force, #2 (safety). Your return on investment of time will be phenomenal, but the catch is that this only works if you are prepared to put in a large investment of effort. (i.e. discomfort) Of course, you could put in less effort and more time, but the research is clearly on the side of effort, because of two reasons. First off the additional time equates to a greater volume of exercise, which over time can lead to over use injuries, and secondly, because that commitment of time is not practical for most people, and this is one the main reasons why so many people give up on exercise programs after a relatively short time.

#4 genetics, will limit your results, but that is only a concern IF you get caught up comparing yourself to elite athletes or champion bodybuilders, which is like an investor comparing himself to a lottery winner, and wondering what he is doing wrong. Incidentally, even most models on magazine covers, don't look as good in real life as they do on the cover. For the purpose of quality of life, your goal should be to extend functional ability (health span vs life span) for as long as you can. Believe me, as you get older, maintaining your physical independence, without the use of a walker or long term care nurses to help you with basic activities of daily living (think toileting, feeding, dressing, bathing etc) will mean a lot more to you than being able to answer with a big number when someone asks, "How much do you bench?"

Note: perhaps you are a genetic lottery winner or are preparing for competition at an elite level. For the purpose of conditioning, effort is still your best bet, however for the purpose of skill development, there is likely little substitute for a large time commitment but even this can be somewhat mitigated by utilizing "perfect practice". Perhaps more on this in another post, but for now, I'll just leave you with the fact that skill practice and physical conditioning are distinct and should rarely if ever be combined. Minimizing the time commitment for conditioning will allow more time for skill practice and that is a very good thing for someone who aspires to elite performance.

Context: When it comes to investing your money, there is another factor that is often overlooked, and that is how much of a return to do you actually need to make in order to meet your goals. Depending on how much you wish to spend in your retirement and how much you have been able to accumulate, one person may be in a position of surplus, where they already have more wealth than they are likely to spend in their lifetime, in which case financial planning becomes concerned with leaving a legacy to the next generation, assuming that is a priority for that particular individual. (of course, spending more, or giving some away during your lifetime could be just two other options for someone in that position). For these individuals, taking on market volatility in order to get a better return, will at best, benefit the next generation so there is no real need to take on risk. Of course, each individual will seek various lifestyle levels, and as long as the method of doing so consists of honestly earning money, and the motivation for doing so, has nothing to do with simply impressing others, whatever lifestyle level one may choose to reach will be legitimate for that person or couple. Similarly, for a professional athlete, they may well push their body to limits that could actually jeopardize health and risk serious injury, and they are free to make those choices based on their chosen priorities, but for most of us, the goal is to unload groceries from the car without undue effort, and there is no need or benefit for us to expose ourselves to these risks.

If, on the other hand, someone's financial situation, is such that they are in, or are heading for a shortfall, whereas, they will outlive their money rather than the other way around, then strategies, unfortunately will have to involve a combination of either

1. Retiring later.
2. Spending less in retirement.
3. Saving more now. (reducing current lifestyle or seeking out greater income)
4. Getting a better return on investments. (see above.... want a higher return? How much liquidity or safety are you prepared to give up?)

To some extent, this is similar on the physical side, but often not to the same extent. Here there is a good news, bad news story. Bad news first: no matter how much fitness you've accumulated, you never get to stop and live "off your savings". Good news: Even if you are older and have never exercised, or have not done so for decades, there is a very good chance that you can regain the muscle you had in your youth, in a relatively short time. (doesn't work that way with savings, unfortunately). Research has shown that it is remarkable how much the gradual loss of muscle (sarcopenia) can be reversed, even with people in their seventies, eighties and nineties, and the literature is rife with seniors giving up their walkers, canes and reducing or eliminating medication, so generally, whether it is finances or physical conditioning, you always have options, no matter how late in the game, but with fitness, that may likely be much truer than with finances.

Overlap: Getting sick or losing functional ability is EXPENSIVE. When planning for your retirement, you must estimate your spending requirements, and what very frequently throws off these estimates is the need for additional medical and long term care expenses. Would you rather spend your money on cruises, fishing trips, and going to the theatre or on wheelchairs and someone to change your diaper? In other words, this blog post is not just about showing the similarities between two seemingly separate parts of our lives but showing that these are intrinsically connected. If I remain functionally able, even if I do have a shortfall of savings, I can prolong my ability to actually earn money longer. On the other hand the exorbitant cost of health care has bankrupted many people who worked and save their whole lives, only to have their plans derailed by a stroke, broken hip or dementia. (not to mention they are no longer have the physical ability to earn money)

Insurance obviously plays a part in mitigating the effects of death and illness, and that is called "transferring the risk" from yourself to an insurance company. (which I strongly recommend exploring because you can "influence but not control your health") However, in insurance parlance, there is also something called "risk avoidance", which means doing whatever you can to delay or avoid these occurrences if possible, which is where proper exercise can play a critical role.

What I have not discussed are two other pillars to health which are sleep hygiene and nutrition. In an upcoming blog post, I plan to draw the analogy on how these align, in the financial realm, to how we can create incomes for ourselves. This post talked about investment income, obviously, but also our choice of careers, employment or self employment can make a huge difference as well (just as sleep and nutrition do). Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.

Nov 22, 2018

My Isagenix Essay

This post is part of the challenge that I engaged in as part of starting a dietary program through a company called Isagenix. My wife began this about three and a half months ago, in a quest to lose some weight.

I initially joined her in order to be supportive. Also, I was curious, as, having been a long time fitness enthusiast, I was intrigued by the program.

My wife has successfully lost over 45 pounds so far, and is more motivated than I've seen her in a long time. She has also begun strength training again, and is often the one initiating the suggestion to do a workout, which is exciting to see.

When I began my program, my goal was not weight loss. In fact, I joined mid-stream to working towards the goal of increasing my body weight over a 30 month period from 170 to 180 lbs, with that increase being in the form of muscle.

I have been monitoring my progress utilizing bod pod measurements, and so far the gain has been in the form of muscle. This is based on gaining 1 pound per quarter for 10 quarters. The bod pod measurements are to ensure that the gain, is in fact, muscle. Should future bod pod measurements indicate that I am gaining fat rather than muscle, then I will change my goal accordingly, as the over arching goal is to gain muscle while maintaining either the same or even more favourable body composition.

When I first began this challenge, I had allowed myself to slip off my chosen path and was at 178.2 when the target at that point would have been 173. As of this quarter, my goal is to be at 174, and, as of this morning my weight is at 174.2.

Previously, I would have been very skeptical of meal replacement programs such as this, and my preaching would have consisted of eating "real food". I would also have been pointing out that these types of programs fail to have someone learn about nutrition and develop habits that can be kept for a lifetime, and thus, dooming them to gain all the weight back and then some, as soon as they fell off the program.

My thoughts have changed somewhat (see a previous blog post entitled "In Defense of Fad Diets") in that, the idea of worrying about gaining weight back before you've even lost it in the first place, now seems to me to be a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

Also, the regaining of weight, I now feel is as a direct result of going back to old habits, and not, as a result of the diet itself. Also, I've come to think that the criticism of any program on this basis, is somewhat unfair, as statistics show that 95% of all people who lose weight, regardless of method, eventually gain it all back and then some. So, virtually any program could be criticized for this.

What I would now tell people, is that when you begin any journey that involves formidable challenges, you should not underestimate your challenge, and you should go in, knowing that the odds are not in your favour, and that the commitment that it will take to reach your goal, one day at a time, will be both one of the hardest things you will ever do, and for the same reason, the most rewarding. However, anyone looking for any kind of quick fix, is doomed to failure before they start.

I would also like to touch on my earlier point, about such programs not allowing someone to become sufficiently knowledgeable about nutrition. In my case, I already had a much better understanding of this, than most people before going in.

For this reason, I've already had considerable success, but despite this knowledge, my success was often a case of falling off the wagon, and then getting back on, albeit, not allowing myself to stay off too long. Nevertheless inconsistency was my constant nemesis.

What this program has allowed me to do is create far greater consistency in my results, and really level out the up and down pattern that had been my previous experience.

And what my previous knowledge has allowed me to assess is that the program espoused by Isagenix, is in fact based on much of the same science that I had been previously pursuing, but with the added benefit of making much of it "automatic". The simpler a program, I believe, the greater the odds of compliance.

I particularly like the "cleansing" portion, which I think of as their version of intermittent fasting, which I believe is one of the key pieces of the program.

I cannot make any kind of an evaluation of all of the various ingredients, herbal and otherwise, contained in all the Isagenix products, as I am not qualified to do so, but I have no reason to believe that anything is harmful, and that it is, in fact a program that overall, is a quantum leap of improvement over the way most people eat. (wish list: wish there were bars that did not contain any sugar alcohols as sweeteners, as those do not agree with me)

I've combined this with proper high intensity strength training, which I'd already been doing for 35 years. I am particularly enthused by the pre workout supplements, that I know have allowed me to do better in exercises, and I am anxious to see, with my next bod pod reading, whether all this will translate into added muscle. Of course, Isagenix is only one variable that could affect my body composition. Other factors, such as what I eat over and above Isagenix, as well as my sleep patterns and workout designs (frequency, volume, intensity variables) can play significant roles in this as well.

I plan to continue my Isagenix journey, and am grateful for both my progress and for my wife's success.

This challenge itself, involving the before and after photos and this essay, is in itself part of the success formula. This is one part of a very impressive support group, that naturally comes with the program, as you can track the success of others on an ongoing basis, and support groups have been proven to be pivotal in any life long change. I am looking forward to the next challenge.

Oct 1, 2018

Beware the Self-evident

“Beware the ‘self-evident’” or “The importance of ‘critical thinking’”

Most people do not think for themselves. They prefer to have other people do their thinking for them.

Perhaps this is the result of being raised to “listen to their parents (or teachers, clergy, elders, fill in the blank)”…. whereas they develop the habit of conceding to whatever authority figure whose knowledge they consider superior to their own.

It may also involve laziness: one less thing to do, as it seems that other people are more than willing to do it for you.

It is actually also rewarding (in the short term), as thinking things through can often get in the way of satisfying whims, such as passing quick judgments on others, or indulging in behavior that provides short term pleasure, without having to ponder the long term consequences.

A few other people are somewhat aware of this, and are more than willing to take advantage of this situation, knowing that swaying opinions is relatively easy with sheep who are just looking for some person or set of ideas to follow. These people could be dictators, or other power seekers, or advertisers, who cannot help but seize what they consider an excellent opportunity. Ironically, even these parties are only somewhat aware….as they are not actually thinking things all the way through either, otherwise they would realize that exploitation, while providing short-term gain, will ultimately be detrimental to themselves as well.

At this point, it is probably helpful to define what I mean by “thinking”. Our waking moments are filled with “thoughts”, however what I am referring to is the asking and answering of questions such as:

“What is this?”
“What does it mean?”
“What are the short term and long term consequences of taking a specific action (or not doing so)?”
“How do I know X is actually true? (Or not)?

In other words, I am referring to the full use of the unique human faculty of utilizing our intellect to the extent of our individual ability. (Which is how human beings survive and achieve happiness)

None of us is omniscient or even anywhere close to being fully knowledgeable in the countless subjects that we will need to deal with in our lifetimes, and, while we will consult with others who have specialized knowledge on a regular basis, this is quite different from simply accepting those views uncritically. (letting so called experts do our thinking for us.)

One of the methods by which exploiters do the exploiting is by giving you part of the truth that appears to be “self-evident” counting on the fact, that this will be enough to gain your support, because it just seems too counterintuitive to challenge, and possibly very unpopular as well.
On this last point (popularity), I should add that another powerful motivation for “group-think” is to “fit in”. While this has been criticized as “second handed thinking”, which I agree with, I believe there is an evolutionary explanation as to why this behavior appears to be so ingrained.
In primitive times, being part of the “tribe” (safety in numbers, division of labour, relative safety from hostile tribes or predators, ability to hunt as a group), the reality of being ostracized from the tribe was very likely to be a life and death issue. Witch doctors and tyrannical “chiefs” took good advantage of this to their own short-term advantage. This does not justify groupthink, but for me it makes it more understandable that thinking for yourself can involve resisting powerful evolutionary influences.

Getting back to the partial “self-evident” truth strategy used to exploit you, some examples of what has been considered to be above questioning include:

“The common good”
“Helping the poor”
“Peace is better than war”
“Being green”
“You have a ‘right’ to a basic standard of living”
“Religion is morality”

All of the above have been the “ends” that have justified many of history’s bloodiest atrocities (the means), not to mention simply depriving people of legitimate human rights. Top of the list “the common good”, I believe is the one that often encompasses all the others and millions upon millions have had their rights taken away, including their right to life, with this as a justification.

Whether “self-evident” equals “true” depends on context…..

The common good is a value, but it cannot justify the sacrifice of even one individual, so ask yourself if you also agree with human sacrifice before you accept this wholesale.
Helping the poor is also a value, but it does not represent an obligation or a duty, or a justification to take by force from one to give to another. Proper charity must be voluntary, so again, ask yourself if you also agree with the use of force.
Peace IS definitely better than war, but appeasing a tiger when you have your head in his mouth, is not really a great option. Threrefore, also ask yourself, if you agree that it is proper to deprive someone of the right to self-defense.
Being green (whatever that actually means), in the context of not polluting unnecessarily is also a proper value, but it does not justify restricting life giving and life saving technology to do so.
Having a “right to a basic standard of living” is a contradiction in terms. We have a right to take action, but not a right to outcomes, because a right to any “outcome value” must, by definition, take away the right of whoever actually produces that value, making that person a slave.
While religion may (or may not) have started out as a form of philosophy that did deal with ethical concerns, and it is an attempt by many to reach for the highest within themselves, it has shown to have countless contradictions and has resulted in a myriad of atrocities throughout history and still today. It is, at best, misguided, and at worse, a tool to simply achieve power over others.
Ethics involves rational self-interest in which individuals recognize logically, that living in harmony with one’s fellow men, respecting everyone’s proper rights, especially the right to fully develop and practice the virtue of productivity to everyone’s own individual ability is obviously desirable. Productivity benefits the producer, which is his rightful motive, but also, by definition, benefits everyone else, so that a rational code of morality creates no conflicts between anyone.
These are just a handful of examples, and a fuller explanation of each is beyond the scope of a brief blog entry. However, I’m hoping I’ve given the reader something to “think for themselves” about.
I will end by paraphrasing Mark Twain’s quote…”if you find yourself, agreeing with the majority, it’s time to questions your beliefs.”

Thanks for reading.

Aug 18, 2018

Random: Scrooge/Frankenstein movies, false dichotomies and Moochers, Looters and producers

There have been 2 movie themes that have been done over and over again by Hollywood, ad nauseam.

Scrooge theme: greedy selfish business man who cares not for family or values and is obsessed with money... and learns the error of his ways, and finishes with him realizing money is evil and higher "spiritual values" are superior. Examples: "It's a wonderful life" "The Family Man" and countless others. Same story, different specifics.

Frankenstein theme: Man thinks he's too smart for his own good, and through technology tampers with nature, and to put him in his place, nature bites him in the face. Examples: Jurassic series, China Syndrome, Avatar, and again, countless others.

In both cases, western capitalistic values are inherently attacked.


False dichotomy: In both of these themes, what is so misleading and malevolent, is that is presented as self-evident that it is either/or.... Family vs material success/achievement or Technology and man vs. nature. This is a con job.

Material success/achievement enhances family, self esteem and quality of life. Technology is what took us from a life of daily struggle for survival to a quality of life that allows us to pursue arts, spend time with family and offer opportunities for loved ones, not to mention substantially reducing disease and suffering and providing for medical care, reducing child birth death of children and mothers and extending life. Classic throwing out baby with bath water.

Survival on desert island called Earth:

Those damned in movies above are PRODUCERS of material wealth. Alone on a desert island, I have two alternatives: survival or death. To the extent that I am able and willing to take the correct actions that will lead to my survival, I can survive, and presumably also achieve happiness. If I fail to do so, either by choice or inability, I I die. If I choose to do so, I am a PRODUCER.

If there are two of us on island and we are both PRODUCERS, we can pool our efforts and synergistically enhance our existence. However if one of us is a LOOTER, someone who decides that, rather than PRODUCE, they will use force or fraud to steal the product of the PRODUCER, then odds of survival will be compromised. Either the PRODUCER gives in to LOOTER and attempts to produce for two, or he chooses to defend his rights, if he can, and the LOOTER can either perish or realize that he too, needs to become a PRODUCER if he wants to survive.

Also, if one of us is a MOOCHER, who again, decides that, rather than PRODUCE, they will appeal to the PRODUCER'S pity, and try to convince him that he owes a duty to provide for the MOOCHER. Again the odds of survival will be compromised, and the PRODUCER either gives in and attempts to produce for two, or through "tough love" if you will, let the MOOCHER know that he has to fend for himself. The MOOCHER then can choose to perish or also become a PRODUCER.

Well, the movie themes above are essentially condemning the PRODUCER.... which is essentially biting the hand that feeds us. If you doubt the hypocrisy of these movies, remember that they extensively use technology in order to make millions of dollars, while condemning the characters doing exactly the same. Why does this work? Because, we've been conned for centuries with these false dichotomies.

On this desert island, called EARTH, you are either a PRODUCER (who does the best he can to the limits of his ability while revering those of greater ability who produce on a wider scale and make all our lives better), or you are a MOOCHER or a LOOTER. The choice should be obvious.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. There are a few (a very few) people who legitimately need help without being moochers, and a PRODUCER can and should help in those instances, because it is to his benefit to alleviate general unearned human suffering. Keep in mind though, that even challenged individuals of character will always want an opportunity to PRODUCE if at all possible, rather than accept handouts, as what they want even more than alleviating suffering, is dignity, a sense of independence and self-esteem.

P.S. (2) If someone loses perspective and pursues material goods in order to impress other people, or ignores his health or his family in the process, that person has also made an error of reasoning, but that is a separate issue.

Feb 25, 2018

Is HIT superior or not? Is new "evidence" convincing or are we losing track of some fundamentals in quest for magic pill?

Hats off to Lawrence Neal for his excellent podcasts. I have not been finding sufficient time to catch all of them, but have caught several and find very interesting. I believe he is providing a valuable service and I regularly share his links on social media and have decided in a small way to support him through Patreon, and encourage others to do so.

I sincerely wish him great success, (selfishly as well as for him.)

However, I'm seeing a trend in both some of the opinions shared by some of his guests, and also in some of the dialogue I'm reading from various social media sources that seems to point to a change in thinking.

What has long been a mainstay of HIT, (dogma, some would say) which is that brief, intense, infrequent training is the superior methodology overall, and now there appears by some to be a concession, that it may not be "optimal" but simply "most efficient" and "safest", however, optimal results will be obtained by greater volume and or frequency and or variety.

Most, however do admit that there is a major application of the law of diminishing returns here, and that HIT will provide 90-95% of available benefits from strength training and that any alleged additional benefits may make little difference to the vast majority of population, however, for elite athletes, bodybuilders or people who are seeking to reach 100% of their genetic potential in terms of muscle hypertrophy, HIT will simply not get you all the way there. (hate labels, but for purpose of blog, I will assume HIT to mean "brief, infrequent, intense, and in good form to properly target muscles and avoid injury from excessive force from momentum or in overstretched positions".)

On this alone, one could term HIT to be "best" for sheer safety, efficiency and sustainability, as a recent guest of Lawrence has stated, "the best workout is the one you actually do". One will not continue a lifelong exercise program if time constraints make it impossible or overly disruptive to lifestyle, or obviously, if acutely or chronically injured. (see link to previous blog). The only people who will devote the extra time, if that is indeed, optimal, are people for whom conditioning is in fact directly, or indirectly what they do for a living, (models, athletes, trainers) or obsessive types who have little else going on in their lives outside the gym (careers, relationships, etc)

However, one of the general premises, as I interpreted the writings of Arthur Jones, was that, although genetically gifted and or drug aided specimens could obviously achieve spectacular results on high volume * programs, they did so, DESPITE their methodologies and not BECAUSE of them, and would have achieved superior results following HIT principles, or the same results in less time.

In the end, the debate should be, in my opinion, whether the above underlined statement is true, or whether the previous assertion referring to HIT only getting you part way, albeit more efficiently is true. It must be one or the other; it can't be both.

Now there are a number of confounding issues that are major obstacles in determining the answer to the above.

No clear definitions or delineation between HIT and HVT: Long before the term HIT was even coined, traditional strength training, was of a relatively lower volume and frequency and consisted primarily of 3 full body routines per week. Early iterations of HIT as per early Darden books advocated 20 set workouts including 2 sets of 20 squats in the same workout, and performing these 3 times per week, which would be considered very high volume compared to most of the more abbreviated routines that purport to be HIT today. If you were to time the actual time under load of so called HVT practitioners, you would find in many and perhaps most cases, that, after taking away, socializing, water drinking, and endless warm up sets with insignificant loads, and rapid cadences that enable a 10 rep set to be done in 20-30 seconds, that HIT practitioners, actually have more volume in their methodology than otherwise.
Selection bias: virtually no one is satisfied with their results, including genetically gifted drug using freaks and certainly not natural, genetically average and genetically below average people, (in terms of response to exercise and potential to have excessively large muscles) and as such we are ripe to be exploited. We know that extremely small percentages of the population even exercise consistently. One of the main reasons for this is that people who tend to get quick results tend to stick with it, and those who don't, tend to move on to other activities. Of those who do exercise consistently, a significant number do not even have muscle hypertrophy as a goal, and may find large muscles unsightly, Also, many world class athletes who are, by definition several degrees to the right of the bell curve, do not have very large muscles, and yet, when we see photos, or just the guy next to us, at the local gym with big muscles, we find it very difficult to remain objective, and wonder whether we've missed out on something that would be the recipe for greater success, (seemingly forgetting that we did exactly what this individual is doing, years ago and didn't get good results..)
Results subjective.... I listen to many of the guests on Lawrence's podcasts from both the HIT and HVT camps and I'm very disappointed to hear them refer to results using terminology such as "muscles feeling fuller"..... "looking better", increases in reps/tul's or weight lifted. With the possible exception of the latter, these terms are of no use to me at all in evaluating whether said source is making a valid point or not. And even performance can be extremely subjective, unless reps are standardized. Gary Knight made a good point of only counting reps that are 4 second up or 4 seconds down or 4 seconds up, 2 second hold and 4 seconds down. (I assume the former is where the upper turnaround has no resistance such as a leg or chest press and latter is where there is resistance at upper turnaround, such as a pulldown or row.) I personally like 10 seconds up and 4-5 seconds down on conventional equipment, but the long positive does give one the opportunity to linger in the easy part of the rep and move quickly out of the tough part, which is more difficult with a 4 second positive. Nonetheless, even with standard cadence, there is still a fair amount of subjectivity. (skill acquisition vs strength gains) When I first began this blog, my main argument was to be that only a dexa scan or bod pod measurement should be used to determine whether a given method was superior or not, because this presumably would tell you whether or not you are actually adding lean muscle mass. However, apparently even these methods may be subjective. More on this later.
How results of studies can be exaggerated based on small sample sizes (link to last McGuff podcast)


Perhaps a final definite answer is not even possible. As has been pointed out, exercise research is generally very poorly done, with small samples (both in terms of time and number of participants) and poor measuring tools. Gary Knight also pointed out that quite a large majority of folks will simply never put in the required effort that HIT demands, and Doug McGuff has suggested that certain individuals may be literally unable to "go to failure" but can still get good results.

So here is where I land: First of all, rather than speak of HIT or HVT as polarities, I think it is more helpful to think of things as a continuum, or perhaps a number of continuums that will likely involve most if not all of the list below. (several of which overlap each other)

Volume
Intensity
Frequency
Variety
Load/Progression
Form.
Sleep.
Nutrition.
Non exercise activity.

Volume: We can agree there is a limit, however what that limit is will vary greatly from individual and affected by intensity, sleep and nutrition, in that order. Exceed the volume you can recover from and results will stall or regress. While I disagree with the idea of doing the least amount needed, I simply don't think this is where I would put my money in terms of which factor to increase to make any measurable difference. I would add that greater volume may, in some individuals, for some periods of time, produce marginally greater results, it may do so at the cost of increasing chronic overuse injuries.

Intensity: Hard work, which may or may not involve failure, going beyond failure, negatives, jreps, x-force etc., is critical and I don't think any camps dispute this. Again, though there is a limit and while this is one of the areas, I would suggest can be pivotal in making a difference, one should be careful to not fall into the "more is better" mistake here either.

Frequency: This is likely the area, that I have, using Lawrence's standard, "what have you changed your mind about?" question, become far more open minded. I no longer believe that one must necessarily wait X number of days to be fully recovered. Analogies have been drawn between suntans (Mike Mentzer) and the forming of callouses (Darden) and, as a wannabe guitar player, I know that callouses grow from daily low intensity practice. Again, this likely varies from individual to individual, but I can see where greater frequency may well benefit some, even if they do lower intensity (ntf workouts?).... Bringing volume back into the equation.... an example: If someone does work out 4, 5 or even 7 days a week, but the total number of intense sets are still moderate to low, then I do think the greater frequency can be beneficial to some, but even if not, I can't see how it would be detrimental. Perhaps my bias, but I also find a set of push ups or chin ups is a great way to start my day, and my own experience has been that I often increase the number of reps I do of the same exercise even repeating it 2, 3 or even 4 days in a row. Certainly skill acquisition could explain partially, and I will concede that reps are not standardized, but it does seem to contradict the idea that I need to be fully recovered, which would suggest that my performance should regress rather than progress.

Variety: Going back to measuring, I think a combination of standardized reps and bod pod measurements may be as close as we can get to objectively measuring results short of a muscle biopsy. While standardized reps offer an excellent measuring tool, I do believe variety helps me to keep intensity high because I train myself. When being trained by someone else, standardized reps to positive failure seem far more intense than when I train myself. However, by adding things like breakdowns, jreps, myo reps, rest pause, negatives, I make it impossible for me to "wimp out". There is evidence that different individuals will benefit more from lighter or heavier loads, shorter or longer sets etc, and some have suggested ways of determining this, but I'm not sure how accurate those methods, are, and I also suspect that they change over time, so I see no harm in adding variety and I think there would be a benefit in ensuring different fiber types are all getting stimulus.

Load/Progression: Recently evidence has been presented that one can get good results with lighter loads as long as they go to failure. That actually does make sense to me. In fact, if it is the last rep or three that is the actual stimulus, the number of reps that precede it, are likely not that relevant. Having said that, again, this will vary from individual to individual so to repeat my comments in variety, why not vary loads so that all fiber types can be stimulated. As for progression, not sure how much that matters other than as a measuring tool. I stated that measuring would be a combination of standardized reps and body composition measurements but the challenge I've long had with progression is that even very modest increases over a period of years quickly become huge numbers. If I do 10 reps in the pulldown with 100 lbs using the 4 seconds up, 2 second hold and 4 seconds down cadence, and I progress at the agonizingly slow pace of 1 lb per month, a 20 year old person would be using 340 lbs by the time he/she was 40. I don't know of too many people who can do that. Not really making a hard point here, but just stating that I take progression with a grain of salt.

Form: Critical for three reasons, the first being the most vital: Safety: Doesn't matter whether you agree with me on anything else, if you injure yourself, your results will suck. Secondly, effectiveness of an exercise by properly working the targeted muscles; important but probably overly emphasized, and I base this simply on the fact that big compound movements tend to work your body as a whole, however, back to point one safety, and thirdly for measurement: see previous comments on measuring progress in conjunction with measuring body composition. And, in defense, of loosening form... I have also speculated the following: while fully acknowledging the dangers inherent in bad form for the sake of more weight and/or reps, I have also considered that when focusing on form and "feeling" the burn, a set may be ended prematurely ended because one fully senses the effort, whereas someone fully focused on reaching a pre determined number of reps, may be more apt to ignore the pain, as they single mindedly drive towards their target.... also placebo effect: when people hit measurable targets, they believe in their progress, and albeit, it may be in large part be skill acquisition, the power of belief (placebo) may also contribute to actual progress. A balance between the two?

Sleep: Likely should be at the top of the list. All the research, the anecdotes, the arguments etc etc. are largely being done on a sleep deprived population. No matter what else you may be doing right, it is straightening chairs on the Titanic if you are actually sleep deprived. (in my not so humble opinion)

Nutrition: Can I summarize in one paragraph? Here goes: get enough protein, depending on your current size, gender, etc....between 120-220 grams per day most of it from animal sources. If your goal is muscle gain, then calories should be in a slight surplus, and if your goal is fat loss, then a slight deficit. Somewhere in that range, I do believe you can achieve both simultaneously. A wide variety of food from unprocessed sources including fruits and vegetables. (though I don't see a problem with carnivore diets) Breakdown of fat and/or carbs within these parameters likely not that big a deal. Your body can deal with either if total calories are as stated above, and you are getting from good sources. Don't seek to eliminate or overemphasize either. (carnivore? still thinking that one over) Grains are not the devil but I don't think the majority of your carbs should come from them. Processed vegetable oils are bad. Fasting, intermittent or occasional water fasts are good, and this could include potato hacks (google it), which in my opinion is just a variation on fasting, where the main benefit is to give your body a protein break. Most of the above is about health rather than hypertrophy, though obviously the two overlap.... for directly related to hypertrophy, it is about protein and calories. (speculation: alternating between carnivore and potato hacks?)

Non exercise activity: The idea that you need to do nothing between workouts in order to avoid interfering with your recovery is neither practical or advisable and I believe that is now generally accepted as having been early hit dogma. The logic seemed to make sense at the time, but new research shows differently. There are a myriad of health benefits from just moving a lot especially for those of us who are desk bound. It might make sense for a construction worker or an athlete. Taking the stairs, parking a block away and getting up and stretching, arm circles etc throughout the day, can enhance recovery, and in any case, what is the point of getting a stronger body if you don't take it out for a spin. Again, another thing I've changed my mind about.

So is HIT superior? I don't really know, or can't prove, but assuming you can find the optimal spot on all the continuums above, I suspect what you will end up with, whatever you choose to label it, will involve a greater emphasis on intensity than it will on volume and will by necessity, due to Arthur's principle that you can work hard but not very much, or you can work long but not very hard.

Thanks for reading.