Posted September 17, 2015

34 Things Learned from 20 Years of Lifting – Part 2

For those new to the program, this is a post outlining 34 things I’ve learned after spending the last 20 years lifting weights, and because it’s my 34th birthday this week, the number has some sort of meaning, I guess. You can check out part 1 HERE.

#12: Fitness training should hinge on what you can do, not solely on how you look

I get it, people want to look hot both naked and in clothing. While it’s important to feed into people’s egos, it’s also important to make sure people can actually accomplish something in life when needed. It’s one thing to be a jacked dude who looks like He Man when he’s not wearing his purple vest, but it’s another to not be able to tie your shoes or grab your wallet, or worse wipe up after you take a number 2.

Ladies, you’re not off the hook either. Whereas guys tend to be societally pushed to being bigger and stronger, women tend to be pushed to being smaller and -for a lack of a better term- less of themselves.


Yes, looking good is important, but being proud of yourself for your accomplishments is also important. Looking at your abilities in this world, basic things like doing a chin up or pushup, lifting a challenging weight off the floor, and being able to run really fast become important things that make you wish you’d trained them harder if you ever have to use them.

#13: Nutritional outcomes should be considered, not just the theories

There was a while during my early 20s where I was trying to increase my protein intake significantly to spur some muscle development. I was drinking 2 protein shakes a day, eating pretty close to a full chicken, and having steak. The results of this experiment? I gained a pound and a half of muscle in 2 months. And went through a lot of air fresheners. Apparently digesting that much protein was a bit of an issue for me, so I managed to cut back and found a sweet spot.

These days I rarely ever include a protein shake because the outcome is somewhat undesirable if I’m to be around others for the rest of the day. I’ve tried a couple of different proteins, and all resulted in the same thing. So for me, switching out for some more meat based protein seems to work. I also tend to do well with less protein overall in terms of energy, joint pain, muscle soreness, and overall digestive health, which may be completely different for someone else.

#14: People are just going to curl in the squat rack

Try as you might, they’re just going to do it. I know, I know, they could curl anywhere and you can only squat in a squat rack. I get it, and yes it’s a gym faux pas. That’s french for “stop doing that shit,” but it’s going to happen. There’s also going to be people who do swinging biceps curls on bosu balls, backwards facing bad girl machine abductions, bench press with their feet in the air, using the smith machine as a leg press and any number of stupid things. Just let them do it, be happy they’re contributing to a healthier society in a small way, and remove that stress from your life.

#15: There’s no one right way to do anything

There’s costs and benefits to everything you do for fitness, and what you choose to do will give you those specific benefits at those costs. For instance, yoga is awesome for teaching balance, range of motion control, and breathing mechanics, but is awful for developing instability in some people and also for not developing the same kind of strength that could be developed with free weight training. That doesn’t mean it’s better or worse than anything, just that it’s different.

In a world where everyone wants to put down everything that’s not their chosen activities, just do what you like and mix it up once in a while with something new just to get the benefits from it. Don’t marry yourself to one mode of training, one sport or activity, or one thought process.

#16: Train compound movements like they’re skills to master

One aspect that seems to be lost on training, and I’m guilty of it too, is chasing weight without chasing control of the movement. When my back was at its worse, I decided to try to rehab it on my own and make it stronger by deadlifting.

However, I knew if I just went at it and lifted like a jack ass I’d likely get injured again. So instead of just training and throwing more weight on the bar, I videoed myself do every single rep and set of deadlifts for 6 months, and reviewed each set afterwards to see how it was progressing and what I needed to work on. It was amazing to see how bad I was and how some of the small things I would change would make my own back feel. There were also days when I would tweak my back, and when I reviewed the tape I could see some positional things that could have lead to it. I made the changes necessary, and pain reduced.

This time forced me to examine the lift as trying to master a skill versus simply doing a movement for the sake of the movement. When I started I was maxing with 225 and struggling to avoid not being able to walk the day after, but then after a couple weeks of focusing on technique I managed to rep out 225 easily. Shortly thereafter I managed to get to 315, and then a year later it got to 405. I’ve managed to get to 455 without pain and with a probably 9/10 effort, maintaining a neutral spine throughout.

I’ll eventually get to 500 pounds. Maybe now that I have the basement of champions in my hose all set up. Granted, this isn’t a world record level of strength, but for someone who could barely walk at one point, I’m happy with it.

#17: Excuses can multiply quickly

A lot of people face issues working out. Some people are granted the great ability to have their workouts take foremost precedent in their lives. Others, not so much. Throughout the day, the number of reasons why a person can’t workout will add up and make it easy for the person to skip the gym that day. Even if the reasons aren’t valid (“I’m too cozy,” “it’s the winter solstice, can’t train legs today,” “my big toes kinda achy,” “I have to get groceries,”) they can still get in the way. One of my favourite is “I’m not in the right mood.” Well, when would you be in the right mood? Does that mood ever occur? No? Then go work out.

While excuses can multiply, reasons to work out usually stay consistent. They typically come down to “if you don’t, no one else will do it for you.”

#18: Sitting won’t kill you. Neither will sugar, or any other boogeyman

The health and fitness industry tends to exist in hyperbole. They will look at someone who works in an office and complains of a mildly achy back and say that sitting is slowly killing them. Also, sugar is as toxic as cocaine, which makes total sense because you always see people hopped up on Pixie Stix causing mayhem throughout the world. People will try to scare you over the least scare-worthy things in the world, especially when there’s actually stuff worth being scared about, and pumpkin spice lattes aren’t one of them.


#19: Small calves tend to be the result of walking primarily with your hips and low back and not with your calves

Believe it or not, walking is one of the best calf builders in the world. I can attest to it after spending a few weekends walking around places like New York, Las Vegas, and other touristy cities with a wife who power shops like no one’s business. My calves usually tend to feel like steers by the end of the entire time.

For some people, they tend to drive the extension phase of their gait through hip or lumbar extension, and minimally involve ankle dorsiflexion. This means those calves don’t get a push off pump on each step, keeping them relatively smaller for longer. You can see some people who are heavy ankle walkers as they tend to bob and bounce as they walk. The low back walkers tend to swing their butts around like Donald Duck.

Guys who walk through their back and hips and not through their ankles will tend to get a sore low back after walking more, and have small calves. It’s something that you could spend entire workouts focusing on and it won’t necessarily improve all that much. I’m not hatin, I’m just esplainin.

#20: Kids and beginners should be taught how to lift, and spend time on the basics before anything else

I have a lot of people ask me what they should do with their kids who are interested in sports, or trainers who start taking on athletic teenagers who have never lifted weights and ask what they should focus on. My usual response is just keep it simple, basic, and focus on getting stronger slowly and under control. It doesn’t need to be complicated.

When I was starting out, i would have been a lot better off if I would have just focused on staple movements and getting good at them, versus trying to train arms 6 times a week. I would have done fewer dumb things (fewer, not none, as I was still young and dumb myself), probably gotten a lot stronger, and had a better chance of being stronger today from laying that groundwork.

#21: The best gyms to work out in are usually not the ones with the best equipment, but the ones with the best culture

GYM OWNERS: if you want to be constantly busy and keep your retention through the roof, re-read that last statement 100 times each and every day. Then do something about it.

No one cares how awesome your cardio theatre is, or how shiny your bumper plates are. Beginners are turned off from the gym because they feel intimidated.┬áIf they feel like they’re invited into a special club, get to know everyone in that club, make friends and have a great time, they will want to stay for ever.

Experienced lifters want a facility that inspires them to lift harder and see better results. This will come not simply from the hanging scent of 30 years of hatred, fear and questionable hygiene, mixed with pre-workout, but from the people there willing to give a spot, lifting like maniacs themselves, and keeping people honest with their workouts.

Building a culture that specifically looks at the kind of client the gym wants to have will help capture that client, then make them feel like they couldn’t ever work out anywhere else. This is a reason why Planet Fitness does so well, because they cater to people who are intimidated by most gyms and they specifically want to alienate bodybuilders and serious lifters. The people going to Planet Fitness wouldn’t ever dream of going to a hardcore gym or a Crossfit, because they don’t think they would ever feel comfortable there.

Build a culture first, then build a gym. For anyone who wants to see what an incredibly well developed culture looks like, check out Mark Fisher Fitness in New York.They’ve singlehandedly shown how you can create a one of a kind culture that transcends the fitness services they provide.

#22: Don’t take fitness too seriously

While it has the chance to change peoples lives and be incredibly important to them, don’t take it so seriously that you can’t crack a smile or enjoy a joke once in a while. It’s not like we’re curing cancer or selling used cars or anything like that. Be yourself, have fun, dance if you want, and just be glad you get the chance to do it as much as you want.


Part 3 coming up in a couple of days. Enjoy!!