Where Many Exercise Programs Miss the Point (And Why I Still Run Occasionally)

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160 pounds again! Damnit!

I was slightly down last week when I hopped on the scale. Despite my best efforts to gain a few pounds, I was stunted at a five pound growth. Yes, 160 pounds is five pounds heavier than my normal weight. It’s a bit sad for someone that’s 5′ 11″.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll probably recognize that this isn’t the first time I’ve ever tried to gain weight. When I left high school, I was a scrawny 120 pound weakling that hadn’t even counted to 135 let alone seen that number on the bench press. Along the way (and with the help of a bit of beer I’m sure), I catapulted the scale from 120 all the way up to 150. I sat stagnant for awhile before settling in at 155 pounds.

Now, it was happening all over again.

Here’s the thing: I know everything I need to do to gain weight. I promise.

I know that I need to eat more first and foremost. I know I shouldn’t be afraid of carbs or sleep. I know testosterone levels are important. Food intake should be high and stress levels should be low. Intermittent fasting may potentially help when you get stuck to reset hunger levels. I know that most hardgainers fail because they aren’t consistent enough with a program, and they can’t set a firm goal. More than anything, I know it just takes lifting some heavy weight, skimping on the cardio, and to quit the bitching.

I’ve read enough of Jason Ferruggia’s posts to know all that stuff.

That second-to-last part is the deal breaker – skimping on the cardio.

If you’ve known me for any length of time or just taken a second to look at my body frame, you’ll remember that I used to be a pretty competitive runner back in high school and in college. I spent weekends going on 12-15 mile runs early in the morning then taking a nap until mid-afternoon. I ended up putting an end to the whole running thing sometime in college in an effort to gain a few pounds.

But, the hard part is that I enjoy running. It’s part of who I am and what I like to do.

So, a few days a week, I’ll hop out and go for a run despite it being severely contradictory to my goal of gaining size.

Enjoyment – The Missing Piece

Let’s forget about me for a second and skip to the initial consult of virtually any personal training session anywhere.

Half-way through, after they’ve talked about their families and backgrounds and dietary habits, they get on the topic of exercise. The trainer naturally brings up what kind of exercise the client actually likes to do. The rest of the conversation goes like this:

“Zumba? Ah yeah well Zumba sucks because…”

“Step class? Well, you know step class doesn’t really…”

“Running? Heaven forbid. Have you heard of the benefit…”

“You just do yoga? God bless. Have you thought about…”

Every potential answer has a caveat. Unless the client replies that they love lifting heavy weights consisting of multi-joint exercises three to four days a week supplementing with some interval cardio and some foam rolling and stretching on the side, they’re doomed to hear the compliment sandwich.

“Congrats on setting up such a successful Zumba routine! Zumba is great for getting you ready for the dance clubs, but it doesn’t do squat for building muscle, which will actually help transform your physique. But, I’m sure you’re absolutely fantastic at dancing to Ricky Martin!”

Imagine heading to a restaurant and telling the waiter that you would like the prime rib, side of veggies, and a double order of mashed potatoes (because after all, it is post-workout) only to hear him lecture you about how carbs are ruining America as we know it?

I’ve never been to a restaurant where I was told what to order unless I asked for suggestions.

However, I have listened to what clients enjoy doing, only to throw it all back in their face and suggest something totally different.

That’s missing the mark.

With so many clients having a hard time sticking with an exercise plan, the first point of attack should be enjoyment. If you can create a new habit – one that involves coming to the gym more than once a week and actually enjoying it – you’ll be one step ahead of the crowd. The first step to getting your clients to improve on anything is getting them to show up. When you tell them all of their favorite exercise routines are garbage, what kind of message are you sending?

One that says, “Exercise shouldn’t be enjoyable.”

Listen, I know Zumba probably isn’t the most effective method to lose weight just like I know Pabst Blue Ribbon probably isn’t the best beer I could find in the beer cave. But, that doesn’t change the fact that 75% of your female clients like to go in and shake their hips every once in awhile nor the fact that I like PBR. By shunning them from every going to Zumba, you may be taking away the one part of exercise they really like.

Every time I go out for a run, I think to myself how it’s contrary to many of the things I’m trying to accomplish. Rather than make myself feel guilty for indulging in a little steady state cardio (gasp!), I put on my tunes and trot around for a few miles. I feel refreshed. Endorphins start flowing, and I get the “run” out of my system. Then, it’s back to heavy lifting and eating animal flesh.

Sure, my progress might be slower than most, but it’s enjoyable. Most of the time, the enjoyable factor is what keeps me going, and it’s the fun factor that will keep your clients training for the long haul.

Have you ever done something completely contrary to your goals? How did it feel? Alternatively, is PBR the best beer out there or what?

Photo credit: Soundcloud

Does Your Content Get Likes or Engage Users?

No one cares how many likes your content gets. Or at least they shouldn’t anyway.

Let me rephrase that. Social shares are important, but they shouldn’t create as much clout as we let them.

Somehow, we’ve transitioned into a period where the number of social likes and shares is correlated directly with the importance and usefulness of the article or blog.

That’s a broken system.

Yes, social shares are necessary to drive blog traffic and spread the word. I agree. But, does the amount of likes a post gets really dictate how valuable that content is? I’d argue no.

Why Do People Share?

In the most basic sense, people share content for three reasons:

1. To brag

This is by far the most common reason readers will share your content. Usually the scenario plays out like this:

  • Reader consumes content (many times doesn’t even read the entire article) from a well-known writer/blogger/author
  • Reader shares content to their social feeds
  • Reader asserts their connection with the author and projects that they are similar to the author in knowledge/status/interest level.

The “braggers” are sharing content because they likely want their friends to view themselves as a projection of that author. Tim Ferriss gets a ton of shares from the entrepreneur/life-hacking crowd because they want to appear intelligent, business-savvy, and well-versed on biohacking.

To these individuals, the depth of the post doesn’t necessarily apply so much as the overall topic and the opinion of the writer.

2. To entertain

Have something funny to say? Put it on a post and if it’s formatted and shared correctly, it will likely go wild. Take, for instance, 27bslash6, the blog of satirist David Thorne. Are the posts informative? Hell no. I could spend an hour on that site (sadly, I have) without learning a darn thing. Most of the posts are David’s interactions with unfortunate customer representatives during which he goes on a long rant about bears in his yard (actually his dog dressed up in a bear costume).

I may not have learned a darn thing, but I was left in tears crying from laughter. So, I shared it – naturally. Similar to the brag approach, people share funny material so their friends think that they, in turn, are funny.

Forget the five people you spend the most time with. People would rather have you believe they’re a summation of the content they share.

3. To inform

Occasionally, people will share content simply to inform their friends and colleagues. This can happen with a new product on the market or just something they find extremely interesting.

For instance, awhile back, I posted on my Facebook about the awful smell that follows consumption of asparagus (if you’ve eaten the stuff, you know what I’m talking about.)

Without missing a beat, a very intelligent friend of mine dropped the solution: “If it smells when you urinate after eating asparagus you lack the ability to methylate folic acid. If you take a high quality methyl folic acid supplement it will solve that problem”.

Boom – mind blown. Information immediately shared.

Would You Rather Users Like or Engage With Your Content?

Nobody is saying that social shares aren’t important at all. Obviously, they’re necessary to help spread your content across the internet. In some instances, social shares are the focus for a particular article, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The point is your content needs to have a balance.

If your goal is to eventually ever sell anything to your readers – a product, for instance, that would require them to click a link and fill out their billing information – your primary goal should be to develop a relationship with readers. You want them to trust you.

That happens through engagement and conversation – not through simply having a post with a thousand likes.

A good site has both content that gets shared as well as content that creates discussion. The art is balancing the two to drive traffic and find new readers while simultaneously maintaining and furthering relationships you’ve already built with consistent readers.

The take-home is to write content for engagement rather than strictly social shares. Yes, shares are a part of engagement, but not the most important aspect.

Write content that causes your audience to think and reflect. You may not get immediate shares, but you’ll build a trusting relationship that keeps them coming back for more.

For more on getting your content to go viral, I urge you to check out Viralnomics. Tons of free info on the site for getting your content and brand to spread. 

So, sound off in the comments. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong.

The Day I Thought I Wanted to Be Donald Trump

When I was a kid, I went through a bunch of different fads. Pokemon was one. Pogs were another. Hell, I even dyed my hair and dressed up like Eminem for longer than I’d like to admit.

Perhaps on the more bizarre side of the spectrum, I was quite obsessed with Donald Trump and The Apprentice. I would watch the show faithfully each week to see who was next on the chopping block.

The show left me with big ambitions – mainly of strolling the streets of New York dressed up in a fancy suit with a briefcase full of documents under my arm. I dreamed of big board meetings full of powerful executives and commanding multi-million dollar deals with just a signature. Owning my own company became a fantasy.

Needless to say, none of that has come true (yet).

When I did have the option to move to NYC and grind out my post-collegiate years in a crowded apartment with six other dudes, I passed up the offer electing to travel across the country to Colorado swapping sky rises for mountains.

It’s been a year since I made that move. I’ve been through two jobs this past year, and neither has required a suit and tie. I don’t have a briefcase, and I’m yet to figure out what important documents people need to carry around. I made the biggest purchase of my life when I bought an engagement ring I would later use to propose to the woman of my dreams, but I assure you it was far from a multi-million dollar investment.

Over time, my ambitions and thoughts of success have changed drastically.

I’ve argued for quite awhile that I think most people approach success in the wrong way. It’s far too focused on the end product and not at all focused on their actual mission or goals.

Take, for example, my obsession with living the Trump lifestyle. I really have no urge to orchestrate business plans or oversee construction. I don’t really want to sit up in a high-rise office in NYC then sit in traffic for an hour while my limo driver attempts to chauffeur me around. I don’t want to have to wear a toupee to cover up my lack of hair on my head.

But, I did want to feel successful.

The Day I Almost Went to School For Music

Typically, success is viewed in terms of material items. Every parent wants their kid to grow up to own a large house, great car, and ultimately have enough money in the bank account to provide for their retirement.

So, imagine my parents’ surprise when I told them I wanted to go to school for music.

Let me explain. I wanted to pick up an instrument. Seemed like a harmless thing to me. My Dad had always been stellar at playing guitar so I thought that the good ‘ol six string would be the natural way to go.

I started taking lessons and, as I tend to do with a lot of things, I took it far too seriously. I started playing for hours a day. Forget calluses. I had bullet-proof skin on the end of my fingertips. I was progressing well despite having only taken lessons for a few months. Ultimately, when I was looking at applying to colleges, I thought briefly about applying for music school.

Now, you likely know that unless you make it to John Mayer status, a decent living is hard to come by as a musician.

Although my parents were always supportive, they were quick to point out the lackluster income for struggling musicians.

I’ll never forget the most intelligent thing I probably ever said during my teenage years. When my Dad asked about the income situation, I replied:

But, you don’t make a lot of money. And you’re happy right? Couldn’t I still be happy?

End of argument.

Feeling Successful

Success shouldn’t be based on objects. That’s a never-ending chase towards accumulating more stuff. It shouldn’t be defined by anything really. It should be a feeling of confidence and happiness that you’re doing what you want to do with who you want to do it.

For me, that involves helping other people through writing and building relationships with other trainers to help them build their client-base and network.

For you, it may be something completely different.

It’s tempting to let society define what success looks like. You’re encouraged to accumulate more stuff to demonstrate your level of success to the world, but that’s impossible. 

Success is an internal feeling – not an outward projection of your net worth.

No doubt the world is a much better place since I decided not to go to school for music. I’m not sure how much of me whaling on the guitar anyone could actually take. Occasionally, I’ll still break it out and pretend I can play – much to the dismay of my two dogs who can hear all too well. But, I enjoy it and that’s what matters.

What does success mean to you? Also, feel free to laugh at the thought of me dressed up like Eminem with bleach blonde hair. That’s a fad I’m not too proud of.

Does the World Need Another Post on Deadlifts?

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I received this e-mail the other day:

I’m having a bit of an identity crisis… I started domain.com because I love fitness and nutrition and equally love writing. However, the fitness industry is pretty crowded and I can’t help but think I need something to separate me from the crowd.

I get this question quite often.

My answer was pretty simple: Don’t write strictly about fitness.

Obviously, I included a more detailed answer about why and how this particular individual could merge his passions for writing and fitness. But, the honest answer is that literally every piece of fitness information is covered out there in some capacity already.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people throw up a blog post on how to do a deadlift. This is not a knock to those particular individuals because I believe I did the exact same thing when I was doing more run of the mill stuff over at JD Strength when it was live.

Great topics are often hard to come by.

I have nothing against deadlifts. I love them. But, this doesn’t change the fact that there are millions of posts on how to do a deadlift (Google returned 3,050,000 to be exact).

If you’re really looking for a tutorial, check out this post by Mike Robertson for literally everything you would need to know.

Back to the topic at hand.

The fitness industry is saturated with information. Every time I turn my head, there is a new article out on “10 Tips You Didn’t Know About Abs” or “The New Diet That Banishes Belly Fat”. For every new headline that breaks the newsstand, there’s also a dozen more blog posts that are written on why deadlifts are great or why planks are far superior to crunches and in fact, crunches give you ulcers, and bad acne.

I understand the desire to write about these things. People want to write about topics they know and understand. The only problem is that everyone else in the fitness industry knows the same thing.

But, blogs aren’t written for fitness professionals you might say.

I understand. But, general blog posts about how to deadlift aren’t helping the masses get fit either. You can’t sit here and tell me that post #3,050,001 concerning how to do a deadlift is going to result in a dramatic change in the obesity epidemic and that everyone will be sporting rock-hard glutes for Christmas.

Should we give up on fitness blogging altogether?

Of course not.

In the advice I gave above, I definitely didn’t tell this individual to forget all about blogging. I still think blogging can be a tremendous way to share your enthusiasm and passion for fitness.

Just stop writing blogs about something everyone knows about.

But, the fitness magazines do it.

Trust me. I feel your pain. I’ve written dozens of articles on very similar topics that I feel have been beaten to death in the media. But, major magazines have to fill 2-5 spots online every day plus compile an entire magazine 10 months out of the year. At that point, it’s extremely hard to not repeat content. Plus, I think readers tend to understand that and the editors still market the material in a way that sounds new and exciting.

Make your blog different.

Here’s an example: Literally everyone has written about squats in some capacity. If I saw an article about squats, chances are I wouldn’t click unless it was someone that I truly respected as an authority on squatting (more on that later). So, instead of writing an article on squatting, Chris Smith wrote an article titled “10 Reasons Squats Are a Terrible Exercise“.

I clicked immediately.

Now granted, Chris wrote this entire post as a joke, but unfortunately, most people failed to realize that before they blasted him in the comment section. Nonetheless, the article went viral and received 9.4k likes on his site.

Chris knows how to squat. He’s got the powerlifting records to prove it. But, if he would have written an article on the benefits of squats, it would have gotten mediocre results at best.

So, what should you write about?

I think you should cover what you’re interested in and passionate about. If that means fitness, go for it.

But, that doesn’t mean we need to tackle the basics of deadlifting over and over. That’s been done time and time again – many cases very poorly by writers simply looking to put something out there.

Here’s the three-option approach I provided in the answer to the question above.

1. Write really good infotainment pieces like Tony Gentilcore.

I seriously believe Tony was meant to become a comedian in another life. Not only is the dude wicked smart, but he’s also extremely funny.

In fact, just as I was writing this, he put up a blog post fixing deadlift errors. I read the entire thing.

2. Provide information that no one else has. I call this the Wil Flemming approach.

Wil is an extremely knowledgeable coach across the board, but he’s better than almost anyone at instructing and critiquing Olympic lifting form. He pumps his blog full of Olympic lifting posts, videos, products, etc. Since he’s so specific, his material attracts a specific type of reader. He doesn’t write about why carbs are bad but fats are good. That can be found elsewhere. If you go to Wil’s blog, you know you’re going to find in-depth info on Olympic lifting.

For comparison, check out this blog post he did on power cleans. I know how to power clean and have an Olympic lifting certification. But, Wil is an expert in the area. As a result, I read it and learned some things.

3. Approach fitness from a different angle like NerdFitness.com.

Still want to approach fitness from a general sense? You have to approach it from a different angle. That’s exactly what Steve Kamb.

If you go to the Nerd Fitness site, you’ll find articles about deadlifts that are pretty basic, but they still receive a ton of shares and comments. (Probably because they were published in 2009 before everybody and their grandma had a blog.) But, you’ll also find productivity articles that are meant to appeal to a specific crowd – nerds. I’ve spoken with Steve about this, and he makes it a point to drive away people that aren’t a good fit. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Work towards a specific crowd.

Stop worrying about numbers.

It’s easy to get caught up in monitoring social shares, blog visits, etc. None of that matters unless you’re talking about monetizing your site through display advertising, but that’s not the route you want to go (we can dive more into that later).

Worry about impacting people and changing lives. Isn’t that why you’re writing in the first place?

To quote Brian Gardner on this one:

I’ve finally wrapped myself around the idea that I’d rather affect a few deeply, than many on the surface.

So, what am I doing?

I write a variety of posts – few of which are strictly about fitness. I feel like I have more to offer plus I just get bored.

I mainly address this because I’ve had a few newsletter unsubscribers over the past few days mention that they thought the site was about fitness. Yes, I do freelance quite a bit about the health and fitness industry. But, I feel like I have more to offer than just that.

If you want strictly fitness information, I urge you to follow me on Twitter as I post some good stuff there.

Otherwise, stick around for a variety of content. I’ve written about my follies in college, previous struggles with eating, and plan on putting out my thoughts on education up as well. This blog is more personal than informational, but I hope you still find it interesting and can glean some helpful advice out of these posts.

But please, don’t write another deadlifting tutorial covering the basics of the hip hinge. It’s out there already. Make yourself standout. Make yourself different.

How I Almost Failed Graduate School Before It Started

One hot topic in the press right now is about our education system. With hundreds of thousands of students emerging from the academic system right now, there’s an incredibly high unemployment rate for those in the early twenties. Not exactly the place you want to be coming out of school.

Now, I’m not really in a position to speculate whether you should go to graduate school and hide from the job market for two years, but that’s the particular route I chose. What I can tell you is the entertaining tale of how I almost screwed up and didn’t get into graduate school in the first place.

Let’s begin so you can start laughing at my innumerable mistakes.

When I was graduating college, I, like many kids that are coming out of their four years of debauchery right now, had little clue what I really wanted to do in the real world. I had gathered some extensive experience in health and fitness and thought about just pursuing personal training right out of undergraduate school.

Somewhere along the line (and with an amazing graduate assistance opportunity available), I was convinced to pursue another two years despite my unbelievable desire to never sit inside the walls of a classroom again.

Now, this may come as a shock to many of you reading this, but I wasn’t always the stunning display of professionalism that I appear to be today. In fact, during my undergraduate degree, I was quite the opposite.

My first semester started off with a bang as I managed to secure a “C” in Calculus despite having taken it once before (don’t worry, I managed an A+ in jogging class to balance it out).

In spite of my ambition for fitness and desire to become a personal trainer, I dropped Anatomy the first time I took it. That particular instance culminated with a sub-par score on the first two tests and ultimately led to my decision to drop the class while studying for the third test at 11pm one night – electing to hang out with my friends instead. Clients and coworkers, have no fear. I ended up retaking it and getting an “A” the second time around.

My attendance in class wasn’t all that stellar either. My affinity for early mornings wasn’t quite as well-developed and I routinely overslept for early morning classes. On more than one occasion, I completed a chemistry quiz drenched in sweat having sprinted across campus in my pajamas to make it in time.

Outside of the classroom, I was having far too much fun. The end of my freshman year happened to coincide with my first ever written arrest (sorry Mom), which I can assure you was about as much fun as you could imagine. I still remember being scared to death while I stood in front of the judge thinking to myself “Sweet! First court appearance of my life at 19 years of age.”

Pursuing my enthusiasm for fitness, I secured a job at the recreation center on campus. Despite having a sincere passion for the job, I still remember waking up to a phone call from my former-boss-now-close-friend informing me that I was 30+ minutes late for the job training I was scheduled to attend.

How am I doing so far?

For those of you keeping score at home, the tally would be something around – Life: 76 Jeremey: 1 (I successfully conquered the majority of a pumpkin pie in one sitting. Yes, I consider that a triumph.)

Let’s Turn This Around Shall We?

This same very kid was about to apply for graduate school. Although the rap sheet listed above is a combination of my low points and doesn’t include any highlights like winning the mile in the aforementioned “Jogging” class, it doesn’t take an admissions officer to identify that I wasn’t necessarily a stellar candidate for a post-graduate degree.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let a few years of blunders stand in my way of becoming a master of science.

Here’s where things got interesting. The application required several things including a few recommendations from professors I hadn’t taken the time to get to know outside of handing in a test every few weeks. Also, my lovely application was accompanied by a note from the Dean of Students office informing the application committee of my little run in with the wonderful boys in blue at the ripe young age of 19. (Note: I later had this dropped from my student file and it was never brought to the attention of the application committee – I don’t think.)

Side-note: At the time I was applying, I was taking a course titled Strength and Conditioning. For all intents and purposes, the class was designed to prepare you to take a personal training certification at the end of the semester. This is important as we continue the discussion. As I already had my certification and had led a few continuing education seminars, I somehow felt that it was okay for me to skip class on a weekly basis despite having unannounced quizzes. Again, I wasn’t all that smart a few years ago.

Long story short, somehow, I managed to convince a professor to take me on as a graduate student and also secured a few letters of recommendation although they were much less personal as I would have liked since the professors didn’t know my name from Adam.

To spoil the ending, I managed to finish with my Master’s degree in Human Performance (because Exercise Physiology required a thesis and I wasn’t quite as into writing back then as I am now).

Remember That Class I Skipped?

Remember that personal training class I was taking during my last semester? Turns out that same professor was the head of admissions for the college I was applying to. My admissions letter came with his signature on it.

I remember thinking to myself “This guy must be nuts. I’ve skipped 40% of his classes. How does he think I’m in any way prepared for graduate school?”

Needless to say, I’ve grown up over the years.

Why would I write an entire post about how I almost failed? For one, I know there are tons of students going in and leaving the university system at this very moment. I hope people can learn some things from my story (for one: know who your professors are and what other roles they serve in the college). I completely understand the “lost” feeling you have while you try to figure out where you can add value (and get paid) in the real world.

If anything at all, I hope it was just damn entertaining. I know I laughed for quite awhile as I reminisced while writing.

Help me feel better. Tell me the stupidest thing you did in school.