Monday, January 28, 2013

It is Science but not Rocket Science...a "manifesto" of sorts

The basics

It is science but not rocket science.  We need to stop trying to make all of this health and fitness stuff more complicated and difficult than it needs to be.  Be generally active, minimise sitting time, stand and walk whenever you can.  Do some resistance training and vigorous "aerobic" activity.  Work hard and progressively on both so that you stimulate adaptation.  Rest enough to grow and recover so that you improve.  Pay attention to safety. Stay mobile enough to squat and sit on the floor.  Diet is responsible for your  bodyweight, not exercise.

It is not about the tools

Not mentioned: the tools or the protocols.....because lots of things will work.  The tools: machines, bodyweight exercise,  barbells.  The protocols: one set to failure, 3x8-12,  5x5, Reverse Pyramid etc. intervals or a 400m run.  They are not the important concerns.   Lift stuff, sprint, recover.  Just make sure to pick safe and sensible exercises.

Listen to your Mother

Then there is all the stuff your mum told you:  stand up straight, get to bed early, eat your greens, don't snack between meals, stop worrying so much, wear sensible shoes, brush your teeth, get some sunshine and fresh air.

A distraction?

Yes there is science...but really all the focus on the science can be a distraction and an excuse for most of us.  The science actually says what I've recommended.  The search for the perfect becomes the enemy of the good enough.  As I've said before, most of us are not elite athletes either by genetic ability, or profession.  For most of us being elite is about maintaining function as we get older.  This is not defeatist.  Doing these things will get you fitter and looking better than most of those sitting next to you in your office, on the bus or at the pub.  Don't stress about the details so much.  Get on with your life.


pyker said...

Who are you lecturing to?

Chris said...


I suppose I am talking to myself. These are things that I need to get straight in my own head. So often I get distracted away from the basics and find myself going off down pointless rabbit holes.

Joakim Waern said...

No, you are not talking to yourself. I'm listening and appreciate your words. And I know there will be a next step in this process. Please continue your lectures! ;)

Anonymous said...


You are right. I agree with you.


Unknown said...

Whenever I hear an argument on sets\reps\failure\TUL\etc., I always come back to the study by Carpinelli, Otto and Winnett in 2004. Which I found in Hillfit!

The summary at the end of that 50 page study is still the best guide on resistance training ever written (in my opinion). It reads:

The preponderance of research strongly suggests that gains in muscular strength, hypertrophy, power, and endurance are the result of the following simple guidelines:

• Select a mode of exercise that feels comfortable throughout the range of motion. There is very little evidence to support the superiority of free weights or machines for increasing muscular strength, hypertrophy, power, or endurance.

• Choose a repetition duration that will ensure the maintenance of consistent form throughout the set. One study showed a greater strength benefit from a shorter duration (2s/4s) and one study showed better strength gains as a result of a longer duration (10s/4s), but no study using conventional exercise equipment reports any significant difference in muscular hypertrophy, power, or endurance as a result of manipulating repetition duration.

• Choose a range of repetitions between three and 15 (e.g., 3-5, 6-8, 8-10, etc.). There is very little evidence to suggest that a specific range of repetitions (e.g., 3-5 versus 8-10) or time-under-load (e.g., 30s versus 90s) significantly impacts the increase in muscular strength, hypertrophy, power, or endurance.

• Perform one set of each exercise. The preponderance of resistance-training studies shows no difference in the gains in muscular strength, hypertrophy, power, or endurance as a result of performing a greater number of sets.

• After performing a combination of concentric and eccentric muscle actions, terminate each exercise at the point where the concentric phase of the exercise is becoming difficult, if not impossible, while maintaining good form. There is very little evidence to suggest that going beyond this level of intensity (e.g., supramaximal or accentuated eccentric muscle actions) will further enhance muscular strength, hypertrophy, power, or endurance.

• Allow enough time between exercises to perform the next exercise in proper form. There is very little evidence to suggest that different rest periods between sets or exercises will significantly affect the gains in muscular strength, hypertrophy, power, or endurance.

• Depending on individual recovery and response, choose a frequency of 2-3 times/week to stimulate each targeted muscle group. One session a week has been shown to be just as effective as 2-3 times/week for some muscle groups. There is very little evidence to suggest that training a muscle more than 2-3 times/week or that split routines will produce greater gains in muscular strength, hypertrophy, power, or endurance

Gene said...

I'm also listening to your "lectures", and appreciate it very much. Thank you

Anastasia said...

I am afraid, the "listen to your mother" comment is not going to apply for much longer. The age of common wisdom is giving way to the age of parroting the latest advice from a glossy magazine. I see your mothers incapable of telling if their child is unwell, instead relying on numbers on the scale, thermometer or a blood test. Greens have long been replaced by muesli bars and fruit roll ups by the "health conscious" mothers. The children of today are taught health basics by The Biggest Loser and whatever the latest diet a tween celebrity is on. You are right, it's not rocket science. But for the next generation, it might as well be. 

Anonymous said...

I like your simpler approach and the emphasis on actually doing things. And much of what you said in your post was clear to me. However, mobility's an issue for me and I'm still not sure how to approach it. Would you be able to expand on your "Stay mobile enough to squat and sit on the floor" comment? How does one work on that without making it more complicated than it needs to be?

Thanks in advance!

randyfeingersh said...


I've followed your thread for years and the current vector of your evolution is very refreshing and humanizing. Bravo.


JamesSteeleII said...


It's becoming 'listen to your grandmother or great grandmother' nowadays.

Regular reader said...

A lot of us are novelty-seekers and enjoy seeking out information about new training protocols, gadgets, supplements, etc.

I think a good compromise might be: working hard earns you the right to work smart. Ie get the basics down and be consistent with them. Then you can start tweaking and adding sexy things. First things first.

Simon Whyatt said...


You mean listen to a 25-35 year old?


Joking aside, great post Chris.

I've got to agree that when it comes to resistance training, consistency and gradual progression are the only things you can really count on for results.

Personally I've gravitated towards one set HIT to failure as it seems safe and efficient.

I don't think we can really say whether the whole order of recruitment theory pans out to be true, or whether it is equally as effective as multiple sets based on the current research, but TBH for your average person I really don't think it matters.

Even if 5x5 was proven to build more muscle or build it faster, the increased time in the gym and injury risk would not be worth it!

That said, it would still be interesting to know.

Diana said...


Couldn't agree more. I am also sick and tired of totally overblown promises/claims of how much muscle the average man or woman can put on.

They promise that a middle-aged former couch potato can put on the same amount of muscle as a teenaged boy - he can't. And there is zero evidence that most women can put on more than a few pounds of muscle. So forget about that. Just focus on losing the excess flab and developing functional strength. You know, like walking up and down hills, stairs, being to carry bags, children, etc. Or help a person up if he has fallen. And so on.

brianA said...

Sounds kind of like like Crossfit without the kool-aid and not on a 3 Days ON-1 Day OFF format. (I don't do Crossfit). I'm onto a simple is best plan as well. I've been following you for years and I've come full circle over the past couple of years. I don't deny myself any foods but I do control frequency and portions. I lift and run (both easy runs and fast sprints/hills) and play with my kids. Lots more swimming, snowshoeing, hiking and real work around my house (e.g. splitting and stacking firewood and building stuff with hand tools, etc.). Not a luddite but enjoy the work and learning a skill instead of having someone or some machine do it for me.

Stuart Gilbert said...

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating. I like the current direction that you are moving with your thoughts. Please carry on preaching. You are probably preaching to the converted, but as you have noted, the converted, like yourself just need reminding of the basic truths every once in a while. It's easy to lose focus in the light of the latest advertising spiel, research claim or statement from a guru.
You mentioned in previous comments how Clarence Bass' writing had introduced you to various gurus, who you now are growing weary of. The one thing I feel that Clarence does well, that we can all learn from, is his ability to only take information from others that he feels is relevant to him, discarding the rest. He is able to analyse the claims, make personal experiments, and then only utilise what works for him. He has written about Art DeVany, but does not copy his diet, although the basic tenets of their views on fitness are similar. He has also written about Pavel Tsatsouline, yet still employs a HIT format in his lifting. Clarence calls this "the ownership principle", and it is something we should all try to utilise more often in the face of dietary and fitness claims.

Dan said...

Less is. More it's not about adding info but removing it . When I go to workout it's not about how much I can do but how I recover from the training so that one can come back fit to do it again . The last thing one would want is to come up Sore ,Tired , or Injured weather it be the Elite Athlete, Recreation Athlete or Equine Athlete

Abhay said...

I've taken note of this pattern of simplification you've been on for quite some time. While it's great, I fear that it might mean that you (like Matt Metzgar)will be leaving blogging behind. I hope not.

Stuart Gilbert said...

"I've taken note of this pattern of simplification you've been on for quite some time. While it's great, I fear that it might mean that you (like Matt Metzgar)will be leaving blogging behind. I hope not."

This post has a +1 from me also.

Chris said...

Someone highlighting all the myths about diet...

Anonymous said...

An excellent post Chris, with views that will no doubt upset some, but will be a breath of fresh air for many more.
I followed up on a recent post by you on getting the diet sorted and my weight has come down by 8lbs since mid December very easily, despite the fact that I have been unable to train at all, due to an overtraining injury!
I find it slightly ironic that an overtraining injury led to more time on the computer, which led to the article on diet in your blog! Epiphany!
If you haven't seen the BBC2 Horizon programme shown last night "The truth about exercise" then it is definitely worth watching. It also debunks the myths and unfortunately seems to confirm that your ability to respond to exercise is determined by your parents!
Keep up the good work.

Diana said...


Who are you preaching to? Me. You are a great source of info and your links are excellent. Keep it up.

Go Kaleo said...

This is really GOOD Chris!

JamesSteeleII said...

Just something which I think clearly shows the different perspectives that some people have on what they want to achieve from their training and the costs they are willing to endure. Layne Norton just tweeted:

"You know you are doing high volume squat work when your back starts bleeding from the bar. #OUTWORK #Iaintgottimetobleed"

Personally #Iaintgottimetogetaninfectionfromarustysweatybarbellusedbyhundredsofpeopleafterbreakingmyskinonitandbleeding

Chris said...

Good one James. There are certainly different degrees of commitment. Then again I'd question whether such commitment is necessary or just a bit of machismo. Norton certainly seems more sensible in his writing and videos.

That whole macho thing is also in need of challenge.

Diana said...

James, I don't understand the rationale behind heavy lifting at all. Your research, and the reference I looked up in your paper (I forget the footnote number but you'll surely remember it: the Dutch paper named WEIGHT TRAINING:IMPLICATIONS FOR ENERGY METABOLISM, by Verstappen and Westerterp), on table 2.3 (page 29), it clearly shows that no one puts on a huge amount of muscle, not even "solidly built" people. Skinny people even less. And women? Who knows? Even if women gain the same percentage-wise, the absolute amount of muscle gained is quite small.

I've concluded that weight training for muscle gain is a huge con, and that it's best to concentrate on postural muscles, and joint stability/mobility. The LT effects of heavy lifting are mostly bad. No one ever talks about injury, torn ligaments and tendons, etc. And for what? A freakish media-driven idea of beauty that's impossible anyway?

Stuart Gilbert said...

..I'm sure you've seen this....but it is a study which just reaffirms all you've been saying...

JamesSteeleII said...


I can see the appeal of the 'macho' for some. But it takes on such a precedent in the area that most people get caught up in programs employing it especially because of the emotional draw.


"I've concluded that weight training for muscle gain is a huge con,"

Maybe not a con in so far as it is still possible to increase lean mass (muscle AND BMD, organ size etc which most people don't consider is included in most lean mass measures). But it certainly is in so far as gaining the huge amounts of lean muscle mass that people claim in order to sell books/programs etc.

In the years I've spent training people I've rarely had any that have put on substantial amounts of lean muscle (from visual inspection). Last year I had one 60 year old guy who started training with me who had grown out of his suit and shirts about the neck and chest but that's - its was only one size up he needed to go for both.

People are far too pre-occupied with the potential aesthetic benefits of resistance training that they don't realise how far to the right of the bell curve in terms of their response they need to be to get huge adaptation from a starting point considerably lower than that (and consider that the study you mentioned suggests that the starting point is indeed a factor influencing the potential degree of response anyway).

Diana said...

@James -

"Maybe not a con in so far as it is still possible to increase lean mass (muscle AND BMD, organ size etc which most people don't consider is included in most lean mass measures)."

Excellent point about BMD - I have read that excavations of English women factory workers from as little as 100-200 years ago reveals a significantly higher BMD. You don't have to go back to Paleo times. And I didn't know about organ size, thanks.

But I do think we agree that most people (and certainly most women) will not put on significant amounts of muscle, no matter how they work out. I have 6" wrists and I'm not *that* small. I'm medium-sized. I'm never gonna be ripped. BFD.

So, time being limited and being a strong believer in getting on with my life, I'm concentrating on the things an aging body should: strengthening knees, keeping a good posture, being functionally fit to do the stuff I like (hiking) not to mention avoiding stuff like not being able to get up from the toilet when I am 80, without assistance. That's quite enough.

Anonymous said...

Diana, there is a compelling reason for weight training and this is particularly important for women: maintaining your bones! We get our bones during the first two decades of life (maybe into our early twenties) and spend the rest of our days trying to keep what we've got. Bone drugs don't work and can only make things worse. Weight bearing exercise is the key (along with sufficient nutritional support including menaquinone - vitamin K2). If you are concerned about hurting yourself make sure you do integrated full body exercises so your body can distribute the forces, learn the form well, and be patient in working up to heavier weight. Hope this helps.

Unknown said...

The question is - if one does weight training that already includes strong cardiorespiratory challenge, like HIT with short rest pauses, and walks every day...does HIIT become redundant or even counterproductive? For example, Clarence Bass does low impact HIIT, but he doesn't rush between exercises in the weightroom and also admits he mainly loves the competitiveness of rowing. To me, intervals mostly increase the possibility of injury (sprints) and I'd rather add another HIT workout than HIIT session as many believe once a week HIT is ideal for health benefits and decent development, but not for maximizing one's muscular potential.
Keith Norris recommends 2x HIIRT (mix of HIT and HIIT) session a week for average guy, Fred Fornicola also does 2x a week HIT. Those are the guys who never were firmly in one camp/philosophy and just did and recommended what worked.

Unknown said...

I also think there must be about two hard sessions(HIT/HIIT) each week + daily activity, one is not enough mentally, not for me, even if the benefits were the same.

Diana said...

@Anonymous, completely agree about the bone density thing. James Steele pointed that out. I had not thought of that. Muscles are the least of it. That, plus combating insulin resistance is the name of the game to me.

Stuart Gilbert said...

Basically Chris is still correct,what he does,works for him. Despite all the theorizing,if something that you are doing provides regular measurable results, however small, and you enjoy it, then it works. Whether you do it once, twice or several times per week.As James Steele has written about, start with the minimum, and if the balance of results versus enjoyment is right, then leave it at that, if not, then experiment from there. Does Chris need to walk so much at weekends? Probably not, but he enjoys it, so that's what he does. If I can gain results on one HIIT and one HIT session a week, and don't wish to do anymore, then that's what I stick with. Remember, the majority of enjoyment in lifelong health and fitness pursuits comes from the journey, not the destination.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Diana, for the redundancy, BMD didn't register as I moved quickly through the comments. Interestingly, higher intakes of menaquinone are associated with lower frequency of bone fractures but it is not associated with increased BMD. There is another more elusive element of bone quality at work here.

FeelGoodEating said...

Some thoughts....

We've been "sold" on what a "healthy-good" body is supposed to look like.

We can't seem to let it go...and yet most of us that have been in it for a while know darn well that this "healthy-good" body, comes at a cost of decreased well being and lots and documented potential for injury, especially as we age, from wear and tear. So whats the answer? Even with the potential for injury, the benefits of weight bearing exercise are indisputable.

As the studies show clearly, limited exercise still delivers solid returns.

So here's how I've made some sense of it.

Years ago (late 80's early 90's) golf became HUGELY popular worldwide. Many people took up golf and considered themselves golfers. They had all the latest equipment, sought out top teachers and read voraciously all the new and secret information in all the magazines and books and later tv shows.
Sound a little familiar?

Guess what happened? Out of all those millions of people that took up golf, only an few people became real golfers. Basically because of 2 reasons. 1. they had a natural ability 2. They really enjoyed playing golf.

Stay with me....

You see as much as people go to the gym....there's only a few people that that have a natural ability and more importantly, really enjoy lifting weights.

I had to take a long hard look at myself and what it was that I truly wanted.....

I'm not embarrased to say that for ME, I'm willing to sacrifice a tiny bit of functionality for the sake of vanity. But that's me. My goal is to be muscular and flexible in old age, so with that said I do choose my poisons carefully....but nice looking biceps, shoulders, abs, quads etc is important to me....have to lift some heavier weights to realize my goals.....but more importantly....I ENJOY IT.

Make some sense?

You HAVE to move your body daily and put it through some effort from time to time, do that and you will get plenty of health benefits.

Be honest with yourself, figure out what it is you want.

Most of the information, HIT, HIIT, BBS, Werner, etcetc is really to much for most of us.Don't get caught in it unless you want to look like you can crush rocks with you bare hands and are willing to make huge sacrifices.

You have to understand that people like Clarence Bass are the equivalent of the Phil Mickelson/Mark James in golf. There are only a few with the true natural ability, DESIRE and enjoyment pf what they do. We can learn a lot from them, but we have to put it in the context of our own lives.

Waking up at 4 am for 60 minutes of weight lifting followed by a 1000 calorie breakfast, simply doesn't excite it shouldn't :-)

sorry for the ramble...hope it helps a little.


Unknown said...

I feel that in the end one should get out of the diet game, sleep well, do some daily activity like walking and some strength+interval training, or both combined in HIT, which is low impact complete package. But maybe one can push a little further than once a week before he labels himself as helpless hardgainer or average guy, twice a week seems to be good starting point, there are conflicting views on this from "take more recovery as you progress" to "just do two workouts per week", but when recovery is adequate, twice week seems ok mentally and physically.
Clarence Bass is no doubt advanced in terms of training and age, and he recommends weights twice and intervals twice a week or weights, intervals and combo workout! We become too conservative sometimes...people who promote once a week HIT weight training usually have a taxing job or lot of activity other than simple walking. Underrecovery is bigger problem than overtraining for most.

Chris said...


Great thoughts - very helpful indeed


Unknown said...


How does Your "fitness" regime look right now?

FeelGoodEating said...


3 x a week weights. sometimes 4 x. Whenever I hit the gym for a 4th time in the week...I usually take the following 5 days off and rest.

Daily walks. Anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 and a half hours.

Sprints 1x a week...working up to two. Leg (after break) at around 90-95% and improving

magnesium baths 4 x per week.

Getnle yoga 3 x a week and some body weight mobility stuff.

meditation about 5 minutes a day

love making about 4 -6 x per week.

That's my "fitness regime" :-) you asked lol


Unknown said...

:D High volume is dangerous! Refreshing answer, thanks:-)

Go Kaleo said...

I've put on a substantial amount of muscle mass, but it's been over the course of FIVE YEARS of consistent weight training and metabolic conditioning. After the first 6 months, I looked pretty much the same as I had when I started. After a year I'd started to develop some definition through my shoulders where my body fat is lowest. At three years I'd increased the breadth of my shoulders and was starting to see some change in the shape of my legs, although no rel definition to speak of yet. Now, at five years, I'm just starting to be able to see my quads. It doesn't happen quickly for sure, but women can build muscle mass with time, consistency and lots of food. :)

Unknown said...

Diana said...

"I've put on a substantial amount of muscle mass,"

Can you give us actual numbers? "Substantial" doesn't cut it with me.

The studies cited herein say that most people will not put on much muscle mass.

My guess is that with you, the fat loss revealed the muscular structure that was always there. You added some, but not a lot in terms of pounds/kgs.

But without numbers, no one can say.

Also the "lots of food" thing just won't cut it with anyone who needs to lose fat weight. They have to expend more than they take in.

JamesSteeleII said...

I would never want to diminish anyone's personal achievements and I think your before and after picture are worth a million GoKaleo, but I always take anecdotal claims as such with a large pinch of salt. The explanations for anyone thinking they put on substantial muscle mass range from vague aesthetic perceptions from the mirror, to indirect deduction from invalid body composition measures (limb circumferences etc.), to one off measures with more accurate means (bodpod, DEXA etc.) which don't account for the inherent variability in such measures from both systematic and biological variability. And there is always the fact that many of the anecdotal reports come from the far end of the bell curve. All of the reasons are why large studies are attempted to smooth out the validity and reliability issues in the way we measure biological phenomena (or any phenomena for that matter).

P.s. your captcha things seem to be getting more and more difficult Chris, lol.

Diana said...


Yes. Show me the DEXA scans, I say, whenever I hear anyone, man or woman, claiming they put on "a lot" of muscle.

For me - having clear, achievable and realistic goals have made a world of difference. I don't do well - and I suspect most people don't - if someone is telling me to exercise for no good reason. Now that I've cleared the cobwebs, and I exercise for bone health, metabolic health, and joint stability, I love it.

BTW, I happen to be a fairly muscular little Russo-American. But that's the way I'm built. It's my short, squat grandmother I can thank for my bunchy quads, not squats. ☺

Go Kaleo said...

Well ok, guys. I have neither the time nor the inclination to argue with you and try to convince you that my body composition has changed dramatically absent any change in weight, if you can't see that from my pics then you are LOOKING for reasons to rationalize away my experience and advice.

Diana said...

"if you can't see that from my pics then you are LOOKING for reasons to rationalize away my experience and advice."

That's a sweeping misstatement and a judgement all in one.

I've seen your pics and I can see you've lost a considerable amount of fat weight.

What I don't know is how much muscle you've put on. As I said, "substantial" is not exact.

I used to believe that it was possible for people to put on pounds and pounds of muscle. But after I read the studies I see it isn't the case. I was disappointed, but I go with the facts.

Another thing I reject is that my skepticism towards "but women can build muscle mass with time, consistency and lots of food." consists of some kind of resistance to reason. It does not. I'm just going with the facts. I don't see that you have any documented results helping other women "build muscle mass." Neither has anyone else.

The moment I see a documented study proving that women can add more than a few pounds of muscle, I'll change my tune.

Also, about the "lots of food" - I find it impossible to believe that anyone can eat 100 fat grams a day, 2800 calories, and maintain 13% body fat without an enormous amount of exercise expenditure.

If I ate like that, even scaled down to my size, I'd be a tub of blubber in two months unless I got a job as a trailer maintainer.

Perhaps this sounds like resistance to you. I call it skepticism. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Peace out.

Unknown said...

Sorry, but what "studies" do you mean? Are there really any rellevant long term studies? I am not overly optimistic in case of muscle gain, but is it possible to make transformation people will notice right away? I think it is, at least partially due to increase in muscle mass. But I agree that women are different case and even the strogest of them don't have what I'd call muscular physique if they don't use steroids. And that's a good thing.

Diana said...


Sorry - I was referring to James's study, which is not online for free. This study is online for free, which James referenced in his study:

Check out Table 2.3. Absolute numbers of muscle mass gain are very modest, and these subjects are fit young men. Perhaps an unfit man might put on more muscle because he is starting from a lower base, but not much more. I don't know. I'm sure James does.

There are quite a few studies which replicate these findings - look them up on Pubmed.

The only study that I know of which charts muscle gain in women is of older ladies. But the studies on men are sobering enough. People don't put on a lot of muscle in absolute terms.

Diana said...

PS "But I agree that women are different case and even the strogest of them don't have what I'd call muscular physique if they don't use steroids. And that's a good thing."

It IS a good thing! Moreover a healthy woman will have a bit of fat covering the muscles and bone structure.

JamesSteeleII said...

FYI on the BMD comments earlier, Skyler Tanners talk from T21C is coming out in parts at the moment and should all be up at the weekend. He covers why BMD is an important factor from RT in his talk. Definitely a must watch.