The health and fitness podcast that's pledged allegiance to science, perpetual education, and investigating all things sustainable training.
The health and fitness podcast that's pledged allegiance to science, perpetual education, and investigating all things sustainable training.
Episode 56: The Road to Success Is Paved with Good Habits
That distance between who you are and who you want to become? It can feel staggering, daunting, even impassible at times. Especially if you’re fixating on the sheer expanse of it. However, if you focus on taking a single step across that distance, things might not seem quite so overwhelming. Because a step is small. A step is manageable. And, as James Clear discusses in our latest podcast, a step is exactly the motivation you need to take another.
James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits, a New York Times best selling book about the art and science of habit formation. We invited him on our podcast to discuss the relationship between the habits we form, the goals we want to achieve, the people we are, and the people we want to be. And while this is no small task, James takes it on with the ardor of a lifelong student and the acumen of a natural-born scientist.
By calling upon a variety of case studies across a broad spectrum of fields-- fitness, the arts, business, and more-- James creates a rich, textured, and empowering picture of the role that habits play in our lives. And that picture, as James explains, illuminates one fundamental truth:
Everything you do-- every step you take-- contributes to who you are and who you will become.
And this means getting into the habit of taking certain actions, or steps, makes it more or less likely that you’re going to become who you want to be. “But!” You might be interjecting, “If your identity is so reliant on your habits, what happens if you have bad ones, or if you don’t know how to start good ones?” James addresses this in our podcast, too.
Critically, he points out that the relationship between habits and identity is not a one-way street. In fact the best way to change your habits is to examine and adjust your identity. As James says,
“I think that the focus on who we wish to become, not what we wish to achieve, is a better place to allocate our time and energy when it comes to developing habits. Because ultimately, the thing that’s going to make a habit stick is seeing ourselves in that way.”
Which brings us to a central point made by James in this podcast: “[People] tend to overvalue results and undervalue the process. [But] we do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.” In other words, if we spend all of our time fixating on the results we want, we won’t be doing the work we need to do to achieve them. And what is that work exactly? Developing systems that enable us to habitually perform actions that make us the kind of people that achieve the kinds of results we want.
James emphasizes the importance of showing up in small ways instead of fretting about optimization, he discusses the long-term benefits of diversifying and revising your identity, and he explains the role that our evolutionary biology plays in our ability to form habits. To learn more about James Clear’s comprehensive work on habit formation, check out: JamesClear.com or pick up his book, Atomic Habits.
Episode 55: Pixie and Alan on Why Nutrition Is a Social Justice Issue, not a Moral Issue
On episode 55, Pixie Turner, M.Sc., and Alan Flanagan, M.Sc, joined us as we jumped into our coveralls, rolled up our sleeves, and took a look under the sputtering, stalling, overheating hood of public nutrition.
And what did we find there? Increasing rates of food anxiety and disordered eating. Widespread chronic lifestyle disease. And hunger. People are suffering from an excess of food messaging at the same time that people suffering from a lack of food choices at the same time that people are suffering from a simple lack. And if you’re wondering how all of those problems can exist at once, we’re right there with you.
Which is why we decided, with the help of Pixie and Alan, to take the old nutritional engine apart. We analyzed its components, studied its flaws, and tried to identify what’s causing this great big smoking mess. As it turns out, a lot of things are to blame, including economic structures, massive corporations, politics, and the media. As it turns out, problems in nutrition come down to social justice. Not personal responsibility.
That’s right. Although the “ extensive messaging that we receive around food,” says Alan, “is very much a narrative of individual responsibility,” people aren’t culpable for health issues resulting from poor diets. As Pixie explains, “When you don’t have a lot of money, you might have access to cheap calorie dense food, and that’s it. Or, you might not even have enough money for that. We have [people] that can’t even buy the cheapest foods in society, and then we have this problem where the poor are both overweight and lacking nutrition.”
The reality is, people who aren’t privileged don’t have agency in their food consumption. And so they are not personally responsible for resultant health problems. That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of entrenched political ideologies and economic structures-- structures that are responsible for food deserts and food waste-- structures that are built and maintained by the very people whose privileged perspective allows them to buy into that personal responsibly chicanery.
Without action on a large, political scale, this dual burden-- the existence of overnutrition and undernutrition in the same society-- is only going to become worse. Alan illustrates this by discussing the “nutrition transition”, i.e., the growing prevalence of the high fat, nutrient-poor Western diet in developing countries.
But it’s not just the disadvantaged that suffer deleterious effects of false narratives around nutrition. Those with financial means make perfect targets for charlatans quick to capitalize on their desperation to eat in a personally responsible (read: morally upright) manner.
Food anxiety is not only profitable, but it’s also isolating. When people feel judged on a moral level for their food choices, they’re less likely to seek help from nutrition experts if they need it. And when people judge each other’s characters by their diets, they are less likely to work together to solve public health problems.
Alan and Pixie discuss possible solutions to the issues of chronic lifestyle disease, food anxiety, and hunger-- some of which require interventions on a political scale while others can be achieved by conscientious grassroots efforts. These efforts, of course, should be informed by scientific data gathered from well-designed sociological research. These efforts, of course, should begin with compassion.
Really, as Pixie puts it, any positive change in nutrition “starts with less judgement and more compassion.”
You can learn more about Pixie and Alan by following them on Instagram at @pixienutrition and @thenutritional_advocate.
Episode 54: Evan Peikon on Advancing Concurrent Training with Limiting Systems
Common knowledge has it, you shouldn’t train for ultra marathons at the same time that you train the snatch and the clean and jerk. Common knowledge has it, if you try to build strength, you shouldn’t also try to build your endurance. But Evan Peikon of Training Think Tank has it, common knowledge is wrong.
This isn’t the first time in history that common knowledge has been off base.Take bloodletting: a wasteful, ghastly, and, by today’s measures, horrifically misguided procedure. But it was once standard medical practice.
The reason nobody’s subjected to bloodletting anymore is because some staunch skeptics over the years thought to question and test the efficacy of such a procedure. It’s because some inquisitive minds thought to ask, “Why?” Again and again throughout history, skepticism and inquiry have led to enlightenment and improvement and progress. As we learn from Evan Peikon in Episode 54, the world of exercise and sports science is no exception to this rule.
Evan explains how the concurrent training model, especially as it should be implemented by coaches of CrossFit athletes is often misunderstood. While some studies have suggested that concurrent training is neither effective nor efficient, as Evan discusses, that has more to do with the way those studies were conducted and the way that concurrent training has historically been executed than its actual efficacy as a methodology.
For intermediate and advanced athletes, especially CrossFitters, a concurrent model can be a highly productive way of training if the coach implementing it does so with an analytical, investigative mindset. In other words, athletes can get better at multiple things simultaneously if their coach consistently asks, “Why?” Why is my athlete plateauing? Why is my athlete struggling with this portion of their workouts but not that portion?”
And if the coach wants answers that will make a concurrent model work, he or she can’t just latch onto the first answer that seems to make sense. He or she must dig into the research, understand what technological advancements have revealed about bioenergetics, and, above all, to be ready for some widely held assumptions to be wrong.
One such assumption is the idea that strength training, anaerobic training, and aerobic training are completely different “modes” of exercise that rely on completely different biomechanisms. This assumption often contributes to the belief that concurrent training is a waste of time. As Evan explains, though, strength, anaerobic, and aerobic training are “actually all different expressions of the same energy systems.”
And what that means concurrent training can be extremely beneficial if coaches view programming in terms of bioenergetic systems, not in terms of traditional disciplines. So, when an athlete is plateauing or not performing as desired, a coach shouldn’t just look for superficial “weaknesses”. Instead, he or she should try to identify that athlete’s limiting system. Evan dives into what these systems are, how they limit athletes, and how coaches can identify them as limiters. Then, he explains the benefits of addressing limiting systems in his own athletes’ programs.
One such benefit is the reduction of training volume. There’s another assumption, one that’s particularly rampant in the CrossFit world, that for concurrent training to work, athletes have to perform a ridiculous amount of training volume each week. Not only is this incorrect, but too much volume stands to impair athletes’ progress rather than assist it. By focusing on limiting systems, coaches can cut down on volume that’s not doing their athletes any good.
Evan then discusses hypoxic breathing practices, like the Whim Hoff method, in terms of the limiting systems paradigm. He also addresses the concept of mobility within this model of conc
Episode 53: Bret Contreras on Coaching Like a Carpenter, Not a Guru
You know what great coaches are like? Carpenters. Carpenters that have a whole host of tools at their disposal-- carpenters who know how to deploy those tools at the right times, during the right projects, and for the right purposes.
You know what great coaches are not like? Cult leaders. Cult leaders who doctrinize exercise, who proclaim some movements “good” and others “bad”-- whose approach is not only anathema to science, but is also no good for their clients.
Bret Contreras joins us on Episode 53 to discuss why he approaches programming like a carpenter, why he considers his athletes’ goals first, and why he pulls from a wide variety of disciplines in order to help his clients get the results they want.
It’s important to recognize, as Bret says, that “all groups of people are biased towards their way of training.” Gaining awareness of and overcoming their own biases is vital for coaches who want to serve their athletes interests. And only when coaches serve their athletes’ interests can they support clients in reaching their goals. In other words, you’ll never be able to help a bodybuilder achieve peak physical composition if you train her like an olympic weightlifter, and you’ll never help a powerlifter become as strong as possible if you train her like a CrossFitter.
What’s more, overcoming biases promotes the cross-pollination of ideas from a variety of disciplines within the exercise and sports science world. And this creates an environment in which athletes can thrive. Strength coaches have a lot to learn from physical therapists when it comes to rehabilitating injury. And incorporating single joint isolation exercises can help all athletes make hypertrophy gains, not just bodybuilders.
Bret calls for more respect and open mindedness in the health and fitness community. He advocates for investigation into a variety of approaches, recognition of the value that professionals from diverse backgrounds offer, and a hearty dose of skepticism towards one’s own entrenched beliefs. Coaches have a lot to lose from limiting their clients to a narrow range of exercises, one of the most important of which is investment.
As Bret says, “Variety is cool, because training is boring, and we’ve got to spice it up to make it fun. You’ve got to find ways to make it more fun.” The psychological component of training can’t be overstated-- athletes are successful when they feel motivated to train, when they enjoy training, and, as Bret explains, when they can attend to the things they want to during their workouts.
This means that coaches must understand how and when to manipulate variables like volume, load, effort, and tempo to support psychological engagement in training. And that means understanding when manipulating an element of training might distract from the ultimate goal of a workout. To illustrate, let’s imagine that a coach wants her athlete to move heavy load during a training session. If that’s the case, programming strict tempos for every lift might not be a great idea; it could take her athlete’s focus away from lifting heavy.
Regarding growth, Bret provides a critical reality check: Human bodies progress in waves, not linearly. And their capabilities are heavily influenced by the context of everything else going on around them. That’s why progressive overload should be measured in relation to athletes’ recent performances, not what they were able to do years ago.
What’s more, one rep maxes in multi joint barbell lifts are not the only ways to measure growth. Growth can happen across a broad spectrum of movements and across all programming variables. A good coach helps athletes recognize progress in all of its forms, in any of its shapes.
If you want to know more about Bret Contreras and his approach to coaching, follow him on Instagram at @bretcontrera
Episode 52: Gommaar D’Hulst on Why CrossFit is One Small Rep for Man, One Giant Broad Jump for Mankind
In today’s hyperspeed, digitized world, people don’t seem to have time for paradox or ambivalence. They want clearly defined, mutually exclusive sides, and they want to align with one immediately. But while this may be an expedient approach to separating friend from foe, it’s not an especially honest or judicious way of looking at things.
In fact, forming polarized opinions requires oversimplification and exaggeration-- two enemies of truth. And, unfortunately, CrossFit has fallen victim to today’s side-taking, label-sticking culture. It’s become a hot-button issue that sparks heated debate, that divides people into “camps”, and that, for the love of all things science, we’d like to salvage from the ruthless mania of politics.
Which is why we invited Dr. Gommaar D’Hulst on our podcast. Founder of WOD Science and exercise physiologist with a PhD in molecular biology, Gommaar views CrossFit as fertile ground for scientific advancement, and he sees science as CrossFit’s greatest ally. To Gommaar, CrossFit is an intriguing approach to exercise that has brought a good deal of positive change to modern life at the same time that it’s a corporate entity with an agenda that jeopardizes the progress of sport.
And that’s what Gommaar wants to be precise about. There’s CrossFit programming, which has challenged the assumptions of exercise and sports science and provided an efficient, engaging alternative to traditional training modalities. And then there’s CrossFit as a company, which has stubbornly aligned with low carb diets and which doesn’t require box owners to teach their clients proper (and safe!) technique. These are two separate facets of CrossFit, and it is entirely possible and defensible to champion the former while you lament the latter.
This brings Gommaar to the mission of WOD science, which is to bridge the gap between science and the layman practitioner of CrossFit. (A very noble mission, if you ask us.) He explains how WOD science accomplishes this mission, as well as why he and his colleagues feel it’s important to discuss the methodology behind scientific research at the same time that they discuss research results.
Some limitations of exercise and sports science research, especially when it comes to sample size and composition, are particularly salient in the world of CrossFit, which has only been the topic of 121 studies. Compare this to the 20,000 studies that have been conducted on resistance training, and the amount that we don’t know about CrossFit reveals itself to be staggering. For Gommaar, this is invigorating. It’s an immense opportunity for the scientific community, especially because CrossFit has conferred some significant benefits to millions of people.
The first of these benefits is that CrossFit has, has he puts it, “gotten people off the couch.” And in a world where one of the leading causes of health problems is inactivity, this is no small contribution to progress. Gommaar remarks, “If you have a program that comes out of nowhere, and all of the sudden millions of people are moving, you can have some negative thoughts about CrossFit, but [you must admit] that at least people are moving. At least people are physically active and burning calories.”
Beyond this benefit, it’s clear that CrossFit can elicit a hypertrophic response in athletes. If you want evidence for this, look no further than CrossFit games competitors. And what CrossFit does to muscles on a molecular level is something Gommaar is particularly interested in studying. In fact, his current research is focused on the mechanisms underpinning the physiological adaptations elicited by CrossFit style training.
Gommaar discusses some intriguing findings from studies on elite CrossFitters, including one which found that elite CrossFit athletes’ aerobic conditioning is only 25%-30% beh
Episode 51: Introspection over Instagram and Science over Sensationalism-- Pixie Turner’s Take on Nutrition in the Media
Nutrition can be a topsy-turvy place-- a place where misinformation parades around in six-pack suits with “fitspo” masks, where cult leaders preach food restriction dogma from social media pulpits, where marketing supplants science, and where people trap themselves in echo-chamber labyrinths of their own design.
In the midst of this inside-out, upside-down carnival, there’s a radical voice calling for reason, compassion, and peer-reviewed research. A voice that’s not going to stand for the havoc that sensationalism and fanaticism wreak on people’s self image. That voice? It belongs to Pixie Turner, Associate Nutritionist, MSc, and author who’s dedicated to leveraging science and empathy to flip the world of nutrition rightside up. She joins us on Episode 51 of our podcast, and we think her message is a must-hear.
Pixie begins by discussing her latest book, “The No-Need to Diet Book” which investigates the science behind food anxieties, emotional eating, orthorexia, and other maladaptive eating habits. In doing so, it examines the environmental factors that lead to negative relationships with food.
One particularly subversive factor Pixie identifies is social media behavior. According to her research findings, “The more time [people] spend on social media following health food and clean eating accounts, the more likely [they] are to be at risk for orthorexia.”
One of the reasons for this is the way social media outlets function. Individuals curate the images and messages they see on Instagram, for example, by selecting the accounts they want to follow. This can limit people’s exposure to messages about nutrition, thereby inducing them to believe that one (potentially extreme) perspective is widely held. And under this belief, individuals can develop a relationship with food that doesn’t align with their priorities, that impacts their social and mental health, and that becomes pathological.
In Pixie’s experience, people’s nutritional goals often include psychological elements. In other words, people often seek nutritional advice not only because they have aesthetic or athletic goals, but also because they want to have a better self-image, they want to be more self-accepting, and they want to have a healthier relationship with food. Pixie has found that addressing these psychological goals first actually promotes her clients’ achievement of other aesthetic or performance-based objectives.
Addressing the psychosocial facets of nutrition is no simple task, and it’s certainly beyond the capabilities of macro calculators or gimmick diets. It’s something that requires an empathetic, careful, and human approach-- an approach epitomized by the first thing Pixie asks her clients to do: “Tell me about your history with food. Take me back to your childhood. Tell me what food was like for you then, and take me on that journey to today. What got you to where you are now, sitting in this clinic with me?”
Pixie goes on to discuss how her interactions with clients have shaped the way she promotes information about nutrition. Her compassionate, rational, and evidence-based messages offer people a sustainable and healthy alternative to the fanatic, food-cult dogma proliferating on social media outlets. This dogmatic approach to eating represents a topic of particular interest to Pixie, and she discusses the power it wields over human psychology as well as the ways that people can avoid its sway.
Steadfast in her conviction that there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet, Pixie explains why following evidence-based guidelines instead of rigid, stifling, and often misguided “rules” can be a much more positive and rewarding approach to nutrition. She makes the case for learning how to eat intuitively, then discusses how the issue of orthorexia fits within the context of other public health concerns.
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