Your Nutrition Tracker is Lying to You and What to Do About It

I am of the distinct opinion that one of the best things you can do for your long term health and wellness is to, at some point, track your food intake carefully. You don’t have to do this forever, but doing it even for just a few weeks will teach you things that are impossible to learn from reading books or articles or watching videos. People love to deride using a food scale and tracking food carefully as obsessive or unnecessary but it’s not. It is an exercise you do for a time while it is useful to extract the benefits and then you stop. If you’re not able to eat completely intuitively and maintain the exact body composition you want then some information is missing that is needed to inform your intuition. How else can you know the energetic content of food? Are you born with it?

The energetic content of food has been completely divorced from the energetic cost of food. We’re not that far removed from a time when the energetic cost of food was so high that it conveyed status and luxury to be overweight. If you hunt, gather, or grow everything you consume it is awfully hard to take in more than you expend. Even when agrarian societies developed who benefitted from labor specialization and trade it was only the wealthy who have enough excess capital to be able to consume more than they expend.

I like food scale. But honestly, who weighs out parsley?

I like food scales. But honestly, who weighs out parsley?

Michael Pollan captures this wonderfully when he says: “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. I love French fries, and I also know if I ate French fries every day it would not be a good thing. One of our problems is that foods that are labor or money intensive have gotten very cheap and easy to procure. French fries are a great example. They are a tremendous pain to make. Wash the potatoes, fry potatoes, get rid of the oil, clean up the mess. If you made them yourself you’d have them about once a month, and that’s probably about right.”

And Pollan isn’t even talking about the acquiring of the raw ingredients, just the cooking! Thanks to all the miracles of modernity I can order hot and fresh cookies to be delivered to my door in just a few minutes and in maybe one quarter to one eighth the time it would take me to burn those calories running on a treadmill I can eat a thousand calories of delicious cookies. (Honestly prob gonna order cookies now.)

But I digress. At some point in your life it’s a worthwhile experiment to purchase a food scale and start tracking everything.

Here’s where you run into an issue. Many of the most popular food tracking apps, such as the famously 475 million dollar My Fitness Pal app, have massive food databases with almost any food you can think of already inputted. Sometimes correctly. Therein lies the rub. You can enter all your food in religiously, keep an eye on your body composition (because it would be silly not to close the feedback loop when you already have the information that’s harder to gather – food intake), and you can be absolutely mystified as to why what should be happening isn’t happening.

Here’s just one example:


Notice how the calorie count is identical for 4oz and 8oz portions? If you were using this you’d be off by 300 calories. Maybe only 10% for a large fit male, but you could be off by 30% for a smaller woman. For a muscle gain scenario this would be frustrating as you wouldn’t be growing when you’d expect to. For fat loss it would be devastating as you’d start to question whether or not there were underlying metabolic issues when you’re staying the same at 900 calories recorded per day. (By the way, I’ve found that most people who successfully make big changes usually eat the same things almost daily during the period where things are moving a lot.)

I have run into instances (please send me screenshots if you find them, as I can’t find any at the moment) where the macronutrient grams don’t add up to the correct calorie count. There is no world in which 15 grams of fat is not 135 calories, so that’s a problem.

Personally I am a big fan of the Fitocracy Macros app which eschews the food database entirely in favor of allowing you to simply enter in your grams of protein, fat, and carbs. The problem is this requires you to have a pretty good knowledge of what’s in your food, to have labels on everything, or to use an app with a database to get that information. While this may seem like a Catch-22 it’s actually just an important part of the process for which the entire exercise is useful.

So what is one to do when the whole purpose of this exercises is purportedly to learn what’s in your food?

Don’t worry, I got you.

80% of What You Need to Know

When you start measuring everything out and paying attention to what is in everything you quickly learn that a portion is a portion is a portion. For example, roughly speaking about macro-nutrients (we’re not talking about micro-nutrition here):

~15 grams is the standard portion size for fats: A tablespoon of olive oil is the same as a tablespoon of butter is the same as a serving of nuts is the same as a spoonful of coconut oil is the same as a serving (a couple tablespoons) of nut butter is the same as a half an avocado.

What else is a portion of fat? Well that’s for you to learn by tracking.

~30-40 grams is the standard portion size for carbohydrates: A cup of cooked rice, a large hamburger bun, a couple to a few slices of bread, an average donut, a cup of cooked oatmeal are all in roughly the same range of 30-40 grams of carbs.

What else is a portion of carbs? You know the drill.

~25 grams is the standard portion size for protein: 4oz is the standard benchmark serving size for meat portions whether it be chicken, beef, venison, it doesn’t matter. In a quarter-pound portion of meat you’ll always have about 25 grams of protein but you’ll get fairly different amounts of fat depending on the type of meat. A chicken breast might have pretty close to no fat at all, and a ribeye might have a full serving (how many grams is that?) of fat. Fun fact: USDA maintains a very accurate national nutrient database with reliable averages for virtually every piece of real food there is.

In diligently tracking for a short period you will quickly start to see these patterns and develop your own shortcuts and heuristics in your mind to accurately estimate how much energy you’re taking in.

Here’s a spoiler for an example of the kind of thing you’ll intuitively get after going through this process. Let’s say you put together a burger at home with no surprises:

4oz (quarter pound) patty of 85/15 ground beef: a serving of protein and a serving of fat
a slice of cheese: half a serving of fat
some tomatoes, lettuce, and onion: doesn’t matter
a bun: a serving of carbohydrates

Add it all up and you get a serving of protein, a serving and a half of fat, and a serving of carbohydrates. Maybe you like some mayo on your burger which is kinda nasty but that doesn’t really matter. All told you have about 450 calories. From this point on you know that literally any reasonable burger with the basic fixings is about 450 calories.

As a thought experiment, what happens when you add bacon? What about guacamole? What about fried onion rings?

But Seriously

I told you in the beginning that you couldn’t learn this from reading articles. You still can’t. Go buy a food scale. Use it very diligently for a week or two and then revisit. I’m not even telling you to change anything you eat (although you will) but just to become intimately familiar with it. If you have to eat at home more because you can’t accurately track foods from restaurants or whatever I guess that is what is going to have to happen for you to stick to the process.

Once you truly know what food looks like and consists of in portion sizes and energy amounts you can easily use apps as a shortcut because you’re able to double-check the macro and caloric values in your head. “No that 8oz ribeye is not 24 grams of protein, that’s bullshit. I’ll find one that is a better match.”

As usual there is no shortcut. Do the work and you will be richly rewarded.


Manpliment Your Way to Better Relationships


A few years ago I decided to try an experiment with some of my relationships with other men. What would happen if instead of relating with the same locker-room banter of jokingly cutting each other down and teasing, I instead interacted primarily on the basis of compliments?

I coined the term manplimenting to describe the rare beast of the genuine, totally Platonic compliment from one man to another.

They look like this, in case you’ve never witnessed a manpliment:

“The cut of that shirt is exceptional for you, is that tailored?”

“Great shoes man.”

“You’re looking big. Have you been putting on size?”

If you can’t imagine yourself saying these things as a straight man you need to calm down and realize that a genuine compliment doesn’t make you gay, your sexuality does. Got that?

Men learn early on that teasing can be a way to create camaraderie, bond, and solidify friendships as well as something that can be used to create intense pain when used maliciously. But sociologists who’ve studied the use of language in relationships have noted that there is a complex calculus going on as to whether or not a tease or a joke will solidify a bond or be interpreted as an insult.

“Even when the tease was not intended to be hurtful, it still has the potential to be face threatening, since the tease may call attention to some feature of the target, e.g., appearance or behavior that is embarrassing.” (S. Beck et. al)

More importantly, I’d argue that regardless of the outcome, objectively no one feels as good from a tease as they do from hearing a genuine compliment.

Knowing that you’re part of a group or that you’re liked by someone enough to be teased is satisfying, but getting a meaningful compliment always feels better.

So a few years ago I started this experiment in which I tried to fundamentally base some of my new friendships with other men on manpliments.

And the difference is remarkable.

These friendships are more enjoyable, more productive, and more satisfying than other relationships that are based more on the traditional type of male interaction with teasing.

Interestingly, some studies have shown than European men tend to interact more like American women in the sense that there is more complimenting and less teasing. Do European men have richer more meaningful relationships? In my experience, yep.

Giving (and receiving) compliments regardless of gender involves paying attention, reflecting, and communicating which are all skills that can’t hurt to improve and are emotional skills that men often sorely lack.

Manplimenting is a relatively easy and powerful way to practice those skills while building better relationships. What have you got to lose?Man-Camp-Logo-wide

(My good friend John Romaniello and I will be hosting an event exclusively for men in mid-September of this year called Man Camp that will explore topics such as this one in depth. If the idea of improving your life – whether it be through health, fitness, relationships, business or income, or networking – then Man Camp is something you should check out.)


How to Take a 16 Minute Nap

Little kids don’t even know how good they have it. Someone cooks them three meals a day, not including snack time. They get to take exciting trips to the park and the library. Just about everything seems like the most exciting thing they’ve ever done, and the moment doesn’t fly by them. Above all though, they get naps. Oh, the naps. Nothing makes me more jealous of kids than the naps they begrudgingly get to take.

Naps are the miracle supplement of healthy, productive people and societies. People on the island of Ikaria, a place where they seemingly forget to die, living measurably longer than people anywhere else on earth, take long naps during the day. Geniuses like Einstein are known to have taken short naps throughout the day, Einstein was said to have held a pencil in his hand until he dropped it – waking him up the moment he entered the deepest sleep. Dogs nap every chance they get, and they’re the happiest creatures on earth.c7e58a0c7abc11e2af5a22000a9f18fb_7

I’m not a genius, or an Ikarian, but I’ve been able to reap the productivity and energy benefits of short naps in only 16 minutes a day. It’s simple, but like anything worth doing will take a little time to master.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Set an alarm for 30 minutes.
  2. Darken the room as much as possible. I nap on the massage table at the gym, or on a couch. Beds are for sleeping at night.
  3. Get comfortable, and warm. Ideally the room would be cool, and you’d have a blanket or something warm to cover your body.
  4. Close your eyes and and let your thoughts go. In the first few minutes, you’ll be thinking about work, relationships, bills, and everything else. Let those thoughts go, almost in a meditative way until you fall asleep.
  5. When you wake up in a fog, wondering if you fell asleep, you probably already did. Get up immediately.
  6. If your alarm goes off, whether or not you were sleeping or even fell asleep you are done for the day. Go on with your day.
  7. Repeat daily, or even throughout the day if time permits.

Most people won’t even fall asleep the first few times they try this, but with a little bit of practice you’ll find that you fall asleep quickly, probably within five minutes of closing your eyes. As an added bonus, you might find that you fall asleep more quickly at night as well.

You will find that you wake up feeling incredibly refreshed. I nap like this about two times per week, usually when I find that my afternoon grogginess is limiting my productivity or effectiveness. Those moments when you’re at your desk and you feel like you could just close your eyes and go to sleep are perfect.

P.S. Combine with an espresso shot before the nap (caffeine takes about 30 minutes to metabolize) for maximum horsepower.

How I Smoke a Perfect Brisket

One of the undisputed secrets to good bar-b-que is time. In my estimation one of the other secrets is dry rub. Combine dry rub and time and you’re well on your way to good BBQ. I don’t know where I picked up this way of doing things but it has worked very well for me so I stick with it. The dry rub I use by far the most often is Dizzy Dust by Dizzy Pig. Hands down it’s the best all-around rub for pork shoulder, pork ribs, brisket, and even chicken that I’ve ever found. I have experimented with making my own rubs, but this is one thing where others can do it better in my experience.2016-03-18 20.04.25

  1. Apply your dry rub extremely generously. Use more than you think you should.
  2. Wrap the meat snugly in plastic wrap. Finish with rubber bands to keep it tight and keep contact on the meat.
  3. Put it in the fridge at least overnight, preferably over 24 hours.

Note that I don’t rub the rub into the meat by hand. Personally I don’t think this is necessary as the contact with plastic and time does more than you could accomplish on most of it, but if you like to get your hands dirty you’re certainly not going to do any harm by getting the rub into every nook and cranny.2016-03-18 20.29.14


I use a Big Green Egg (BGE) for smoking (and grilling, and some baking.) They’re kind of expensive, but in my opinion worth every penny. I’ve bought a lot of dumb toys and gadgets over the years and I consistently say this is one of my best purchases. My father-in-law has been getting great results with a Masterbuilt smoker that is about $250 on Amazon, a third of the price. That said, I have never regretted the purchase and the BGE has some major advantages.

2016-03-20 11.43.48
While the BGE is exceptionally good at maintaining temperature even in inclement weather, I use a piece of technology to ensure that on long overnight cooks I don’t wake up to a cold lump of charcoal and half-cooked meat. Or worse, that I don’t ruin or burn up a good piece of meat because the temp went too high. I use a device made by Rock’s Bar-B-Que called the Stoker. Basically it’s an Internet-enabled temperature controller that allows you to monitor the temp of the meat and control the temperature of the pit via a fan. It may not be “old school” but at this point I haven’t seen any pros not use a temperature controller, so I don’t have any qualms about this piece of technology. There are several on the market but I am loyal to the Stoker because it was the first to be Internet-enabled, is much more expandable than others, and has been rock-solid reliable for many many years. Their new models have WiFi, but I just plugged mine into a spare linksys to act as a bridge. (For the nerds in the house, it’s basically a Maxim TINI and the sensors are 1-wire bus sensors. It predates Arduino by at least a full generation.)

Doesn't really look like it in the photo, but smoke is pouring out.

Doesn’t really look like it in the photo, but smoke is pouring out.

I usually start the brisket cook at 225ºF. This time I tried starting at 205 and then kicked it up to 225 after a couple hours. I don’t expect it’ll have much impact, other than on timing when it’s finished. For smoke I’ll usually use hickory chunks as I favor the sweeter, lighter smoke flavor that it imparts. I’ve used mesquite in the past but I tend to grab the hickory more often. Once the charcoal has burned off the initial smoke and the fire stabilizes at the cooking temperature I’ll add 5-6 chunks of wood. I try to place them somewhat strategically so some will burn right away and others will burn later on as the fire moves through the lump. Opening the lid and doing this will throw the temp off for a bit but it’s not a big issue as you’re putting a refrigerator-cold piece of meat in there anyway. I use an inverted ceramic “plate setter” to hold a drip tray which I usually do not fill with any liquid. Some people think adding cider or something to this will add moisture to the meat – I doubt it. I just want to catch the fat drippings so it’s not dropping on the coals and imparting a burned fat flavor.

Put the meat on, and now you wait.

2016-03-20 11.46.32One of the big advantages of a temp controller is that you never have to open the smoker to check anything. Keeping the lid closed keeps the temp stable and the smoke in. It’s not a cheap addition to your setup, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind and consistency.

Timing with these big chunks of meat can be tricky if you don’t have a lot of experience. With brisket I plan on about 1 hour per pound, more like 1.25hours/pound if it’s a big one like this 7 pounder. Pork butts I plan for about 24 hours.

But here’s the key: don’t try to time it to be done right at eating time because you’ll get it wrong and then everybody will hate you because you’re eating hot dogs with all the great sides instead of brisket or pulled pork. Unless you have a ton of experience and you know how long it’s going to take, do what the pros do: start earlier and then wrap it up in tin foil and a layer of dish towels when it’s done and put it in a cooler, your poor man’s Cambro. The cooler will keep the temp safe for serving AND keep the meat hot and moist. When it’s time to serve, pull it out and slice (or pull).

Here’s another great reason to have a temp monitor/controller: At some point during the cook your meat is going to hit a temperature plateau that it won’t break through for hours and hours – folks call this the “stall”. I used to believe that this was a magical time during which unicorns blessed the meat with tenderness and fat by converting collagen. I have since been disabused of this notion and it changed my BBQ cooking for the better. Rather than a co2016-03-20 19.29.15nversion process, all the plateau is is the point at which evaporation of the water in the meat reaches an equilibrium with the low-temperature cooking and results in an almost constant state of evaporative cooling until you run out of water in the meat. Not great. Now, after several hours in the smoke when the meat hits a plateau (around 155ºF) I wrap it in aluminum foil for most of the remainder of the cook. This does two (well, three) things that are beneficial: you retain more water and moisture in the meat, you get a good cup or two of delicious juice to pour over the meat later (I happen to know that some fancy chefs dip their brisket in beef stock before serving to make it more juicy), and it usually signals that you’ll be done cooking in no more than a couple hours. Depending on timing I will sometimes kick the heat up to 250 or 275 at this point to speed things up as you’re not going to hurt the meat at that point.brisket
I pull it off between 195 and 205 and then let it rest for at least 20 minutes, if it’s not going into the cooler. Finally, slice it up. There are entire articles on how to slice a brisket, and I don’t get too fancy about it. This time I sliced the point off the flat and sliced that separately.2016-03-20 22.31.342016-03-20 22.32.59

As with anything, the more you research and the more you practice the better you get. This method is my amalgamation of what I’ve learned and observed as best practices. It may not be perfect, but it produces some damn fine bar-b-que.

Three Ways to Use Biofeedback Training

When people are first introduced to biofeedback training it can be easy to get overwhelmed and have it seem like something that would be nice to implement in their training but feel like it’s too complicated. It’s not, and I’ll lay out exactly how you can use it.

There are three major ways that you can implement biofeedback testing in your own training:

The first is to use it as a way to supplement your intuition and confirm a hunch. This would work best for people who already have a high sense of intuition about what they’re feeling in their body. You know when you feel that something is “off” and maybe even you have a good sense for what to change to make it feel right. In this case you can use biofeedback testing as a way to confirm or deny your hunch. Maybe you’re feeling a little off but you don’t know if it’s “in your head” or if it’s a real sensation – biofeedback can objectify that sensation for you and tell you if it’s accurate.

The second and most common way to use biofeedback training is to test out your major exercises and components of your program. This is a super flexible approach and lets you use an existing program for guidance without the downsides of sticking to a rigid prescriptive program – namely doing things that your body doesn’t react well to. This is the approach I advise most people to use when they first get started with biofeedback training. To implement this, simply test the movements in your program before performing them. If your first exercise of your program is a conventional deadlift then you would perform that movement and test it with biofeedback. If it tests well, then you go ahead with your program as usual. Believe it or not, in most cases this is exactly what happens. In the even that it does NOT test well you would then try some alternatives and make some tweaks to the program that day. The next day you very well may go right back to the program as written. Of course beyond testing exercises in the program it would be best if you also tested the weights or loads you were using, but each individual is free to adjust how much testing they want to do based on their own needs. I’ll circle back on the topic of how much testing to do at the end of this article.

Finally, the most thorough and intensive way to use biofeedback is to test everything. I call this going down the rabbit hole. In my experience this is most appropriate for people have a significant number of movement issues and or are dealing with chronic pain issues. These people can handle the least amount of distress from training, so they have to find that narrow slice of eustress that the right movement, with the right tool, the right load, and the right volume will engender. Naturally this is more time consuming to test so many more variations but it’s really necessary for people who can’t follow an inherently more stressful pre-written program.

Which Is Right For Me?

In my experience and opinion the best way to get started with biofeedback training is to start in the middle and move in the direction that makes sense for you. Most people with experience strength training are already accustomed to using or following a program. Applying biofeedback to a program is really simple, I went into this in detail in this article, and is not a big stretch from what you’re used to. Plus, if you’re using a well-designed program you are going to be able to reap the benefits that it’s designed to provide but calling audibles whenever necessary to keep things moving in the right direction gives you the best of both worlds. If I had a dollar for every time I heard of someone rigidly following a program getting hurt I would have a sad retirement on a private island of broken training dreams.

From there, you can move in one of two directions. If you’re super healthy, functional, and pain free and you have developed a good sense of intuition you can get away with a lot of training without actually testing – just paying attention to that intuitive sense of how things feel. When necessary you can use biofeedback to confirm your intuition.

For some people however, those who are experiencing ongoing pain issues, testing more and more becomes critically important. In these cases you sometimes have to get very creative in thinking of new things to test and finding exactly what works for your body so you can move where you can today.


Why We Get Hurt In Training

Getting hurt in training is the pits. Besides the obvious discomfort of getting injured itself and experiencing pain, those of us who train because we love seeing the progress are doubly insulted by the halt a training injury puts to our progress for a while. It’s frustrating, and most of us will do anything we can to avoid it, especially once we’ve been there and realized we’re not invincible.

One of the big promises made to us in Fitness™ is that if you do things with proper form and you do them correctly you won’t get hurt. Well, I think anyone who has been around this game for any length of time knows that it just isn’t true. In theory doing things correctly might reduce your chances of injury, but in reality it just doesn’t seem to play out that way. Sure sometimes someone is doing something horrendously wrong and it leads directly to injury but more often than not we see cases of someone doing something “sorta wrong” and causing no problems at all even over a long period, or someone doing things perfectly right and getting hurt anyway.

Furthermore if it were enough to do things “right” then my colleagues and friends who are the absolute best of the best coaches in the space should be immune to getting hurt. These guys and gals are experts at coaxing great form out of people, they certainly can apply it to themselves.

This lack of the golden promise of good form curing all has led to an entire sub-niche of fitness products being sold – products that are primarily promoted as injury prevention toolkits. It seems like every two or three years a new certification or course or philosophy comes around that promises to make injuries a thing of the past for yourself and for your clients. FMS, Clubbells, Z-Health, PRI, FRC and so on and on and on and on.

Every single one of these systems is predicated on the same idea:

“If you do this, this, and this you won’t get hurt.”

Obviously there are varying levels of complexity to the process, and each one has a unique way of laying out their system of heuristics for what to do and what not to do but the idea is always the same. Do these things to prevent injury.

Yet…….. folks are getting hurt anyway.

What gives?

I’m not saying these systems are entirely worthless, but they fail to deliver on the big promise and people are spending a ton of time and money chasing the next big thing.

It’s my contention that it’s not A) with what form or how you perform movements that leads to injury nor B) what preventive or pre-hab drills or hoops you jump through that prevent injury.

We get hurt because we apply a stress that the body – in that moment – wasn’t able to handle.

In other words, it doesn’t matter prehab or rehab you did before and it doesn’t matter how good or bad, relative to a textbook, your form was. No matter what you did or didn’t do before if you did that movement on that day you were going to get hurt.

Disheartening right? It’s totally out of your control and avoiding injury is hopeless, it’s the (bad) luck of the draw, right?

Well, no, and that’s where I think everyone has been missing the forest for the trees.

What’s missing is a feedback loop that can help you determine which stresses the body is perfectly ready to take on, resolve, and adapt to and which stresses are too far out of the range of limits in that moment. Of course this changes day to day and minute to minute based on all the various stressors that are applied in training or in life.

To date I have not found a more effective strategy than using biofeedback testing to determine what is in or out on a particular day.

Look, the premise is really simple, and it’s not unlike going to the physical therapist after an injury and having them check out your range of motion and strength and adjusting what you’re recommended to do or not do. This is just much, much faster and can happen in real-time with your training.

You simply take an assessment of where the body’s state is right now using range of motion. As I’ve explained before, toe touch works really well for this for most people. Then you do an unloaded version of the exact movement that you’re testing – let’s say a squat. Finally you check your range of motion again to see if it’s better, the same, or worse.

If it’s better, then carry on with your training, adding more weight and testing along the way.

If it’s worse – it’s my experience that you are at a much, much higher risk of injury and it would behoove you not to do that movement that day.

It’s hard to convey how incredibly effective this protocol has been for myself, my clients, and the now thousands of people I’ve taught it to. Here’s something I have heard in the past five or six years, but astonishingly rarely: “I don’t know what happened, everything was testing well and I got hurt.” Here’s something I have heard more times than I would like:

“It didn’t test well, but I really wanted to do it anyway, and on the fourth rep I got hurt.”

Damnit. Your body tried to tell you that it wasn’t a good idea, it gave you a measurable form of feedback that what you just did made your state discernibly worse, and you ignored it pushed forward anyway and paid the price.

Even if you’re not biofeedback testing, you’ve probably experienced a situation where something felt “off” or not quite right and sure enough you end up with an injury, or you just feel like crap after a workout – instead of feeling better like you should!

It shouldn’t happen, and it doesn’t have to happen. I believe you can leave the gym better every single time you train, if you just add this one extra step into your training.

You don’t have to change your program wholesale, and you don’t have to make major changes to how you train. Just add testing in, and when something doesn’t test well make some tweaks to it until you find something that does. It’s that simple.

In case biofeedback testing is new to you, here’s a video walkthrough that will be helpful:

It’s not the movement. It’s not how you do the movement. It’s not what you did before the movement. Good and bad, it’s how we respond to the movement that matters.

The Infamous Core Experiment

That training the core is important is sort of one of those “everyone knows” facts of our existence. No is going to dispute the importance of the core, although some will postulate that training the core directly is unnecessary because big and heavy compound movements like the squat and deadlift already train it sufficiently.

First a clarification of terms. When I’m referring to the “core” which is of course a hotly debated and contested term in and of itself, I’m referring to the general area that connects all of our fleshy stuff from below the chest and above the waist, all the way around. The core provides a stable base to produce, reduce, and redirect force with the limbs of the body. Let’s not argue about what we call it, k?

Besides the idiotic debates about what you should actually call this region, what people generally debate is whether or not you need to specifically train the anterior core and how you should do that. While it’s still part of the core, the posterior core gets enough work from deads and squats.

In other words, do you need to train dem abzzzzz?

I’ve always been a big advocate of training the anterior core specifically. I believe that it’s part of what has made me a strong and healthy deadlifter. In our gym training it’s not at all uncommon to have two full movements dedicated to some sort of anterior or lateral core stability training, in addition to squats and deads etc. It’s a primary, fundamental part of the training.

But a few years ago I wanted to challenge this assumption. What if it were true that you didn’t need to train the anterior core specifically, and you could actually get away with just training squats and deads. If this assumption was wrong, I would be wasting a lot of people’s time and effort with my gym programming – which means I’d be getting them worse results than if they spent that time more productively.

I decided to quietly do an experiment. Removing core training from my own programming wouldn’t be sufficient. It would be an n=1 experiment, which would be great to determine if I personally needed to train anterior core, but it wouldn’t tell me what I really wanted to know: do my clients need this?

So I removed all anterior core training from their programming for the next 5-week block of training. I kept everything else the same, and in place of where they would test anterior core variations, I put in sort of innocuous mobility drills that should have a neutral effect like wall slides and easy movement drills. To state what I think should be obvious, our normal programming consists of a lot of big compound movements like deadlifts, squats, kettlebell work, presses, and pulls.

At the end of each cycle we have “Max Week” where those who have trained consistently can re-test their maxes (from a 5rm for newbies up to 1rm for more experienced or advanced trainees). My plan was to observe the training and measure if there was a discernible difference in strength progress without the anterior core work. While far from a perfect experiment, the sample size was big enough that I would have the power to determine what effect it would really have.

That is if I could have continued the experiment long enough to see it through.

Within two weeks I started to see an undeniable uptick in complaints about back issues. Not major issues, mind you. But more people coming in complaining of little tweaks and niggles.

The effect was so immediate and dramatic that I discontinued the experiment, re-worked the rest of the cycle of programming, and reintroduced the anterior core work. The complaints vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

Here are the main types of core movements that we rotate through in our programming at Movement:

  • Anterior Core Dynamic – Movements that generate movement through the core, primarily in flexion. Things like crunches, weighted, standing crunches, leg raises, leg lowers. Yes, we do crunches. Believe it or not the spine is designed to flex and it should be trained in ways it can move.
  • Anterior Core Static – These are mainly movements that resist motion such as planks, farmers walks, weighted planks, body saws, etc.
  • Rotational Core Dynamic – These are movements in which there is a twisting or rotating movement of the spine which is both generating the movement as well as stabilizing. We favor Russian twists, Palloff twists, windshield wipers.
  • Rotational Core Static – These movements focus on preventing rotation through the spine. A palloff press is the most classic example, in which you’re alternating between a short lever trying to rotate you and a longer lever trying harder to make you rotate. The goal here is resisting movement. Side planks also align closely with this category as an anti-lateral-flexion movement, as do single-sided carries and deadlifts.

In every training session we will use at least one but more often two of these categories, and over the course of a block of training we will address all four core modalities in roughly equal rotation. Depending on the specific person and what biofeedback tests bests for them some people will do more work from one or two particular categories.

One of the things I hear most often from my 1-1 training clients and online coaching clients is a combination of “My core is the strongest it has ever been” and “Thank you for making me do the core work, normally I skip it on my own.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this, and you can probably imagine that the two statements are two sides of the same coin.

Eat your spinach, and do your core work kids.


Pick Stuff Off The Floor Every Day Challenge


The PSOTFED (Pick Stuff Off The Floor Every Day) challenge originated, to the best of my knowledge, in May of 2012 with Adam T. Glass on his blog. No strangers to lifting frequently, we kicked around the idea of making it a point of focus to pick something from the floor on a daily basis. The rules are simple:

  • Lift an object (any object) from the floor, every day.

That’s it.

How do you define the floor? Does a rack count as the floor? You tell me. Does lifting a kettlebell from the floor once and swinging it count? Only you and your body get to determine what counts. Do you have to do it every single day? Of course not. Do what’s best, but “keep the goal the goal” and seek to meet the challenge.

Why would you do this? What is the benefit?

Picking things up is one the absolutely most fundamental human movements. This is one of the simple ways we interact with the world. It also happens to be one of the pillars of strength and athleticism. As a side benefit, it’s virtually impossible to train lifting things from the floor without netting beneficial training of the grip and hands.

When you’re too worn down or fatigued to train heavy traditional lifts it’s a perfect opportunity to do more grip lifts. Grab a dumbbell by the head and deadlift it, or pinch a couple plates between your thumb and fingers and hold it for time. Challenge your creativity.

As with any challenge, it’s more fun the more people participate. Post what you’re doing on social media with #PSOTFED.

Need some ideas on how to structure your training to deadlift frequently? I got ya covered: “How to Pull of Deadlifting Frequently

What can you accomplish in 31 days?

The False Dilemma Problem

Paleo and pop tarts. Acupuncture and antibiotics. Hypertrophy and hip openers.

What do these seemingly totally incompatible things all have in common?

They all represent false dilemmas that are presented as binary options that are completely exclusive of one or the other. A false dilemma, or false dichotomy, is a logical fallacy in which only two possible options are offered, often between two extremes, without considering that there may be a third or even many more alternatives.

Positioning and thinking about things in this way is easy and effortless to the point of being outright indolent. It saves the presenter the effort of deeply understanding a topic and adequately conveying nuance and the full spectrum that exists in reality, and it saves the reader or listener from having to expend even a modicum of energy thinking critically about what they’re hearing. This fuels a vicious cycle in which those who use the most absolute language engender bigger audiences and more credibility because of it.

As a matter of fact, humans are so hard-wired to prefer concrete and absolute language that we actually deem a source as to be untrustworthy or lying when they use abstract language.

Which means I’m screwed and you all think I’m a giant liar.

Because the world is far less black and white than many people want you to believe.

Lately, there seems to have been an uptick in the amount of arguing and fighting that happens on social media that boils down to presenting false dichotomies where no such binary choice actually exists.

And we’re all so much worse off for it.

In reality, there is far more common ground between these polar opposites than there is difference in the extremes.


Paleo is juxtaposed against If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) and presented as a binary choice between eating pasture raised pork with spinach and donuts, protein shakes, and peanut butter. The reality is that there is far more common ground between Paleo and IIFYM than any trite Facebook nutrition meme poster would ever prefer to admit. Presented with any fit, healthy, reasonable Paleo or IIFYM afficionado what you’ll find is that the vast majority of their diet ends up looking exactly the same. They will eat large amounts of vegetables, protein from whole food sources such as fish and meat, and carbohydrates from plant sources. From my experience attending everything from Paleo f(x) to the Arnold, I can tell you that people from both ends of that spectrum eat donuts, ice cream, and candy and people from both ends of the spectrum eat grass-fed farmer’s market beef.


Alternative medicine has been a favorite target of the evidence-based science-über-alles crowd in recent years, but they’ve failed to acknowledge that in between the false choice of alternative and Western medicine there is a vast gulf of agreement about what constitutes good medicine and what promotes good health. Are there alternative medicine practices and practitioners that are utter scams? Absolutely. Are there Western medicine doctors who are downright criminal in their actions? Yes. But in between you have a wide variety of practices of dubious scientific efficacy when studied in isolation that just happen to work in a clinical setting to deliver the intended results for patients and clients. At the end of the day, virtually every clinician no matter what end of the spectrum they’d place themselves on would agree that the majority of maintaining health involves eating well, sleeping adequately, and exercising just enough.


When it comes to training, there are only two modes, right? Either you’re doing corrective exercises for hours on end, or you’re hardcore smashing weights and crushing personal records, right? That’s certainly how it would seem when you spend any amount of time reading training articles online. You’re either doing everything right in spending all your time trying to “fix” movement problems with corrective exercises, or you’re completely wrong to waste any time on it because you should just be putting more weight on the bar and getting out of your own way. Let’s not even get into the spectrum of exercises that are deemed to range from worthless to Holy Grail. And YET, we often fail to acknowledge that the vast majority of both corrective and performance oriented training lies in the wide band between exclusively corrective and probably-closer-to-destructive-than-corrective. In fact, I’d argue that all exercise is actually BOTH corrective and performance-enhancing – provided it tests well (via biofeedback.)

This Nonsense Is Killing Us

If we can agree that as a collective all the people who care about their health, wellness, fitness, strongness, etc. make up a community (there’s that setting aside the differences of extremes idea again) then we owe it to the rest of the community to recognize that very little of anything is actually more than a couple standard deviations away from the exact same thing everyone else is doing, and there’s no point in arguing about which is the correct answer.

In doing so we add confusion and doubt over the parts that really matter, and add nothing of value by focusing on the one percent of one percent that is different and acting like it’s a matter of kind, not degrees. When people are confused about things that are already intimidating and scary you know what they do? Nothing. We don’t need more people doing nothing, what we need, as a community, is more people doing the stuff that matters — the stuff that we ALL actually agree on when it really comes down to it.

Biofeedback Question: Am I Just Warming Up?

A question that comes up fairly often with people who are new to using biofeedback in their training is about whether or not they are simply warming up as they do movements and things test better and better.

Here’s the short answer: no, you’re not just warming up.

But let’s get into the longer answer, just for fun.

First thing’s first, I am going to assume that the testing results someone is getting are accurate, and not hampered by pushing to end range of motion, or ignoring the first signs of tension. See here for some common fixes. 

But what if everything really does test better and better?

The first thing to understand is that warming-up is not happening in the mechanistic sense that we often attribute to it by the words we use. There is no actual change in temperature of joint synovial fluids and any muscular temperature increase is debatable. The effects and benefits of warm-ups are hotly contested, and some studies have shown that injury risks actually increased with the use of a warm-up.

So what IS going on with a warm-up, and why do we do it? Why does it seem like we can move more freely when we do a warm-up? And an important question, why doesn’t it always work?

Warm-ups tend to have an effect that allows you to move more freely most of the time because movement that tests well allows for more movement! That is the entire basis of biofeedback testing. You quantify a movement (the toe touch), you do another movement, and then you quantify the movement again to see if it has increased. Theoretically you could do the same thing with your deadlift 1-rep max as the test, but the error introduced by the testing itself would be prohibitive. Using a brief max effort squeeze of a grip dynanometer is similar, at a lower error and cost of testing.

Range of motion is mediated by the brain, as an output that is generated after all of the various inputs from sesory receptors such as Golgi tendon organ and nociceptors as well as the brain’s own map of the body in space.

So when you do movement that tests well, you very likely ARE getting more range of motion. But if you think that all movement is going to “test well” and allow for more and more, think again. This is best illustrated with one of my favorite stories, as it’s so applicable.

A new client I was working with mentioned that whenever he went out for a run his first interval would be abysmal, but after taking a short walking break, all subsequent intervals felt great up until the end of the workout.

I asked what he was doing for a warm-up, and he told me that he was using a dynamic warm-up for runners that he got out of a running magazine.

So I suggested an experiment. Next time he went out for a run, instead of his usual warm-up, he was to do 3 sets of 10 bodyweight reps of the three exercises that regularly tested best for him in the gym.

Can you predict the outcome of this little experiment?

Sure enough, his first interval felt just as good as the rest of them. As it turns out, his regular warm-up did not test well for him at all, so subsequent movement suffered. The running itself seems to have tested well, so it was only after he took a short break that things reset and he was able to benefit from that movement. Switching to a warm-up of things that tested well allowed what followed to be performed at higher function.

It’s Only a Matter of Time

If you use biofeedback long enough, you are guaranteed to have the seminal moment in which you test an exercise and your range of motion is suddenly and significantly reduced. This may take a few sessions, a few months, or more than a year depending on what you do and how you move. But it WILL happen when you find something that significantly conflicts with what is best for your body.

Until then – keep testing.