Episode 24. Your Gym Training Environment

Episode 24. Your Gym Training Environment

Episode 24. Your Gym Training Environment

Show Notes

What’s your gym training environment like? Is it serving you? What can you do to make it better, or to make the most of it? This episode dug into making the most of your gym training environment, whether you’re training at a huge commercial gym, a local small business, or even at home. Mike also discussed his dissertation research on metonymy, a figure of rhetoric, and its use in novels to figure things like networks and ecology.

Your Gym Training Environment

    • Scott began by discussing an email he received comparing the equipment in Pumping Iron to your modern gym machines.
    • Don’t go too far though: you can’t build a great physique with… a jug of water. That’s limiting. Often this is sold for marketing reasons. Don’t ask “what can I get away with?” Ask “What are the really successful folks using?” They’re using a fairly well-stocked gym, whether that’s at home, a giant commercial gym, or whatever.
    • A lot of what made the machines so “effective” in Pumping Iron was down to the trainees; they knew how to get the most out of them. And, back in those days, they would just flat-out modify them, or bring in a new version.
    • Sometimes modern gym machines are perfectly good… but the little diagram is actually very poor. Don’t assume they’re always 100% bang on in terms of getting the most of the exercise, the range of motion, the mind-muscle connection.
    • Scott’s favourite gym was the “gym” at Muscle Camp, in 1989. Here’s why: (1) it was basically just a giant gym floor with all the new, practically untouched machines from the big companies (Nautilus, Hammer, etc.) (2) Scott got keys and was able to come in at 5 a.m. before anyone else had come in, and (3) the other people there? Guys like Bill Pearl, or celebrities who wanted to just train without being bothered.
    • Scott’s other favourite gym was the Chelsea Piers gym in New York.
    • Scott really like World’s Gym over Gold’s Gym. Gold’s became kind of a party atmosphere later on, whereas World’s you were there to work, and Joe Gold (who, yes, was at World’s Gym by this point) didn’t put up with anything he didn’t like.
    • Kevin’s favourite gym is his own! It’s extremely well-stocked because he also trains clients in there.
    • Some gyms can be a bit of a spa, but the hardcore ones can be kind of unpleasant as well, with ridiculous macho posturing everywhere you go.
    • Gyms attract the kind of clientele they supply themselves for: have a few stability balls and rooms for Bootcamps, you’ll get one kind of client, have ten squat racks and dumbbells going up to 150 lbs., and you’ll attract another.
    • Some of the big gyms in larger cities have it all, and this means they get all sorts of clientele, and therefore there’s a big difference in the atmosphere of the gym depending on what time you’re there. Kevin’s seen gyms where it’s like going to two different gyms, depending on time of day.


  • Mike pointed out that a new feature on Google maps will actually let you see what time of day a local business is busiest. It’s not always what you might expect, and if you can in any way plan around that, it might be useful.
  • Speaking of attitude and posturing: Scott recalls visiting a popular gym where a bunch of guys were posturing and such, very loudly, meanwhile Kevin — a world champion — calmly came in, did his thing, and left. But no one paid attention. They were paying attention to the guys making the most noise.
  • A home gym needs various sets of dumbbells, or quick adjusting dumbbells like Power Blocks or Bowflex ones.
  • Kevin’s home gym has three squat racks. Jealous much?
  • You can see Kevin’s home gym on his YouTube Channel.
  • In terms of scheduling, you do what you can, and you make do with what you can’t. Manipulate your circumstances where possible, and beyond that: just do it.

If you’re doing circuits in a busy gym, here are a few things you can do:

  • Flat-out tell people beforehand! (Politely.)
  • Leave a towel (or something) on a bench or piece of equipment you’re still using. In some gyms with doesn’t work.
  • Drag a bench or something over to a squat rack and make that your “home base” or station. People will get the idea.

If you’re working out at home / setting up a home gym…

  • Don’t do it in an area that’s for other things, or where you can be distracted, or be distracted by others (kids, a dog, etc.)
  • You don’t need much space, but there is a bare minimum, and it’s important  that your training environment is for training.
  • Bare minimums? Depends on the trainee. Generally, though: quick adjusting dumbbells, adjustable bench, cables and cable attachments, medicine balls in multiple weights, stability balls. A good power rack with olympic weights can be a huge asset, as can a functional trainer. Keep in mind, you do get what you pay for, but it will save you on gym fees.

If you’re considering a new gym…

  • Use the free pass and actually see what it’s like. (Hint: you can also do this while travelling to train for free.)
  • Make sure it has the right equipment, and the dumbbells don’t stop at 50 lbs.
  • Go at the time you would be training.


Kevin’s YouTube Channel.

Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbells | Nautilus Adjustable Dumbbells | Powerblocks

Scott has a video walkthrough for his home gym



Episode 23. How to Use Cardio for Fat Loss

Episode 23. How to Use Cardio for Fat Loss

Episode 23. How to Use Cardio for Fat Loss

Show Notes

Scott has often written about the dangers of cardio and the “aerobic myth,” but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: when is “cardio” still viable? We got an excellent question from a listener who knows Scott still uses it, and was wondering about what goes into determining whether or not it can or should be used.

As a couple side notes: Kevin broke the national bench press record in Kamloops, Canada. This will very likely qualify him for the bench press worlds in Texas if he decides to go, but it’s not a sure thing.

And, for anyone interested, Mike has posted his before and after pictures of his weight loss here:


Cardio for Fat Loss

  • This episode began with a comment from a reader:

I’m a bit confused about Scott’s views on “typical” cardio/aerobics for fat burning purposes. Scott speaks and writes often “against” it, for the most part. However, I know of some of his clients that are prescribed cardio for extended periods of time (months and months on end; several days a week; 30/45/60 minutes a time), and not just to individuals that are massively overweight.

  • Scott wants to avoid over-simplifying his views in this way.  [Mike: I actually think the listener’s comment that Scott has written “against” cardio is pretty fair, all things considered, and given the sheer volume of content Scott has written about the dangers of too much cardio; that content generally doesn’t have a lot of, “Okay, and given these dangers I have just outline, here is where I would use it.” Leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or have questions! – M]
  • All training is cardiorespiratory, but not all training is aerobic.
  • Most people by cardio mean the stair master, the elliptical, or boot camps, but depending on what you’re doing, the energy pathways might be entirely different.
  • The proper use of cardio is NOT just about “burning calories” (or “burning fat”)
  • Other things going on under the surface: enhancing biochemical pathways, nurturing optimum biochemical and hormonal function… and strength training and resistance training just tends to be better at this for the most part.
  • Scott really liked Mike’s comment: “You can’t just math your way thin!” Scott would adjust it, though, to say, “You can’t math your way to sustainable leanness.”  [Mike: “You can’t ____ your way ____!” is a common turn of phrase. A quick google tells me I haven’t stolen this, but if someone’s heard it before, please let me know! – M]
  • Mike wonders not just what the formulas are on the calorie counts on things like ellipticals, but about what the regulations are. On things like nutrition labels, the FDA only forces companies to be within 20% accuracy. Also, a 2010 study found that the numbers on “healthy” foods skew lower than the actual caloric content of the food. In the study, some dishes were off by as much as 200%! [Found the study in Dr. Sandra Aamodt’s new book, Why Diets Make Us Fat – M]
  • Kevin points out that it doesn’t need to be black and white. And you don’t need to do cardio on a machine. Sometimes he just… wait for it… goes for a walk! Scott pointed out that as a strength athlete, the form of cardio Kevin does — aerobic, meaning “at a pace where the muscles are oxygenated (as opposed to e.g. anaerobic, i.e. “NOT-oxygenated” like hockey or sprints) — is perfect, considering his goals and the complete picture.
  • Mike pushed for Kevin and Scott to discuss where the difference is between “going for a walk” and flat-out sprints. There’s a big difference. Is there a grey area? What gives? Short answer: It’s called the anaerobic threshold. If you can’t keep talking while walking / jogging, you’ll pass that threshold. If you do sprints, you’ll pass it quite quickly.
  • Scott uses cardio as one tool in a tool box. But not “just” for fat-burning, and within context. E.g., someone 80 lbs. overweight will experience a brisk walk differently than a skinny ectomorph. Also, cardio can be used for the establishment of good habits, to keep up the tempo of doing “something” to remind the client he/she is doing something to achieve their goals, for them, and for their health. This won’t cut into their recovery capacity.
  • Kevin: Depending on the trainee/client, and where they’re starting from, their journey can literally begin with a few steps.
  • Scott: You generally want to use cardio in a way that works within the training model. What doesn’t just “tap into” recovery capacity for strength training, but could even enhance it? E.g., Yoga. The resistance training is still the “meat and potatoes.”
  • Mike enjoys running. A lot. But it’s not a calorie burning thing. It’s a fitness thing, sure, but it’s also about the way it gets his brain going, the way it helps with stress, the way it gets him outside, and lets him untangle thoughts he might be wrestling with.
  • Scott is against running and jogging because of the damage it does to knees and joints, but the rest of what Mike said he’s on board with.
  • Scott alluded several times to the over-emphasis on calorie “burning” as in breaking things down. Scott really, really likes Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, and he’s alluding to some of her lectures. In particular, Part 1 and Part 2 of “Survival of the Smartest.” Scott thinks she’s waaay ahead of her time.
  • Mike pointed out that if you run outside in the sun, you’re actually getting a triple whammy of awesomeness: (1) the positive metabolic effects, (2) decreased hunger, and (3) better entrainment of your circadian rhythms (i.e. you’ll sleep better that night).
  • Scott pointed out that, if the definition of “fitness” is the ability to meet the challenges and vicissitudes of your everyday life, with a bit left over, then a writer who writes and drinks all day is basically fit. An “athlete” who has run themselves into the ground, and their life is falling apart is, well… not. Think of it like a bank account. It’s not just about saving, but not wastefully spending.
  • Scott is… concerned about the level of expertise in the fitness industry.

Final Thoughts?

  • Scott: Never do cardio before weight training. Do it AFTER your weights, not before.
  • Kevin: Only use cardio when you need it, just because of the diminishing returns you will receive from it.

Links & Resources

(Blog Post) Lessons from Aruba

(Videos) Part 1 and Part 2 of Dr. Diana Schwarzbein’s “Survival of the Smartest”

(Blog Post) Scott’s Metabolic Damage blog post mentioning Dr. Schwarzbein’s lectures

(Book) Carbophobia by Michael Gregor

Episode 22. How to Move Away from Counting Calories and Towards Portion Control and Biofeedback

Episode 22. How to Move Away from Counting Calories and Towards Portion Control and Biofeedback

Episode 22. How to Move Away from Counting Calories and Towards Portion Control and Biofeedback

Show Notes

The disadvantages of calorie counting as a strategy is something we’ve discussed in past episodes, so in this one we discussed alternatives. To begin, we summarized a few of our previous arguments against calorie counting (see episode 15 on IIFYM in particular), but from there we moved to discussing what portion control and listening to your body looks like: Do you have to eyeball everything? When are calories useful (since, of course, they are) as starting points? How much variability should your diet have? What should you focus on, and what doesn’t matter?

Disadvantages of Calorie Counting

  • Scott says that calorie counting is based on the fitness industry’s love of complicating what’s simple, and simplifying what’s complicated.
  • Calorie counting, for Scott, offers the illusion of control, not actual control. (E.g., food labels can’t be accurate, your body won’t burn the same number of calories each day.)
  • Calorie counting is most popular in North America. North America is also the most overweight continent. Correlation is not causation, etc., blah blah. But that’s not pure coincidence. Scott calls it the North American Diet Mentality.
  • Scott: “Calories don’t measure metabolism.” (They’re a unit of heat energy. Metabolism is more than just “energy”; it is the sum total of the biochemical processes in your body.)
  • Scott:  listen to your own biofeedback.
  • (Mike’s post-show translation: the problem with calories is they can lead you down a path of thinking, “Argh, but this should work!” when you should have been focusing on what was actually happening right in front of you from the first.)
  • Counting can also, over time, induce a sense of guilt and shame and other self-judgments, partly because of our evolved psychologies connection to food and eating. When you use an outside-in approach, you force yourself to ignore these things (whereas biofeedback has you listening to them).
  • Mike: of course, the difficulty with “listening to your body” is that you need to be real, and you need to be honest.

Portion Control and Listening to Your Body

  • Can calories be used as “starting points”? Yes! of course. You just have to realize they are an exchange value, not a perfect indicator of metabolism.
  • Scott includes calories as starting points in several of his books, basically, to make sure they don’t get into giant deficit because they go “too far.”
  • One of the “roadblocks” Scott’s clients often encounter, when first trying to learn to listen to their body, is trying to play it “safe.” So they always want to be hungry to ensure they’re in a deficit, but this puts them in too much of a deficit. To combat this, Scott will tell them it’s okay to start “too high.” If you get to a point where you’re thinking, Oh no, I’m not hungry enough, that’s actually a sign of progress, because you’re getting back in touch with hunger and learning about the value and use of tolerable hunger.
  • Different foods can require different tools to measure. Examples: Apples and oranges come pre-portioned. Have three or four (or whatever). Pineapple can usually be eye-balled. Many of Scott’s diets include a meal that, alongside the protein source, just says “As much fresh fruit as you want” for the carb source. (This is a way of getting them in touch with hunger, so they’re asking things like “How much do I want? Do I feel like 3 pieces or 4?)
  • Oatmeal and cream of wheat (etc.) is easy to under-estimate. A scale is a useful tool for this.
  • (Mike: A food scale is also sweet for ensuring it’s never too watery.)
  • In Beyond Metabolism Scott talks about tolerable hunger. This is super important. Mike has called this the “sweet spot” of hunger.
  • Mike thinks a good rule for new dieters, to prevent going down that dark path of trying to be “perfect,” is including one meal per week from a fast food joint, and actually, this meal should be ~about~ the same~ number of calories as your diet meals. The idea is to force you to realize that you can be “on diet” even if you’re not eating ~the perfect plan~. That is, yes, the fast food is probably full of crap… But in small doses it won’t kill you or ruin your diet!
  • Being “on” or “off” the wagon is a good way to yo yo.
  • Scott mentioned competitive eaters and how they certainly don’t count calories. He also mentioned the video in which Matt Stonie eats an entire tub of mass gainer in 5 minutes.

Links Mentioned

This video Matt Stonie eating… a lot of protein powder… very quickly.

Scott’s Books, Beyond Metabolism, and The Cycle Diet.

Episode 21. When Health, Fitness and Training is a Positive Force in Your Life

Episode 21. When Health, Fitness and Training is a Positive Force in Your Life

Episode 21. When Health, Fitness and Training is a Positive Force in Your Life

Show Notes

We’ve talked a lot on this show about what happens when fitness becomes the opposite of what it should be — when fitness gets perverted and starts subtracting things from your life instead of adding to your life. This episode was about going the other way: looking at fitness as a positive force in your life, and what that looks like, and how to get there. This was based, in part, on several comments we got (many about episode 18) from listeners on the survey where we ask for feedback and question. This was our attempt to address the comments more directly!

Here are the comments:

This society is long overdue to hear, and be taught by example, a very different message – that weight training and bodybuilding can be very much at the heart of spiritual health and growth. I explained to my wife recently that when some people look at me they might think “I’d like to get into that kind of shape”. But, I told my wife, they don’t understand that, to me, the physical manifestation is the bonus after the payload. The actual payload is the training itself. Now, it’s a world of cause and effect and so the physical transformation certainly inspires me also. But when I am doing the training itself I am simply happy to be doing it.


The next person wanted to here more about…

things like visualization, meditation, positive reinforcement, maintaining focused, deliberate and progressive mindset; perhaps explore these in different scenarios: eg when reaching a really high goal, when not really having any goals, when overcoming setback or injury and so on. And of course, from a critical perspective also – what people experience when they don’t tap into these aids. I get much more out of these podcasts when people are talking more from a personal, experiential place.

And finally, this person…

would like to hear Scott talk on something he briefly mentioned about not having any goals at this point for his training. Am not sure exactly what he meant, if it was exclusive to training or if it had broader meaning. Things like – what his experience in this mode has been like, what took him there, what changes he’s noticed in mindset, in quality of training, in residual life effect, in connecting more with his motivators or perhaps changing or altering motivators, what his goals are (haha).


So here we go!


  • How do you know when fitness is positive? It’s not all-consuming; you’re not just consuming it; you’re part of it, and it’s part of you.
  • Scott mentioned internal (I-Factor) versus external (X-Factor) motivation.
  • I-Factor Motivation (internal) is much, much more powerful. In fact, as research in Daniel Pink’s Drive shows, external rewards can actually hurt motivation! Now compare this to fitness. Is it internally motivating? Or are you doing it only for the external reward.
  • Fitness should be self-connecting, so that you enjoy the process and it’s part of you and who you are. Scott’s files this under spiritual fitness, as well as being character-driven.
  • There is a big difference between mastery and obsession. When you’re obsessed, the object of your obsession owns you; when you’ve achieved mastery, you own it.
  • Scott’s advice: make it about who you’re being; make it about a reflection of who you are. If you say you are going to do something, do it. (Scott even tries to avoid saying he is “going” to do something. He just says, present-tense, “I am doing ____.”)
  • How do you know if you’re taking it too far? Look at your life. Eventually, it will start to be a reflection of the choices you’re making, whether positive or negative.
  • Mike suggested that a good “test” in terms of who are you being is to think about your death bed, which is one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (“begin with the end in mind”).
  • Scott and Mike debated a bit about how they would look back on their life, how much “others” would affect that judgment of whether or not they were satisfied.

Scott also mentioned an excellent quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Although some digging reveals it might originally be from Bessie A. Stanley). Here is the version Scott read:

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.


Links & Resources from the Episode

The Tao Archer bit is in Scott’s book, Zen Fitness, Tao Health

Download Scott’s old parable of the Capitalist and the Fisherman (right click, save as).

Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People