Matt Perryman Interview

Matthew Perryman is a very popular (or infamous depending on who you ask) strength enthusiast/professional/journalist in many fitness circles on the net.  Whether you love or hate the guy, you can’t deny his deep level of understanding when it comes to logical thinking and the sciences pertaining to strength and muscle development.  What’s most impressive is his ability to regurgitate very heavy information into easily understood and applicable terms that resonate well with his audience.

If you haven’t heard of him, you might start with a gander of his site:

I’ve personally turned to Matt on numerous occasions when I wanted verification or deeper understanding of various topics pertaining to strength training.  I’m not ashamed to admit that he knows loads more than I do and I’m very grateful he’s willing to lend his brain to those who are willing to listen objectively.

I was very happy when he agreed to sit down with Body-Improvements to “talk shop.”  Without further ado, sit back, grab some chocolate milk, and hear what Matt has to say about a broad range of topics including reactive training, motivation, integrity in the fitness industry and much more.




STEVE:  A large fraction of our readers aren’t in tune with the typical bodybuilding/strength minded communities you typically frequent.  Their exposure to you comes by way of links I’ve provided them to articles you’ve written.  Can you shed some light on who you are and what it is that you do both on and off “the field of fitness?”

MATT: I always find that it’s hard to answer this question because, unlike most folks in this field, I’m too scatterbrained to have any clear mission; so I can’t just say “I’m a personal trainer with X degrees and Y qualifications”.

If I had to briefly sum up my involvement in the ‘fitness field’, that’s easy enough. I know I’ve told this story plenty of times, but I’m a small guy, and when I started lifting I was even smaller. I got sick of it, started hitting the weights, and me being how I am, I became obsessed with finding ways to improve my own results.

That was 12 years ago this year. Looking back over that time, I’ve read just about everything there is to read on the subject, from books to research journals. I’ve gone through a lot of crazy ideas and labcoated theories; some of them panned out, some of them didn’t. I’ve learned how to really think about the subject of strength training, instead of just repeating what everybody keeps saying about it.

I won’t call myself a coach, because calling yourself a coach when you aren’t is lame. I’m not a personal trainer at the moment, unless you count myself and my wife, so I won’t call myself that either.

At the same time, I’m not putting myself out there as all show and no go, either. I think that’s even worse; even a crappy personal trainer is at least actually training people.

When I’m not too hurt to bother, I like to compete in powerlifting and maybe the occasional strongman contest. In the past I have coached people into both physique events, like bodybuilding and women’s figure, and into strength contests. My own results won’t exactly inspire wonder in the masses, but I’ve hauled some iron around in my time and I like to think I’m continuing to do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with (which is unfortunately a small and injury-prone body).

So in that regard, I guess you could call me a kind of journalist. Maybe a watch-dog of some kind. I like to share with others what I’ve learned, so that maybe they won’t spin their wheels like I did. I like to call BS, loudly, on people that are deceiving the public and saying the wrong things – mainly for the same reason.

STEVE:  Thanks for the background, Coach.

Just kidding!

There are quite a few directions I’d like to take this interview.  You’ve always been a “person of interest” in the fitness field from my perspective.  There are a variety of reasons for that, which I’m sure we’ll delve into.  If I’m being honest, I don’t have a list of preplanned questions to ask.  You’re intriguing to the point I’m able to “shoot from the hip” as far as our dialogue goes.

I suppose we’ll start with something out of my own curiosity…

I’ve read and/or communicated with many people in the field and you’re right up there with one of the brightest.  You’re objective and critical in your research and presentation of information.  You have loads of integrity.  And most of all, you’re able to clearly relay the “important stuff” to the end-users (readers, clients, etc.) without muddying the waters like so many professionals love to do.

Why is it that you aren’t more involved in the fitness field?  I know you’ve recently written a book, which we’ll discuss soon, but you’d think someone of your caliber would be doing something full-time in the field.

Also, what are the plans going forward?  I know I’ve seen you mention the possibility of opening up a facility of your own.  Is that still a goal?

MATT: Why am I not more involved…good question.

I can think up a few reasons. Whether those reasons are good or not, I don’t know.

With regards to real-world stuff, that answer is simple – it’s hard as hell to make your living as a personal trainer. It’s long, hard hours, it’s lots of selling, and clients can be a damn pain in the ass. It may sound easy, but you really have to be on top of your game and have a high threshold for bullshit if you want to make a living. People always seem to gloss over that when looking at the field.

And I can be honest: I hate selling. I hate it more than just about anything. But it’s what you’ve gotta do to stay in business. So from that angle, I’ve mostly just stayed away from it as a full-time job. I don’t mind taking on clients that come to me and ask for help, but that’s not enough to live on.

As far as my online presence, it comes back to the same thing. I hate going through the acts of self-promotion. And I realize that hurts me, and that I could be making a decent income if I were to go full-bore…but between hating the idea and being uninterested in it, I just can’t see myself going that route. It’s tempting at times, but I don’t think it’s for me.

Opening a facility has been one of those things I’ve always said I’m gonna do, and I’m always of two minds about it. One part of me just imagines how awesome it would be – no idiots hogging equipment, no dealing with jerks that won’t put their plates back, and being able to work with people that actually want to be there and want to succeed. But then the pragmatic side kicks in – I start kicking around the costs, I realize the massive amount of leg-work I’d have to do in order to stay afloat… and I won’t say I scare myself off, but it definitely makes me think twice about it.

Given the investment of time and money that you’re talking about to open even a modestly-sized place, it’s not something I take lightly. I haven’t tabled the idea, mind you, and in fact I’m exploring some very conservative cost-effective options right now, but I’m still very much on the fence. I’ve about come to the conclusion that I’d need an interested business partner, preferably somebody with prior experience running a business, or at least a good talker that doesn’t mind handling the bulk of the marketing and selling stuff. Otherwise I don’t see it happening.

STEVE:  Opening a facility can certainly be a risk – especially if you’re going into it without an existing client base and aren’t too high on self-promotion and marketing.  The Body-Improvements facility was a thing of luck, really.  My partner had a full book of business from a local gym that transitioned over to our place.  Plus we lease our space from an indoor baseball facility that was actually looking for strength coaches to pair with their skill development.  Without these factors, I’m doubtful the facility would’ve been possible… so I do understand.

Your answer segues into a number of issues I’d love to have you address.  Before doing so, though, I’d like to provide some context for our readers who may not know you well.  Your posture in the online fitness industry is one of defense, for lack of a better term.  What I mean is given your experience and knowledge coupled with your critical, research-based perspective; you’re able to cut through much of the deceit that plagues the industry – and that you do… fantastically I might add.

The playing field has evolved into a game of seeing how many ways you can repackage the same information while separating the masses from as much of their money as possible – you might call it shilling.  I consider you one of the select few who oppose this tide very publicly.

My questions are:

  • What fuels your desire to expose the devious behavior?
  • Do you ever feel it’s a process of futility? The shills are marketing machines and the public, by and large, craves information that is packaged in the way shills like to package information.
  • What insight can you provide our readers with regards to becoming an educated consumer?  There’s so much information being tossed out – how are they to decipher what’s worth paying attention to and what isn’t?

MATT: Steve I have to say I was glad to hear you guys opened a place. You’ve got a good head on you and I know you’ll do well. Plus the field needs more people out there giving it a good name.

And it also pointed out something else to me – sometimes you have to quit being scared and just make the jump. Otherwise you can spend a lot of time sitting around and just thinking about it, never acting.

You point out, rightly, that there are a lot of hucksters out there. It’s at the point now that the average person literally cannot separate the good from the bad; the whole idea of having professionals and experts is to give the layman a place to go for specialized knowledge. What happens when anyone with Internet access can open a blog and start selling ebooks?

Frankly this would never be allowed to happen in any other professional field. Can you imagine getting legal advice from a guy that read a few articles on Google? Would you let someone that had just taken first-year anatomy perform surgery on you? I have no doubts that, marketed properly, anyone offering those services could make a decent income. That doesn’t mean that anyone would tolerate it; and we can expect exactly what the final outcome of both those scenarios would be.

Now look at the fitness industry. Personal trainers want so badly to be considered professionals and experts. But the reality is that the vast majority simply aren’t. Look at what a doctor has to go through – upwards of 8-10 years of schooling, internships, and residency. He has to be licensed by a medical board to practice, and he can be held accountable by that board if he screws up – up to and including losing his right to practice. Lawyers have a similar process, with very intensive schooling, followed by admission to the bar, and they’re likewise held to similar professional standards.

What does a personal trainer do? In the US, they go to a two-day course, pay $50, and they’re a professional. If you’re lucky, they actually had to show up for a class; some will let you sit the written-only exam, and others can be done via the Internet or through correspondence.

I’m not going to pretend that a personal trainer needs the kind of comprehensive education and professional rigor as a doctor or a lawyer, but the human body is a complex thing, and there is a lot of material to cover. That’s not the kind of material you can cover even in a half-year course; how the hell are you learning this in a weekend? Ideally, you’d start to see bachelor’s degrees becoming the minimum requirement; though I’m not opposed to having some test-out options or equivalency for experience, because let’s face it, the majority of kinesiology and exercise science programs don’t cut it either. A lot of those programs have a heavy emphasis on physiotherapy – rehabbing athletes instead of developing them – or they’re still stuck in the 80s and pushing aerobics.

There is a massive collective failing on the part of the industry, and on the part of most academic programs for that matter, when it comes to this arena. If the industry wants to start being looked at and respected like professionals, they need to get their act together. Letting fitness models go out there and keep spreading their 1980s bodybuilding wisdom, or letting guys with no practical experience get out there and start putting people on bosu balls, without consequences, just isn’t cutting it. If you want people to respect you, you have to stop acting like the stereotype of the idiot meathead or the little skinny guy that has his clients squat high.

But we have to take professional regulation with a grain of salt, too. From living in Australia and New Zealand, I can tell you that professional regulation is no panacea if the people doing the regulating are still in the meathead or skinny-guy camp. When you see industry-approved classes still teaching shit like “deadlifts are for hamstrings”, it’s no wonder that they keep turning out sub-standard trainers. Any way you shake it, the ‘Bro’ is strong in fitness.

So I’ll let that rant serve as my answer to your first question. I do tend to take it personally because, for one, I’ve been the guy that was getting bilked, back in the day before I knew better. The second and perhaps bigger reason is that I’ve put in the time – in the gym, and reading like a madman – to learn this material backwards and forwards. I’ve spent time thinking outside the orthodoxy and trying to debunk the myths and solve the mysteries. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have other people – people that claim they want to be professionals – devote themselves to the same degree.

It’s extremely irritating to see these same people spreading mythology, or having the audacity to get upset because you point out their mistakes.

As far as futility, I feel that way all the time; I’ve had to accept it as how things are. I’m not going to trigger a revolution, because the things I say run counter to human nature. Like it or not, the default state of our species is not rationality, or analytical decision-making. Humans are emotional creatures and our actions are largely driven by unconscious, automatic responses. The marketing process works because it taps into those basic responses.

What I’m doing, and others like Alan Aragon, and Lyle McDonald, and all the rest of us that are forming this counter-movement, is the equivalent of trying to stop a hurricane by yelling at it. There’s not nearly enough force behind it to make a difference, and ultimately you’ve only added to the wind.

That’s alright, though. It makes me feel better (really; being able to say what you want about whomever you want is also a way of exploiting automatic human responses, and it’s a tactic I’ve refined to get the responses I want), and from time to time people actually do get sick of being part of the flock; when that happens, we’re there to help the process along. That’s all I can ask for, and I’m okay with that.

As to becoming an educated consumer, that’s a tough answer. That would usually be avoided by going to a professional, but that’s been ruled out because the industry is in such a crappy state. And that leaves your average consumer in a hell of a bind.

The thing about evaluating information is that if you aren’t already educated in the field, you literally don’t have the tools available to make those choices. I don’t have the education to second-guess a doctor or a lawyer; I have to trust that they’ve been educated, licensed, and otherwise vetted to do the job; and because those fields are so important, there’s a structure in place to ensure that, created by those same professionals.

So this is tricky. This is the main reason I wrote the first chapter of Maximum Muscle as I did. I’ve been criticized for that, but how can you know what I’m saying is true if you don’t know my thought process? How can you agree with my arguments if, to you, what another coach says, or what a bodybuilder with ripped abs says, carries the same weight? There has to be some standard, some way of evaluating information objectively.

The first step is to realize that. This field is based on science, and there really are objective, correct answers to most questions. Where people get tripped up is the expectation of concrete answers for every scenario; and that’s frankly impossible. There’s so much variability between individuals and between goals that it literally becomes an art. So there’s this subjective component to go along with the objective, hard data.

To illustrate – to train for muscle growth, you have to overload the muscle(s) in question. By overload, I mean you have to create a specific kind of workload with external resistance, and that workload has to exceed what the muscle(s) can handle. I say this based on a working knowledge of muscular physiology and biochemistry, and fundamentally that won’t vary. Ever. Anyone that wants to grow will have to create overload with external resistance, end of story.

But there are a lot, a whole lot of ways to create that overload. The physiology never changes from person to person; but the effect, and the external methods that create the effect, can vary across a very wide spectrum. What people see as a disagreement between different implementations – your different bodybuilding or strength or athletic programs – is in reality just a disagreement between opinion on the subjective matter: how to create that overload.

So that’s the second step, to keep the objective objective, and to realize where things start to get fuzzier. Physiology won’t change; individual approaches certainly will.

Otherwise, the best advice I can give is to be a hard-nosed skeptic. Develop your bullshit detector. Don’t believe just anything you read unless the person making the claims can back them up. Yes this is hard to do if you don’t have some education in research methods and statistics, and preferably a healthy knowledge of the material itself; but it doesn’t ever hurt to ask. Try to shoot holes in the argument and see if it can stand on its own.

I personally tend to be skeptical of anybody touting a revolution or a brand new way of doing things. I’m doubly skeptical when people start claiming things that I know are impossible, like adding 27 lbs of muscle to a trained person in just 7 weeks. But you also have to realize that there’s a context for everything, and some questionable statements may be harmless once you investigate them.

STEVE:  That’s a great response, Matt.

If there’s a theme our readers take from it I hope it’s the fact that the fitness industry is beat up on a number of levels.  Though it’s logical to assume that personal trainers and strength coaches are held to similar, rigorous standards as other health professionals (doctors, physiotherapists, etc), it’s simply dead wrong.  I’m not sure such standards are necessary, as you noted, but a movement in that direction would make a world of beneficial difference if you ask me.  This should only stand to highlight the importance of developing a skeptical perspective of the industry.

I don’t get too caught up in the “counter-movement,” as you put it, for a number of reasons. I will say though, the collective work of people like Lyle, Alan and yourself really is appreciated.  Highlighting the darker side of things – the truth if you will – not only acts as an educational filter, but also a barrier of sorts where at least some professionals will think twice before putting out substandard nonsense in a lame attempt to make a buck.

You mentioned that, “sometimes you have to quit being scared and just make the jump. Otherwise you can spend a lot of time sitting around and just thinking about it, never acting.”  I have to tell you, you literally shocked me this week.  I was checking out your turf and noticed something new.  If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes I would’ve written it off as some sort of joke – but Matthew Perryman went and put up a link for Consultations.

This is “a jump” that is pleasantly surprising to me for a number of reasons.  Anyone who has followed you over the last couple of years knows you have openly spoken in opposition to online consulting.  If I’m being honest, I second-guessed the idea of offering online consulting myself for the sole reason that I knew people I have a great deal of respect for in the industry (you included) were against it.

Body-Improvements is about hands-on, in-person training first and foremost.  However, I’ve been on the net in weight loss circles since I was a freshman in college back in 2000.  Over time, it became very obvious that there was demand for distance-consultation.  Hell, I’ve even hired online fitness consultants to a) receive an objective perspective on my own training and b) see how they ran their businesses.  Adding it to our list of services was something I wrestled with until I finally took the plunge openly in 2008 (I’ve done forms of it to some degree for years but never advertised it).

I won’t beat around the bush – it ate at me to an extent that in your mind, the negatives outweighed the benefits.  My frustration didn’t stem from you disagreeing with something I was doing as ultimately it’s a personal choice and I respect that.  The frustration was fueled primarily from the fact that I felt it was something you needed to be doing given your knowledge, ability, and “posture” in the industry.  I felt you were framing online consulting incorrectly.  From what I could tell, the primary and overriding drawback in your mind was the fact that it’s not “coaching” as coaching or training entails things that can only be done in-person.  And I agree.  The value of a trainer/coach is his or her “feel” which simply can’t be duplicated over the Internet.

I wanted to say to you (and I think I have at one point or another in the past) that we don’t have to lump it in the same category as coaching or training.  It needn’t be an ethical dilemma.  They’re different animals with unique strengths and weaknesses.  It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s not something for just anyone.  Above all else, you can’t judge it based on how other trainers are modeling their businesses.

For an industry full of hucksters, it’s commonplace to see “professionals” selling exactly what online consulting isn’t or shouldn’t be.  The weaknesses have to be respected and creatively minimized and it can’t be about an overcomplicated Super Special Program every month.  That’s the equivalent of churning an investment account in the finance world, which happens to be an illegal activity.  I felt that you were pigeonholing all online-consulting into the Huckster’s Business Model and that simply isn’t so.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.

I might also add that a large part of the duty involved in online consulting is managing the client’s expectations in regards to what they will and will not receive.

The reality of the situation is simple – people are willing to pay for something you have.  If done right, that’s integrity and expertise; you can’t have one without the other or you’re going to get into trouble… at least from my perspective.

I’ve always known you to be trustworthy and honorable.  Pair this with the fact that you’re one of the brightest guys I know in the fitness industry with one hell of an audience… this is why I’m pleasantly surprised to see you open up these doors.  I think it’s great for you and even better for your prospective clients.

With that lengthy prelude out of the way, do you have any specific commentary regarding what I said above?  Also what changed your mind and who are you hoping to target in terms of clientele?

MATT: The impression I’ve managed to generate over the years is that I’m a hard-nosed single-minded debater that grabs on to a position, digs in, and just won’t let go – often to a point that’s just ridiculous.

The reality of it is that I’m not nearly that stubborn and I’m always second-guessing myself. I say inflammatory things on occasion because it gets people riled up, and because I like the practice that comes from advocating for a position, but the truth of the matter is that I have very few opinions that aren’t constantly being re-evaluated. A little-known fact is that for every inflammatory statement I make, I’ve likely spent the next few days or weeks researching the matter to become better informed. It’s only in public that I’m loud and hard-headed.

The online consulting issue is one of those matters where I’m of two minds. I haven’t so much changed my original opinion, but I have given the idea a lot of thought and examination, to the point that I think it’s viable. I summed up the main reasons on the page itself, and you’ve hit on the core of both my objections and why I’ve reconsidered. The gist of it is that I was looking at what other clowns were doing – I’ve actually seen online trainers selling people programs from T-Mag, seriously – and then relating it to the process I use for hands-on coaching, and I reached the conclusion that it was mostly worthless.

A major thing that soured me to the idea was many of the requests I was getting. To be blunt about it, a lot of people want to consider you a low-cost option to a “real” trainer. While I recognize that the online thing is nowhere near as comprehensive as hands-on coaching, it’s still a big investment of time and energy; I know this from past experience. Consequently, you have to be firm with your prices; when people come to you because they know you’re good, and you offer them a price, and the first question out of their mouth is “can we do anything about the price?”, that puts me off. I realize it’s hard times and whatnot, and I realize that’s just human nature to go after a bargain, but you have to be realistic too – online or not, it’s still a good deal of work that has to be done, and a few hundred a month is still a substantial reduction from what it would cost for the hands-on option.

If you want cheap, you can find cheap. If you want good, then you have to pay for it. For all I tend to be modest, this is one area I just can’t give ground on: I am not a ‘low cost’ trainer or the bargain option. If you listen to what I tell you and if you communicate with me how I ask, you will get the results you’re after. That’s not the ‘cheap’ option, and really I’m just as culpable here by not being firm on my pricing in the past.

Another recurring issue is people with either no goals, poorly-defined goals, or what I consider to be negative goals. If you’re a small woman already pushing an unhealthy weight, and you come to me telling me you want to lose 10 lbs, odds are I’m not going to help you along with that actual goal. I’ll work with that person, of course, the best I can – but when that client is coming to me after checking the scale every single day, and just won’t listen to an objective opinion, or wants to always second-guess, there’s not a whole lot I can do. At that point I have to wonder why you’re paying me at all.

In retrospect most of my complaining came down to a combination of those two things: the limitations of the format, and my own frustrations in dealing with people. And honestly, most of the latter was my own fault for not having the organization in place to handle those issues, and not sitting down long enough to consider how to solve the problems instead of just complaining about them; so I’ve got nobody to blame by myself


The pricing issue and the issues with goal-setting are the main reasons I decided to offer tiered services, instead of a flat “pay for my programming every month” model. If somebody really can’t afford monthly on-going services, they can drop me a smaller fee to hear my thoughts or get a program or whatever. If somebody doesn’t need my on-going attention, but a push in the right direction would help them along, they can get that.

I still stand by some of the conclusions I reached – mainly the point about selling ‘programs’ versus selling a service – but the truth be told I think that even the coaching limitations have softened since then, too. With the advent of YouTube, Veoh, Vimeo and the other video-streaming services, and with almost everybody having access to a digital camera now, you can at least start to analyze and assess form on basic movements – and that’s a game-changer. A few years ago when I was doing all my yelling, that kind of thing was just starting to take off. With “video blogging” and cameras being the norm now, it’s become a lot closer to the real thing.

It will never be as good as hands-on, not until you can come up with some kind of way to coach things on a set-by-set, rep-by-rep basis. That may be feasible at some point in the future, with streaming videos in real-time, but for now that’s impractical for most people.

That may sound strange to some people; after all, isn’t it just a matter of handing out a program and making sure the exercises are done properly? That’s how most people do things, following the script of a written-down program. It’s not how I do it, and that introduces some kinks to the process – which in turn were the kernel of my original rantings on the matter.

My programming style is very dynamic. Almost everybody else is stuck in the paradigm of Written Programs, where you use exact percentages of an exact 1RM and then do that for a pre-planned number of sets and reps. As I’ve discussed before, I don’t do that. I come into each session with an idea of what I want to get done for that day – whether it’s “heavy upper body with emphasis on bench press” or “moderate lower body with emphasis on leg mass” or whatever else. I always start with a goal, then flesh out the details.

Everything else is determined on the fly. I usually know what exercises I’m going to plan, at least the major ones. Even assistance work is usually planned out after the fact. There are some exceptions to this – if I’m deliberately using a periodized plan, I’ll establish some kind of starting values. I may know for example that I’ll be working within 70-80% of a 1RM, but that’s only a starting point. The actual sets will be programmed as the workout happens, depending on how the weight feels to the client and how their form looks to me.

This kind of auto-regulatory training is where most people need to be moving, whether you’re training yourself or training others. The fixed programs can and do still work, but auto-regulation moves you closer to the optimum. It’s all based around subjective feedback indicators – how did that set feel? Was it very mentally tough, very slow and grinding? Or was it very fast and smooth?

Auto-regulation, where you adjust the workout based on feedback indicators, is a sub-set of what’s known as “cybernetic periodization”, which blends auto-regulation with more traditional written programs. You use the daily and weekly workout routine to establish starting criteria, then let the performance actually design the workout as it happens.

This idea has been around for years, mind you; I read about it in Supertraining years back, and I even wrote an article about it in Mind & Muscle back in 2004. Auto-regulation is coming into vogue these days in the powerlifting community, largely thanks to Mike Tuchscherer. Mike’s written an excellent book on his Reactive Training System, which you can find on his website ( and I highly suggest that everyone read it.

Using Ratings of Perceived Effort (RPEs) to get an idea of your cilent’s exertion level is perhaps the best way there is to gauge your program from set to set, to know when the load’s just right and to know when it’s time to either adjust or to call it quits; and yeah, there’s quite a bit of research literature backing up the idea. Our nervous systems seem to be quite good at judging where loads are compared to our ability to handle them – so the difference between a set at 95% where you’re only good for a single, and a set at 75% where you can knock out 10 reps, will be very obvious and very easy to rate on an objective scale.

Combine that with another factor, the Rating of Technique (RT) – which is where you, the coach, stand off to the side and watch the set happen – and you’ve got your gold. Between their feedback and your observation of their form, you can manage the program about as precisely as it’s possible to manage.

You can familiarize online clients with an RPE scale to get feedback, of course, and in my past attempts I did just that. Unfortunately, you’re still missing the essential element – without being there to see the sets happen, you’re in the dark. Programming aside, you don’t even know if the exercise you told them to do was being done. A big worry of mine, just to use an example, is squatting. Nobody knows how to squat. Go to your gym and watch the squat racks. If they’re ever used for anything but curls, I can almost guarantee you that you won’t see anybody doing a squat right. The odds are so low that it’s a good bet to make.

So now I tell a client to squat. If I can’t see it, how do I know what’s happening? This, obviously, was my biggest objection – without the ability to monitor technique, the entire concept became worthless in my head. Of course there are obvious ways around it: just don’t use squats or other technical lifts. Okay, say I agree with that – now you’ve just removed the cornerstone of my effectiveness, for one, and for two, I’m just giving them A Program, which you can find anywhere online for free. So why are we going through the motions?

Without some way to manage technique and actually coach the person, I’m convinced the idea is near-worthless. It’s different if you’ve got somebody that knows how to do the lifts and really does just need a program and/or diet – which is why my physique girls ended up doing well on it – but raw beginner types or others that may need instruction? Forget it.

That’s why I’m reconsidering things now with the availability of video. It’s still not perfect, in that you can’t be there for every set, but you can at least see that the exercises you prescribe are being done properly – and if they aren’t, or if there are mobility issues, you can work with them to fix those problems. As far as auto-regulation, that can be overcome as well by starting them out on fixed programs and then educating them as they improve.

So all things said, I see more potential here than I did a few years ago.

STEVE:  I certainly see where you’re coming from – don’t get me wrong.  The vast majority of the stuff I’ve done online (95% +) has been what I consider one-time consulting focusing on education wrapped around programming concepts specific to the client’s goals and needs.  I don’t do the ongoing, monthly consulting stuff except in very rare cases.

Where a lot of guys run into problems I think, is where their ability to pay bills and put food on their table relies on their monthly income from online-training.  That’s where guys tend to get overly flashy and gimmicky while coercing clients into services that aren’t fitting or necessary.

For me, what it comes down to is this – I have an L.A. Fitness, Planet Fitness, two YMCAs, and six privately owned facilities in my area.  All but one of these places have personal trainers on staff.  Take a guy like you and compare what you can do over the net with what these trainers offer in-person at much higher rates and, well, the playing field changes a bit.  Now it’s about giving people access to worthwhile, well researched and sensible advice while maintaining the integrity we discussed above.

Cybernetic periodization is also something I’ve worked into my process in-person with a lot of success.  Online I’m finding it a worthy talking point to get clients thinking about how their training feels “this day” or even “this set,” but I can’t say I’ve found a way to actively use it beyond that.  I am glad to see it popping up in more of the modern literature.  The first I was exposed to it was in Supertraining.  Nowadays you’re even seeing auto-regulation concepts in t-muscle programs.  I can’t agree with you more about Mike’s Reactive Training Manual.  Though it’s geared toward powerlifting, the conceptual framework he outlines regarding auto regulation is very nice.

I know you touched on what auto-regulation is above, but can you delve into it a bit more for our readers who haven’t been exposed to it – possibly talking about your ideas when it comes to applying it to your average trainee?

Speaking very generally, when do you feel people should start thinking about auto-regulation?  Is there something to be said for, at first, sticking to a structured routine until the individual has a better “feel” for intensity?

MATT: Sure thing. I’ve actually just put up an article about it, detailing some options when applying it to ‘average people’.

And yeah Mike T’s book is absolutely invaluable as an intro to the idea, for those that don’t want to plod through Supertraining to read more.

To summarize, cybernetic periodization is the combination of written-down workout stuff, and feedback indicators which are used to modify the written-down stuff. The idea is to get away from the constraints and limitations of the written-down program by managing some elements on the fly.

Anybody that’s paid attention to my writings, all four of you, knows that I’m big on people getting away from The Program. Programs are just starting points and guidelines, but most people see them as The Holy Gospel of the Almighty Fitness Guru – and nothing could be further from the truth of things.

The adaptive process doesn’t know what your program says; it doesn’t give a rat’s ass. All your body does is respond to stress. That’s it. We’re always dealing with two competing processes which result from stress, that positive physiological adaptation which we call ‘fitness gains’ and then the negative after-effects which we call ‘fatigue’.

Fitness gains are a slow and relatively stable thing on a daily basis; physiology just doesn’t change that quickly. Fatigue on the other hand, that can move up and down due to all kinds of things; this is good in some ways, but it also leads to a lot of unpredictability. While your fitness level doesn’t change very quickly, your preparedness absolutely does – preparedness being your ability to display that fitness level. Fitness minus fatigue, in other words.

Now say something’s come up in your life. You’ve just had to spend 12 hours in a meeting, or behind the wheel of a car, or studying, or whatever. You’ve missed several nights of sleep. You just lost a parent. There’s all kinds of things that can impact your fatigue levels, and ‘living life’ is the main one. You’re not always going to be at your best, and these factors aren’t always under your control.

So what happens when you go to the gym and The Program has you doing a workout that you just can’t complete because you’re slap wore out from all the other shit going on in your life? At the very least you’re going to have a crappy workout. That program has just failed you.

Or on the other side of the equation, what if you’re well rested, feeling good, and busting at the seams with energy? You come in and are just sure you could break a PR…but the program says you’re doing something else today. So now you’ve just missed an opportunity to have an amazing workout. That program has just failed you.

The idea here is to make the parameters of the program work with your daily condition, instead of arbitrarily following set/rep/weight combinations because that’s what the spreadsheet spit out. It may sound difficult, but that’s only because the idea of The Program is so deeply ingrained in people that it’s hard to make them see otherwise.

To me the first step of auto-regulation is about establishing which parameters of the workout should be variable, and which should be constant. The main things that you can count on to be stable are the workout template and (usually) the exercise selections. That is, if you’re doing an upper-lower or push-pull template four days a week, you probably don’t have any real need to mess with that. You can change templates between training blocks of course, but I see little need to mess with it on a daily or weekly basis.

Exercises can remain pretty constant too – at least your major lifts. Since I think everybody (barring injuries and such) should be focusing on the big five (squats, deadlifts, rows, overhead press, bench press), or some variation thereof (like box squats, rack deadlifts, board presses, and so on), I think that you can and should keep your basic ‘focus lifts’ pretty stable for years.

Assistance exercises are a different story. The stuff you do after your big lifts, to train weak muscle groups or whatever, you can change that to your heart’s desire. Realistically your assistance work is only contributing a small amount to your overall results. You don’t need it; it helps, but it’s not a requirement because your big lifts will produce most of your results. Assistance work is the paint on a house you’ve just built.

The same goes for any sort of conditioning work you do. Conditioning work is even more generalized than assistance lifts – as long as you’re getting your heart rate up, it doesn’t really matter what the hell you do (barring considerations for fatigue and whatnot). Folks get this idea that complexes are magic, or kettlebells, or whatever else. In reality you can sit your ass on the bike and do intervals for 20-30 minutes a week and get the exact same results. Unless you’re competing in the specific activity, conditioning is the most general thing there is.

People are obsessed with this idea of getting a new program every six weeks, and while there’s a limited bit of truth in that thought process, changing the workout templates or exercises too drastically is counterproductive. I don’t really have many reasons to ever deviate from the basic options. I haven’t for years, and I don’t foresee any reason I’d ever need to. Virtually everyone that’s successful in any kind of strength activity can say the same thing.

I’d also count the rep range as being fairly stable, in that you probably should plan it out in advance and not adjust it within the session. I’ve got reasons why which I’ll get to in a second.

So what is variable in training? Well, obviously the working weights are going to be the big thing – the intensity. And we usually control intensity by using percentages of the 1RM. The thing about percentages is that they’re only as good as the 1RM you plug in. If you’re using a max from 12 weeks ago, how do you know that the 80% in your spreadsheet is still spitting out useful numbers? Ideally we’d have a way to pick our working weights on the fly, based on goals for the day.

This is where keeping a fixed rep range will come in handy. The rep range tells you a lot about the effect that a workout will have – if you know you’re doing triples today, that means one of two things: you’re either going very heavy or you’re doing speed work. If you know you’re doing sets of 10, you can be pretty sure you’re doing something bodybuilder-ish (or maybe something for strength-endurance). The rep range puts a pretty solid limit on what kind of weights you’ll be working with.

Total sets (and from that, your total volume) will definitely be variable. Unlike intensity, your ability to handle high volumes seems very dependent on how rested and motivated you are on any given day. Hitting a single rep at 90% is something most anybody can do unless you’re just completely fried; hitting six or seven singles at 90% is going to take somebody that’s ready to lift.

Now we know these things are variables; we’re supposed to plan them out on the fly. The question is, how do you know what to do? How do you pick the right weights? How do you know when you’ve done the right number of sets? For that, we have to use subjective indicators as feedback. This is where the RPE – Rating of Perceived Effort – comes into the picture.

And the RPE is exactly what it sounds like. You rate how hard the activity felt. And there is no set scale for this. The original concept came from a guy named Borg who used a scale from 6-20 (based on some measurements of heart rate) with endurance athletes. Borg has since developed at least two other scales (the CR-10 and CR-100, going from my memory), but both of these still focus on endurance training. There’s another scale called the OMNI-RES that I’ve been able to find precious little information about; but supposedly it’s for resistance exercise.

Years ago I wrote an article for Mind & Muscle about how to manage neurological fatigue issues. It’s an older article and I’ve updated a lot of ideas since then, but the gist of it is the same – you don’t need to be showing up at the gym and just busting your ass with grinding sets every single week. I described how you’d use a 5-point RPE scale to regulate your work week by week, although I didn’t go into more details than that. For awhile, I used that same scale when training online clients, and I’ve always kept some kind of informal recording of how hard my work-sets were.

But to be honest, I think Mike T’s scale is the best one out there for lifters because it’s pretty dead on with the descriptions. I might add the difference between ‘grinding’ reps (that is, reps that are slow and that force you to strain and struggle; you literally feel the weight ‘grinding’) and ‘smooth’ reps (reps that may feel heavy, but don’t involve nearly the same level of effort), but that’s mainly a descriptive issue because the difference between 8, 9, and 10 on his scale will pretty much cover that.

RPE isn’t just about telling me a weight feels ‘heavy’ or ‘light’. It’s about the actual difficulty of that weight for that amount of reps. 200 lbs might feel ‘heavy’ to you, but a set of 3 might be easy, while a set of 6 murders you. The weight is only part of the picture; you’re rating the work you did with the weight.

The RPE is invaluable because now I can get what I want out of you. If I tell you to do triples by ramping up your weight each set until you reach a 10 (an absolute best, so that you’d not get another rep), you know that you’re having a max-effort workout that day and you’re going to shoot for your best triple. If I tell you to do sets of 10 with a 7 (a weight you can move quickly if you focus and push hard), you know you’re in for a pretty high-volume pumping workout. Instead of giving you a fixed percentage of your max, you can now show up and pick your weights just by warming up and adjusting set by set. The idea is to describe what you want the workout to look like and letting the actual performance determine what happens.

Of course you aren’t necessarily free from any sort of planning; and you’d also do well to keep records of your past training. This can save you a lot of time if, for example, you know that your last record on a triple @9 was 200; this workout you know you need to shoot for 205 or 210. You can plan your approach accordingly, instead of wasting sets (and energy) trying to fine-tune things. If you’re just showing up with no targets in mind for the day, then you’re going to screw up somewhere.

Cybernetic periodization isn’t about eliminating any sort of pre-established workouts anyway. It’s only about fine-tuning the variable elements.

A good example of this is the training cycle I used while dieting a few months ago. It was very simple: I lifted two days a week, with overhead press and deadlifts on one day, bench press and squats the other. I used a three-week training cycle – the first week was sets of 5; the second, sets of three; and the last week was singles up to a comfortable max. Each session, I used Prilepin’s Table to get starting percentages, so five reps would start at 70%, triples started at 80%, and the singles started at 90%.

When I actually showed up at the gym, I warmed up to that weight. If it felt right, I stayed with it. If it was too light, I added weight until it felt right. The main thing for me was knowing when to stop; fatigue impairs performance, and being carb-depleted on a calorie deficit can be thought of as fatiguing in itself. So I needed a way to know when enough was enough for the day.

In the past I’ve warned people about doing a 5×5 kind of program while dieting, because it’s too much volume with heavy weights. It’s easy enough to recommend cutting back to 2-3×5, but why stick with the blanket suggestion at all? Using the system I just outlined, if I was having a great day, I could show up and set a new PR. If I felt like crap, burned out and too low on energy to bother, I could hit a set or two and go home. It’s a much better approach and much more responsive to your ability on the day.

In his book, Mike T calls this a ‘fatigue stop’ – where you use RPE scores to know when to quit. If the weight that was originally springy and comfortable has now become a grinder, it’s time to quit. It’s as simple as that. So if I told you to do sets of three at an 8, and now you’re pushing a 9 or 10, it’s time to quit.

With these methods, you’ve covered those variables: how to pick the right weight, and knowing when to stop your sets for that exercise.

Mike T’s system is for powerlifters, but it doesn’t take much imagination to apply this to physique-oriented lifters. The example I just gave was based on managing it for dieting, but you can apply the principles to so-called ‘mass gaining’ routines, too. The main thing to do is just add higher-volume, higher-rep (5-10 range) training after the big lifts, and you’ve got a system.

Another option is Borge Fagerli’s Myo-Reps system, which I’m a fan of. Borge’s designed this specifically for mass-building and bodybuilder-type training, making use of the auto-regulating stuff. In short, Myo-Reps has you working to a near-limit set with higher reps – around a 9, using Mike T’s scale – then move into rest-pause clusters. You rest briefly, I think in the range of 10-20 seconds, and do short mini-sets to a fatigue stop. If your first ‘activation set’ is 8 reps, you’d rest 20 seconds, then do 4 reps, rest 20 seconds, 4 more reps, etc, until you reached a 9 with 4 reps. That’s the gist of it, anyway.

As you can see, it’s auto-regulating as well. The total volume will depend on the initial load you pick for the activation set – he suggests a range of reps, from 5 to 15+ as I recall – and your ability to knock out the cluster reps. I’ve tried it myself, and I have to say it’s good stuff. If I were ever to try and add mass again, I’d use it. You can read more on his site ( but unless you read Norwegian you’ll need to run it through the Bork Bork translator on Google.

As far as your last question, when to introduce it, I definitely think that people need a structured routine up front. Auto-regulation requires that you have some idea of what lifting weights feels like; what a grinding rep feels like, how to accurately judge bar speed, when you’re cutting a set with several reps left, when you couldn’t have done one more, all of that. If you can’t do that, then it’s not going to work for you. If you’re an experienced lifter with too big an ego to be honest, it’s not going to work for you. If you’re knocking out 10s and calling them 8s, you’re heading straight for burn-out or an injury. If you can’t quit when you reach a point of fatigue because you’re a nutjob that’s hooked on exercise, you’re going to have problems.

The whole system relies on people being able to listen to what their bodies are saying, honestly, and more importantly, actually acting on it. So yeah I definitely think there’s good justification to keep novices away from this until they get some experience. That said, I don’t see any harm in introducing them to the concept and getting them in the habit of recording RPEs. Part of the learning process is learning to pay attention and learning to be honest; so even if you’ve got guys starting out with a good solid program – maybe Rip’s Starting Strength routine, as an example – have them start to log how the sets feel. It’s good to develop that kind of body awareness, and to learn what hard work feels like, even if you aren’t using the feedback for programming.

STEVE:  I was about to pull that question off the table after I read your recent article about auto-regulation.  I think you released your article the day after I emailed this question to you.  I must say, I’m thankful I didn’t as your response is something I’m positive people will appreciate.

MATT: Yeah I’m actually glad you asked too – I ended up putting more in that response than I did in the article, haha. It helps me sort my thoughts, so no harm done.

STEVE:  Let’s shift gears and discuss your book.

I pounded on your door for at least a year asking, in anticipation, when this thing would hit the shelves.  When you finally finish it, you release it for free on the Internet.  What the hell were you thinking?

Obviously there’s a method (or intended impact) to your madness which you’ve expressed elsewhere on the net.  Could you please share that method (reason) with my readers?  Also, if you could do it all again, would you?  By that, I mean would you make it a free download dispersed digitally?

I know my concern was people wouldn’t take the book seriously given the price tag (free).  Put differently, what people exchange money for tends to instill value and priority as the free stuff that accumulates gets shoved into the corner for a rainy day.

MATT: Yeah I’m actually glad you asked too – I ended up putting more in that response than I did in the article, haha. It helps me sort my thoughts, so no harm done.

As far as the book, yeah, I’ve taken a lot of flak and had a lot of surprised looks, figuratively speaking, for that move. In the fitness field, free e-books are almost always short pamphlets that are, honestly, used as a way to build marketing lists. Which is fine, I don’t think there’s anything terribly wrong with that; I’m just noting that, in this arena, that’s how people look at free e-books – as you said, they’re perceived as being worth the price tag.

There were two main factors pushing my decision to release it that way. I can be honest: a big motivation was fear and frustration. I was concerned that it was too broad and too complex a book to sell well, and I’m still concerned about parts of it despite the generally warm reception.

I also knew that I wasn’t going to market it well, by the expectations of the Internet Business Model – because let’s face it, I’m not the type to show up at forums or blogs and start spamming links and what not; nor am I going to go the route of the Back-scratching Blog Crew by sending out pre-made sales copy to all the other Guru Insiders that give the same worn-out testimonial.

Worries about the content aside, I think better of my work than that. This wasn’t written just as a revenue stream for me; I wrote it because I had a lot of stuff I wanted to say. I didn’t want this to be just another flashy book full ‘o secrets for the kiddies to pass over because it looked identical to everything else out there. I don’t want to be compared side by side to Muscle Gaining Secretz Vol. 15!!!!111, no matter what it costs me.

Frankly I just don’t have the marketing power or the range of influence to compete with the big names that have spent years building up name-brand recognition, and at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to more than anything else. That’s only made worse by what’s in the book, which isn’t some ready-to-go program that you can use right out of the package.

Hell you’ve read the thing – it’s a treatise on why the whole industry is basically rotten from the ground up, how bodybuilding has gotten so wrapped up in the idea of ‘lifting weights’ that people just don’t know what to do any more. People don’t know how to think, and they don’t want to think. That’s just not going to be a big-selling item compared to the GET BIG GUNS IN 10 DAYS!!!! written-in-digital-neon kinds of claims.

I remember sitting there one day, finishing up the last bits of writing and editing, and thinking to myself, ‘you know, I could reach a lot bigger audience and save myself a lot of headaches by just putting it up on the torrents’. So I did. I gave the file a last once-over and put it up on The Pirate Bay. It’s still available by torrent, and I don’t plan on changing that, nor any future editions I put out.

Now that may seem dodgy, but what a lot of people probably don’t know about me is that I’m a strong advocate for copyright and intellectual-property reform. Whether we like it or not, the Internet, ubiquitous computers, and advances in related technologies have changed the paradigm when it comes to how we define and how we distribute creative works; and as content creators we must too adapt to those changes.

You’ll have to excuse this digression, because I’m about to go off on one hell of a tangent.

Most creative-types, whether they’re musicians, writers, painters, or whatever else, have always operated on the idea that One Copy is One Sale. That makes sense when your Content is also the physical good. But in the digital era, those things are separate; there is no physical good. The Content is just a pattern of information that can be copied with zero marginal costs – that is, all the costs are sunk into the first copy. Anything made after that is (effectively) free.

That throws a big wrench right into the old economics. How do you reconcile the effective post-scarcity state of information with the need for creators to be compensated? If supply and demand determine price, how do you charge for something that has, for all intents and purposes, an infinite supply? You can make laws and enforce social mores like ‘downloading is stealing!’, of course, but I’m talking in a practical sense, not artificial constructs like that.

This is usually where the argument turns nasty from the creators’ side – because you’re talking about messing with their money. So let me stop that line of thought before it starts: I’m a creator myself (and I do write other things besides my blog and this one e-book, just to be clear; pen names are wonderful), and of course I want to be compensated for my work. To that end, I’m absolutely in favor of some form of personal copyright protection for individuals. It may be far more limited in term and scope than it is at the moment, but I do think limited personal copyright has a place.

My gripes are with the big content monopolies that have subverted copyrights and patents to create, simply speaking, a huge clusterfuck. Intellectual property laws now are more likely to harm an innovator and a creator than anything else. I follow a lot of tech news, and it’s common for some group to sue another over patents or copyright infringements. Who wants to create something in that environment?

The long and short of it is that digital technologies have created an infinite supply, and nearly infinite selection, of digital goods – and despite all the saber-rattling of the music and movie industries (expect the big publishing houses to jump on this now with e-readers and smartphones becoming mainstream), and all their efforts to curtail your civil liberties while making your tax dollars support their monopolies, that’s not going away. Technology always wins in the long term.

It may sound like a bad time to be a content creator, if you listen to the complaints of the dying Big Content industries about how piracy harms their sales. However, real data suggests exactly the opposite. Not only are these industries thriving, with record profits; in fact, ‘pirates’ seem much more likely to actually purchase products than non-pirates (something even supported by the music industry’s own data). How can this be?

Well, there’s a few factors involved. One, and the most glaringly obvious, is that if someone pirates your work, odds are that person likes your work – or is at least interested in seeing if he likes your work. That person is a fan or potential fan. Fans spend money on things they like, and not just to possess a physical good. Fans go to concerts. Fans support writers they enjoy. Fans generally patronize your works and your merchandise. That’s a simple concept that seems lost on quite a few people.

The real issue here is the Free Rider problem – for any given item you make available, for free, some percentage of people just aren’t going to pay for it. Some people don’t have the money. Some people just won’t pay because they’re shady. It’s easy for the anti-piracy crowd to label this as ‘theft’, but is it that simple? Given the marketplace now, how many choices do you have as far as discretionary purchases? There’s ebooks, mp3s, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, video games…and how much of your income can you devote to everything you’d want to buy?

The average person has unlimited choices and limited money to spend on them. In a situation where the free option is always there, and a person doesn’t have the resources to buy everything he wants, of course some things will be pirated. But it’s one hell of a leap to assume that the pirated download is a lost sale; what if Bob can’t afford your mp3 this month, so he pirates a copy to listen to, then he goes and buys it next month when he has the money? There’s much more nuance to this issue than just labeling pirates as thieves.

The old-school non-solution is to add useless DRM, push for endless copyright laws and harsh penalties, and then make bold statements about how these pirates are STEALING! and robbing you of your future (as you sit in your private jet).

That sounds fine if you reduce things to black and white morality, but consider this: DRM doesn’t stop pirates and it never has. What DRM does is inconvenience the people that wanted to buy your work legitimately. And then you call your fans thieves and criminals. So what this guy has done is just come out and say that he hates his fans and wants them punished for wanting to experience his work.

How does that make any sense at all?

The reality is that not every download is a lost sale. The Content Industries try to paint it that way because they need people to believe that so they can stay in business. But it’s not true, no matter how much they repeat it.

We as content creators are harming ourselves by clinging to the old model and the old laws. The old way only benefits the select few that could benefit from the resources of the big content industries. We should be accepting it and adapting to it. Adapting isn’t just a matter of sucking it up and grumbling under our breaths about how dirty pirates are making it so we can’t make a living, either. When I say adapt, I mean take advantage of it. Don’t see it as a lost opportunity to make money; look at it as a new opportunity to innovate, to reach your fans, and to market yourself.

There’s plenty of evidence that creators of content can still make a living – even a substantial living – by selling even material that’s given away for free online. No, you won’t get paid for each and every copy in existence, but you have to balance that out against how many people will now see your work as potential fans. Like it or not, this is the future.

When you fight forces of nature, you will always lose. Always. You won’t beat the ocean; and market forces are no different. The market is demanding goods at low prices, or free, and there is very little way to limit the scarcity of information. The best you can do is work with your fans, and use the new system to your advantage. We have to re-jigger our thinking to survive.

I’ve already rambled about this enough; if you’re interested in more information, I’ll point everyone to these books:

Against Intellectual Monopoly, by Boldrin & Levine

Content, by Cory Doctorow

Those books (both are available for free and for purchase) cover the arguments in far greater detail than I ever could, and I highly suggest you pick them up.

Sorry about that long rant, but that is a hot button for me, and it does lead me right to the point: in the larger scope of things, I’m trying take advantage of the new model. Releasing the first edition of Maximum Muscle for free was just as much, if not more, the result of my beliefs on the matter. It was part frustration and part experiment.

I think it did fairly well, all things considered. A lot of people read it, and for awhile there it was very popular on the torrents. What better way to get exposure for someone relatively unknown?

I’m contemplating putting out a second edition at some point, mainly just to update a few mistakes I found and clean it up a little bit – especially the second chapter dealing with the science, because there are some cringe-worthy parts in there. Fortunately there’s not a whole lot of research that’s come out since then, definitely nothing that would be a game-changer. But I wouldn’t expect that anyway.

I’d also like to give it a decent cover and sell a paperback version as well. I can’t tell you when that would be, because it’s not a high priority of mine at the moment.

STEVE:  Now that’s very interesting.  I have to admit I’m ignorant about the subject.  That said, I will take a gander at the two books you mentioned simply because the topic is intriguing.  I’ve been operating under the assumption that creative-outlets are taking an absolute beatdown from online piracy.

I’ve been waiting for things to change simply because, like you mentioned, it appears creative-outlets are attempting to go up river using a headless paddle with their attempts at stopping piracy.  Granted, some “consumers” were specifically punished, but when looked at on the grand scale, their efforts don’t even register as a blip on the radar.  At least, that’s my ignorant opinion.

Obviously something has to give.

I take it you’re under the assumption that more people got their hands on your book than otherwise would have if you had released it with a price tag?

For our readers – if you haven’t checked out Matt’s book yet I highly suggest you take the time.  And ladies, don’t be fooled by the title.  This book is for everyone and anyone who is interested in improving their physique.

Oh, and you have my vote for a paperback edition of Maximum Muscle.

Moving on to the next question, I have a feeling this one will be the oddest for you to answer.  It’s not a question most would expect me to ask you.

Now I know you’re the furthest thing from a cheerleader or coddler.  That fact is mostly why I wanted your insight on this topic.  What do you say to the people who know what needs to be done, yet can’t muster up the willpower to remain consistent?

To frame this questions a bit, keep in mind the typical person paying attention to me isn’t necessarily the typical person paying attention to you.  Granted, I go out of my way to bridge that disconnect – but nonetheless it remains.

Many people reading this struggle with consistency and feel very beat-up after many attempts at weight loss.  It’s easy to say, “You either want this or you don’t.  Man up and make progress or don’t and remain the way you are.”  Stating the obvious doesn’t do the dilemma any justice though.

Any commentary?

MATT: Oh I’m positive that the free distribution model worked spectacularly to reach a lot of new people. By encouraging people to share it on the torrents, you can reach people all over the world. I’ve found search hits for it in Asia, Europe, and Russia. Now, whether people are reading it and getting anything from it I don’t know, but with volume it’s all a matter of percentages.

If a million people (for example) now have a copy of it, that’s a million potential people that are now aware of me and my work. The real number is more likely up in the thousands, but you get the idea. If I’d just sold it for a fixed price, I really doubt that I’d have gone over a few hundred copies by now, and I say that with all honesty. And if I’d put it out as an ebook, it’d be on the torrents anyway.

The only change I’d make in the future is to refine the torrent distribution method. If I put out any other products (which is questionable), I’ll make both digital and physical versions available, and I’ll also approach it as part of a more comprehensive marketing strategy. There’s a lot of potential here that the ‘traditional’ e-marketer copy-cats just aren’t exploiting, because they’re not innovators and because most of them are more interested in getting an income stream than they are with quality. They just want to copy what the other guy’s doing. I’d like to come up with something useful that still reaches my audience without relying on the Internet equivalent of selling gym memberships.

Anyway, I’ve said enough about all that. I’m not really here to sell the readers a new way of doing business, but I do think explaining myself can help people understand why I went the route I did.

This last question of yours is an interesting one. The psychology of coaching and motivation is tricky stuff.

I come from a ‘fitness’ background where you have to be self-motivated. Nobody’s going to hold your hand and make you do the stupid shit that we (that is, strength-athlete types) do on a regular basis. I want to pull a 600 lb deadlift this year while weighing under 200 lbs. If I want that to happen, I have to go get it. I can’t skip workouts because I’m too sore or because I broke a nail. I can’t skip half my workout because I’m hungover from partying last night. I can’t make excuses because I’m the only one to blame.

Anybody that wants to be successful in a sport has to have a good work ethic. I know for most of my early to mid 20s, my social life was more important than lifting. And that’s fine if you realize what that’s going to net you. I was okay with it because I didn’t want to be one of those obsessive weirdos that was afraid to go drink a beer. Looking back on it, I feel that was the right decision for where my life was.

Priorities change, times goes on, and now I’m in a situation that’s much more agreeable with hard-core goal-chasing. So now, having just turned 30, I’m getting better results and I’m in far better shape than I was at 25. Work ethic matters, and motivation matters. Consistency matters.

I say that because, honestly, most people just don’t have any balance. They’re all or nothing kinds of people that have to suck it up all at once and walk through the looking glass – they go from doing nothing, sitting at a desk all day and eating pizza for dinner every night, to hard-core born-again exercise and fitness freaks.

Fitness, whatever that means to you, and eating right shouldn’t be a state of mind you have to get into. They should be habits. As a trainer, Steve, I know you’ve heard these: “Oh I don’t like to lift weights.” “I hate to diet because I’ll miss my chocolate.” “Going to the gym is just such a chore and I never have time to do it.” Shit like that.

Anybody that’s successful has gotten over that. Training and eating aren’t ‘mindsets they have to get into’. It’s just what they do, end of the story. They don’t question it any more than you’d question breathing or drinking water.

If you want to perform at the highest levels, there’s a certain kind of crazy involved. Let’s face it, this stuff hurts. It’s uncomfortable, it’s painful, and there’s good odds you’re going to get hurt if you stick with it long enough. You’d have to be crazy to stick with that, let alone start to like it and to look forward to it. But that’s exactly what happens. You learn to develop that kind of anticipation.

People that don’t like to exercise aren’t going to succeed. If you hate going to the gym, sooner or later you’re going to quit. If you hate what you’re eating on a daily basis, you’re going to fail sooner or later.

Obviously there’s only so much you as a trainer can do; you can’t be expected to coddle and nag and keep chasing people down. Past a point they either want it or they don’t and there’s not a single thing you can do to change that. However, I firmly believe that only a small fraction of people are genuinely ‘untrainable’ in that way. Anybody that has gotten him/herself out of their rut enough to come find a trainer has at least that spark of interest and desire to change.

What I think happens in a lot of cases is that inept and incompetent trainers end up pouring a whole bucket of water on that spark, instead of gradually fanning it into a flame. I think most people can and will enjoy exercise if it’s introduced to them in the right way, gradually.

Those of us that were skinny guys driven by insecurities always have that to drive us, and it gives us that kind of crazy and the tenacity to stick with it. An overweight housewife or a busy CEO may not have that kind of single-mindedness to drive them along.

Now what happens when that guy shows up at the gym and gets assigned to some Bro trainer who’s idea of ‘effective workout’ is ‘grind you into paste and don’t stop until you’re a sweating, drooling pile on the floor’? Well, that person is sure convinced he got his money worth – after all, sweating and being out of breath means you’re working hard, right?

But he’s miserable. He’s out of shape and he’s not used to that workload. He’s going to be sore the next few days, and in the worst way. All that guy’s thinking about is how much that workout sucked and how he can barely move right now. So your macho idiot workout has now upped the odds that this guy’s not coming back.

You can ease people into it. You can use gradual, incremental progress as they improve, instead of just throwing them off the sides into the pool. And track that progress! Show them how they’re improving each workout. If they’ve got a tangible number that they can try to beat next time, you’re giving them incentive.

That doesn’t happen when you’ve got a ‘functional’ trainer having an overweight housewife flopping around between abs on the ground and pushups on the bosu ball. Or when you’ve got a guy with a clipboard taking a client on a circuit of machines as he counts reps and spots half the resistance. These people are going to get substandard results because the trainer’s just throwing them in the pool, and that happens because the trainer doesn’t know any better in the first place.

Motivation, at least as much as we can influence it, is squarely rolled up in results and tangible goals and in progress towards those goals. So much of motivation is unconscious; it would surprise you to know how little your conscious mind is involved in the decisions you make. Our brain creates this illusion that we’re in control, but the reality is that most of our actions and behaviors are on auto-pilot. The brain makes decisions and then deludes us into thinking it was our idea.

Motivating clients is not fundamentally different from selling them in the first place. You have to reach in to their heads and push the right buttons. It comes down to creating that emotional connection and tantalizing them with something they desire.

So that’s the strategy as I see it: ease them in gradually, give them a goal to train towards, and give them regular feedback and encouragement towards that goal.

It should go without saying that building a rapport with your client is a key part of this. If you’re the type that’s all business and has no demeanor with people, you’re not going to do well. I try to maintain a level of professional friendliness with clients, because I’m an easy-going kind of guy and I like to be a smartass, and I think that there’s no reason not to keep the environment laid back, but that can backfire too. You have to establish some boundaries, namely that while you’re in a session, you’re there to train. If you can chat a little between sets, that’s fine, but the workout comes first.

It all spirals together honestly. The psychological elements of coaching are tied right in with your competence as a trainer and your demeanor as a person. If you’re a competent, knowledgeable trainer and you’re good enough at marketing to stay in business, you shouldn’t have trouble with keeping people motivated, either (as much as we can affect that, anyway).

STEVE:  I can’t say I disagree with anything you say there.  Admittedly one of my weaknesses as a trainer is expecting more from myself in terms of ability to reach clients who aren’t necessarily ready, regardless of how unrealistic that might be.

One final question (before some rapid fire questions) and I promise I’ll let you get back to hating on the fitness industry.

Hypothetical situation –  225 pound woman hires you for personal training.  She is very motivated to make serious change, she has access to a gym, and there are no contraindications to exercise.  She has her diet squared away using a sensible approach.

Obviously anything that gets her moving is going to “work” in that it will help her expend calories.  I mean in all seriousness, simply telling her to eat less and move more would do the trick, I know.

But what would her programming most likely look like if you were working with her?

MATT: You pretty much summed it up with the “move more” component, and I honestly don’t think there’s much more to it than that, so this is gonna be a pretty brief answer.

As far as a resistance-training workout, that’s pretty essential to any fitness plan as far as I’m concerned, and especially so to someone interested in dropping fat, so that’s the first step. We should all know the benefits of having more muscle and strength, so I’m not getting into all that. So the first day in, I’d run her through a very basic and quick introductory session.

Being 225, unless she’s 6’5, means she’s almost certainly not going to be able to do a pushup or pullup, and probably not even an inverted row without help, so I wouldn’t see the point. Even squatting with body weight could be very difficult, honestly. As much as I do like using those with beginners to break them in a little, there’s not much choice but to rely on alternatives.

I don’t see a lot of utility to traditional assessment methods that a lot of trainers use, at least not right off the bat and if the client’s got no injury history. As I see it, the assessment is happening with initial introduction to the barbell lifts anyway.

In other words, start with the bar on everything. If the bar’s too much, which it may well be, start with a broomstick. But do the basic lifts – squat, bench press, deadlifts, overhead press, and some kind of upper-back compound. I’d prefer pullups, but pulldowns may be the better choice in this case. Yeah, they aren’t “functional”; so what? They overload the back and arm muscles that I need overloaded, so I don’t care. Pullups can come later, when she has the advantage of lower body weight and more strength.

Now you may be thinking, “is he out of his mind?” What am I doing taking an overweight woman and putting her on that kind of routine? Well, first of all, the emphasis right off the bat isn’t gonna be overload, so I’m not going to ramp the bar weight up and be all HARDCORE!!! about it. The main thing I’m interested in at this stage is developing good movement habits, and the lifts will teach that even with very light or no resistance.

Secondly, if I notice real problems while that’s going on, say a knee that’s caving in on a squat, or a weak upper back that’s screwing up a bench press, and if that goes on despite cues to fix it, then I know there’s a problem and I can program in corrective warmups and assistance work accordingly. Likewise if she can’t squat at all, or can’t bench, or whatever else, I know there’s a problem. The introduction is the assessment as far as I’m concerned.

And this is honestly where it turns into a matter of having a good eye and knowing what exercises can fix what problems; covering every permutation would take up a lot of space. Sometimes it’s just a matter of overall weakness, and you just have to build up basic strength to fix it. I think a lot of people forget that strength is also stability and balance. If you’ve got weak muscles, that alone can contribute to a lot of chronic pains and poor balance.

Sometimes there really is a genuine muscle imbalance, though I honestly think that the lifts, properly coached and in the context of a balanced program, will tend to iron that out in beginners more often than not. It’s the people that have screwed themselves up with “chest” and “arm” days, or folks coming in after real injuries that you have to be careful with. If you’re just talking a housewife or a guy that sits at his desk all day, there’s nothing there that a good warmup and basic program can’t undo.

Beyond that, I don’t see a whole lot of point to wasting time with pointless assessments when the odds are she can’t do them anyway, and they’re not going to tell me anything I can’t already see from the basic movement patterns. If she was closer to a more statistically-healthy weight, I might throw in the pushups and inverted rows, maybe even a split-squat, just to get an idea of basic strength levels – and because with women, I’ve found that body weight alone is usually a really good starting point for those movements, and there is something to be said for developing them independently of pure barbell work – but in this case I think it’s fairly redundant.

Same idea goes for flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. I don’t need tests to know that, odds are, she’s not going to perform very well in either case. Basic flexibility is, again, something the basic lifts can largely handle on their own, when coached correctly. The only time I’d prioritize any flexibility work is when it’s an issue actively holding back a lift, and honestly a lot of that can be covered with a good dynamic warmup routine if you see something that’s really a consistent problem (things like stretching tight hip flexors, as one example), versus just poor technique.

It should go without saying that I think aerobic fitness is overrated, as practiced by most of the fitness community at least, which means I don’t see the point in “Biggest Loser” style “chain them to the treadmill and yell” methods. I’m not interested in developing aerobic fitness just for the sake of it, since I’m assuming the doc’s cleared her for exercise and she’s not a walking risk factor. I’m not trying to build an endurance athlete; I just need her to do some basic calorie-burning activity, and preferably without discouraging her from doing it because it sucks so much.

HIIT and any kind of intense interval work is out of the question, given someone entirely sedentary and overweight. It’s also overkill, and see also my point about discouraging her. I’d be happy if she was just getting 30 minutes to an hour of walking each day, or something equivalent, and making the effort to stand up and walk around more in general. Obviously I can’t supervise that, but it would be my strong suggestion.

And that really about covers it. Yeah, I’m very biased towards strength training, and I don’t get into a lot of the fad circuits and complexes and all of that that’s in vogue for fat loss. I also don’t see much point in blending the strength and endurance (or ‘metabolic’) components of exercise. Yes, it will work for beginners, and yes, the variety can keep them interested. But then again, showing them regular improvements and using that as a tool to keep them excited can keep them interested, too.

Over the long term, keeping strength and endurance methods separate (even if you do them in the same session) will pay off much larger dividends. Conditioning is essential, in my opinion, but I’m not going to water down the strength work to make it happen.

So what if she’s not interested in that, you say? She just wants to get to a healthy weight, not be an elite athlete. I say, so what? How’s she going to be worse off for having developed a well-rounded foundation of fitness? My method will not only get the fat off, it will also leave her much stronger, much more flexible, and with far better aerobic capacity on top of that – and it will do all of that better than random ‘metcons’ and workouts designed to make you breathe hard and sweat a lot.

Basics never stop working.

STEVE:  That’s very similar to my own take with such clients.  The foundation of basic strength work exists regardless.  I will note that I do like explaining things like complexes, circuit training, etc. for no reason other than expanding options on the metabolic training front. I don’t let these things enter at the expense of basic strength work.  I’m of the opinion, though, that if you avoid rigidity when slotting metabolic work into their programming by providing a list of options, they’re less likely to get bored.

That’s been my experience anyhow.

Of course it *could* backfire where you cause paralysis by analysis, but that’s more a function of the professional doing a poor job of reading their clients or of explaining the application of things than anything else.

MATT: Right, that’s exactly it. You say “strength” and everybody seems to hear “train with low reps and max attempts like a powerlifter”, but that’s just not the case. There’s a lot of overlap between powerlifting and pure strength-based training, but they aren’t identical as everyone seems to think. I’ve even made the case that bodybuilding is nothing but a very goal-specific form of strength training, a point that seems lost on many. Powerlifting is heavily specialized towards specific exercises and specific performances with those exercises. General strength, on the other hand, is a component of well-rounded fitness, just as important as conditioning or flexibility (and realistically you can’t separate it from those or any other element of fitness; they all go hand in hand).

As far as complexes and circuits and such, I do want to clarify: I don’t think that these are bad tools to use. I wouldn’t use them in the case-study you gave, with a completely untrained and overweight woman, but that doesn’t mean I’d rule them out as a modality. I actually do like that kind of work for conditioning, provided it’s put together with some kind of logic besides “do random exercises for time”. My biggest beef, just so that I’m clear, is introducing those methods to people that aren’t prepared for them and using them as a poor replacement for specific strength training.

STEVE:  Makes perfect sense to me.  Let’s jump into some rapid fire questions…

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise those who “think” they know you.

MATT: This is a tough one, because I’m not all that sure what people know about me. I’m an amateur science fiction writer. I code websites as a hobby and have been slowly learning PHP, mySQL, and AJAX in my spare time. My favorite music is rock/metal made between 1970 and 1990. Politically I’m left-libertarian to the point of anarchist, not a Commie as some people seem to think. I’m an atheist in religious terms and I like a lot of what the transhumanist movement has to say.

STEVE:  What were the last 3 books you’ve read?

MATT: “Supercapitalism” by Robert Reich is what I’m currently reading. “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert came before that, and then “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick.

STEVE:  Who has influenced your life the most?

MATT: You know I’m not sure I can nail down an answer to this one, because there’s been so many influences across a wide variety of areas. I can think of teachers in high school, professors in college, people in our field that have been a big influence, authors and writers, scientists…the list could go on for quite awhile. I’ve never had just one person that I’ve looked up to and tried to model myself after. It’s always been a group effort.

STEVE:  Everyone has a price… or so they say?  How much would it cost t-mag to hire you as one of their shills?

MATT: I won’t lie, I’m cheap. Give me $75K per year and all the free Anaconda I can handle, and I’ll rep their wares. If you want me to step it up a notch and make “better than Deca” claims, double that. I’d probably still bad-mouth them anonymously, though.

STEVE:  What does your handle on most forums, powermanDL, represent?

MATT: It’s an old thing I cooked up back around 9-10 years ago. I don’t remember the exact details, but that band PowerMan 5000 was big at the time, and I liked to deadlift. So I put them together and registered it on a forum somewhere. It just kinda stuck. I’m actually trying to move away from that username now, because I think it’s pretty corny and everybody knows me by name anyway.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

psychological exercises January 31, 2013 at 10:46 am

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