Lessons From A Master… Part 2 Tucson Personal Trainer Blog

Today’s post is part 2 of a 5-part series (click here if you missed part 1). Here’s a quick recap: Master instructor Mark Reifkind recently retired from StrongFirst and was asked to summarize his decades of coaching experience. Instead of writing an entire novel, he boiled it down to just 5 bullet points. Here they are…

1.We stand on the shoulders of giants. Study the greats that came before you.

2.N=1. What works for you? We don’t need to discover the training “theory of everything.” Just what makes you progress.

3.Consistency trumps intensity, and intensity is born from consistency.

4.Control the breath, control the body.

5. Feed-forward tension is the master key to strength.

In an effort to honor him and everything he’s done for us, I’m writing a post on each of these topics discussing what I’ve learned from Rif in the context of each.

Lesson 2: N=1. What Works For You?

When we were young, we had to believe what was taught to us. Some have the fortune of having great mentors that teach them how to think for themselves in a critical manner. Others are surrounded by people who are only concerned with getting us to think just like they do… critical thinking be damned.

Unfortunately, many of us spend more time being exposed to the latter.

As we mature, we find ourselves in one of two situations: We either A: Become one of these dogmatic people who take the things we were told as holy gospel. Or B: We spend years undoing that damage, and learn to think for ourselves. Fortunately, I met a great mentor (not Rif, but another great guy) in my late twenties and started my way down plan ‘B’.

Are You Surrounded By Monkeys?

You may be familiar with the story of the monkeys in captivity: A group of monkeys were being held in captivity and there was a large tree in the middle with bunches of bananas at the top. When one of the monkeys would try to climb the tree, they would get a strong shock that forced them to go back down with no bananas to show for their effort. Once all the monkeys figured out that the battle wasn’t worth fighting, the captors would start replacing one monkey with a new one. When the new monkey would see the bananas, he would try to climb the tree. Once the other monkeys saw this, they became worried for their new friend, so they would pull him down before he could get to the spot where he got the shock.

The captors kept replacing the monkeys one-by-one, and the same action would be observed… the other monkeys would keep pulling down the new guy, so he doesn’t get zapped. Soon, there were no monkeys left from the original group who actually received the shock. The captors then took away the shocker… so any monkey that got to the top could simply enjoy the bananas… but that never happened. Any monkey trying to climb would instantly get pulled down by the others.

What do we learn from this little parable? Since multiple interpretations can be drawn (in true Rif fashion), I’ll leave that up to you.

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Not Good Or Bad, Just Different

Two things can be true at the same time: Biologically speaking, we are all more similar than we are different. HOWEVER, we are still different nonetheless. Do you ever wonder how sometimes you meet a person that does something that you’ve tried to do countless times and they were incredibly successful, while your efforts produced nothing? This sort of thing happens all the time. Hence the need for the N=1 experiment.

Two Personal Examples:

There are two big places in my life where the N=1 experiment paid huge dividends. The first was in my career. From pretty much the moment I started working, I would get bored doing the same thing all the time. My solution was to always be working and earning a living in several, seemingly opposite, professions at the same time. I started out in retail sales, but I also really enjoyed working with my hands. So, I would spend my free time working on car stereos (back when people were really into that sort of thing). Soon I started to get lots of customers that wanted me to work on their cars. At the same time, I was doing well in retail and got promoted to store manager. I’d work in the office all day, then come home, change my clothes, and go into the garage to work on my latest build. When I got out of retail, I went to school to get a real estate license and a personal trainer certification. Soon, I was working on cars, selling houses, and training clients. And my income was split virtually evenly between all three.

I was side hustling before it was cool!

Now-a-days I still do the same thing. I don’t work on cars anymore (except my own… a highly valuable skill), but my hands still stir many pots.

If I had a nickel for every person that told me I’d never be successful diverting my attention this way, I’d be rich. The reality is… my quality of life is higher because I was able to figure out how my brain/body work. It turns out that each of these skills actually energize the other. I rarely get burned out because my mind stays busy processing different things. Is this normal? I suppose I’ll let the mental health professionals tackle that one. But my joke has always been… I’ve taken a horrible personality disorder and turned it into a career.

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The second example is my diet. Before we get too deep, let me be clear that this is not nutrition advice. You need your own N=1 experiment to figure that out.

When I was a young and impressionable bro, I bought into the idea that the only way to be lean was to eat 6+ mini-meals per day; each containing large amounts of protein and almost no carbs. These meals were so small that none ever left me satiated. And the low carb diet gave me constant headaches. So, of course, once my brain/body couldn’t take it anymore, I would binge several times per week.

I was also quite chubby in those days…

As I got older and wiser, I discovered that this one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work for everyone. So, I did something crazy: I decided to become a vegan for 30 days. I enjoyed it so much that I went on a vegetarian diet for 11 more months after that. That’s right, a full year without meat! My bro friends assured me that all my muscles would instantly shrivel up and die. That didn’t happen.

That experiment was almost 17 years ago. Although I’m no longer a vegetarian, I learned many principles that I still follow to this day… the biggest one is having vegetables be the main focus of my meals (I ate hardly any before the experiment). I feel so much better and it’s also much harder to overeat! I still find it weird that some people, when asked about their diet, talk about eating nutrients instead of food.

Anyway, the experimentation continued, and a few years later I started scaling back my eating frequency and ended up eating just one meal per day. I also discovered during my vegetarian experiment that my body does much better on lower amounts of protein and higher carbs (headaches gone, performance great, etc.). Keep in mind, this was years before intermittent fasting became a thing. And, of course, all my bro friends, once again, assured me that all my muscles would shrivel up and die. Didn’t happen. I got stronger… and leaner. Today I’m still stronger and fitter than I was in my 20s, despite being longer in the tooth.

The One BIG Problem…

The big thing to be careful of is falling into the, “I’m special and the rules don’t apply to me” camp. The N=1 experiment can go horribly awry when people go too crazy in this department.

Otherwise, enjoy the process and keep experimenting.

Until next time,

Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached “Team Protocol” to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Marie, and dog, Asher.

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