Chest Training and Your Boobs: Why Women Should Train Chest (NSFW)

***Important Note: This isn’t meant to be pornography by any means. Rather, this seems to be an important topic for women, and there is no other way to convey the important insight in this post, other than using the NSFW images below***

Some of the most frequent questions that I get from my female clients include “Should I train my chest? What impact will building muscle have on my breasts? I’m paranoid about building muscle in that area.”

Anecdotally, I’ve heard nothing but good things, especially from clients who:

1. Are relatively “flat-chested” (quotations to emphasize that it’s their words, not mine. I’m equal opportunity here.)
2. Have lost a significant amount of weight before.

While I’ve seen great results – raving testimonials even – from women about their boobage, I’ve yet to actually show evidence of what chest training can do for women. Until now.

Here is a client’s before-and-after picture after improving the musculature behind her chest as well as reducing her body fat.

This is taken almost exactly a year apart. She obviously gave me very explicit permission to post these.

Image is obviously NSFW. Click to see the actual image.

Image is obviously NSFW. Click on the image to see the actual image.

As you can see in this image, this woman’s chest aesthetics are tremendously improved. The extra muscle in her upper chest creates a “lift,” while the muscle in her lower chest fills out her breast region. In addition, the additional leanness creates improves the “perkiness” of the breast. (Remember, boobs are made of breast tissue and fat – mainly fat.)

Moral of the story? Work out your chest. Don’t be afraid or paranoid about the impact of added muscle in that region. It can only help, not hurt.

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Fitness Is A Skill

In the last decade, as a fitness coach and the co-founder of Fitocracy, I’ve been exposed to the stories and data of millions of people and countless successful transformations, including my own.

Despite these success stories, most people fail at fitness and obesity rates are increasing. Yet, if people understood the secret to fitness, success would eventually be inevitable.

You see, the one thing that I hear the most is “If I just had the motivation…”

People think that the secret to making a successful fitness transformation is about finding motivation.

They think motivation is like some sort of fitness Tinker Bell that you can pull out of your pocket at any time. She’ll sprinkle magic pixie dust that makes you instantly hate the taste of pizza and love the treadmill.

You know who has motivation? Your average Joe who joins a gym in January. He’s motivated as hell. Sadly, he doesn’t stick around come March. He stops going to the gym, feels guilty, then blames his lack of willpower.

Little does he know fitness success is not about motivation. Motivation is fleeting and unreliable. Most importantly, it’s not a skill that you can improve.

The truth is that despite the fact, everyone is capable of achieving his or her ideal physique. What’s the secret? It’s realizing the following…

Fitness is as much of a skill as riding a bicycle.

If you find your own transformation difficult to achieve, then you’re about to find out why and learn how to improve your fitness “skill.”

The Growth vs. Fixed mindset

But first, let’s talk about an important concept – mindset.

In psychology, people can be bucketed into two different mindsets – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Those with fixed mindsets believe that success is based on innate talent. You’re born with these characteristics, and you either have them or you don’t. Failures – such as the failure to follow a diet – are the result of a flaw in character, such as self-control, discipline, or intelligence.

Those with a growth mindset believe that success is reliant upon improving their different skill sets. That is, through hard work, learning, and experience, these people can improve their success in different facets of life.

Some subjects, like riding a bicycle, are universally seen through a “growth” lens.

If you fell and scraped your knee the first time you attempted riding a bike, you wouldn’t say “Something is horribly wrong with me. I don’t have the willpower and discipline required to ride my bike.” would you?

That would be silly. Instead, you’d realize that you just haven’t fully developed that skill yet. You’d think about why you fell. Perhaps you didn’t know how to navigate your bike through new terrain, such as a bumpy road or a patch of grass.

Unlike riding a bicycle, however, fitness is almost always seen through the lens of a “fixed mindset.” When people slip up on their diets, they automatically beat themselves up for being undisciplined and lazy, rather than think about why they slipped up and how to prevent this same mistake in the future.

Unfortunately, those with a fixed mindset try to “brute force” their success with willpower, which is a recipe for failure. That’s because willpower is a finite resource; relying on it will not lead to success.

The 5 Skills of Fitness

If fitness is a skill, then by definition, it can be improved by improving its component skills. Let’s take a look at what they are and how to improve them.

Knowledge –

Knowledge is simply the evidence-based understanding behind training and nutrition. It allows us to create a plan and execute on it.

Knowledge can be either basic – understanding the tenets of calories and how they impact your weight – or it can be relatively advanced – correctly incorporating a carbohydrate refeed in order to raise leptin during your diet.

You can improve your knowledge by reading sites like this one. Find a credible fitness pro like Alan Aragon and Layne Norton to trust, and absorb their encyclopedic knowledge.

Beware, however. Knowledge is the most important of all skills, but paradoxically, it’s also the most overrated.

There is more information about fitness now than ever, thanks to increasingly-easy access to scientific research because of resources like PubMed. Because of this, knowledge is often glorified and romanticized. Many, in fact, actually think that it’s the only fitness skill, a fatal mistake when it comes to improvement.

Knowledge can easily be overdone. After all, what good is understanding the optimal meal timing to optimize muscle protein synthesis if you cannot, say, stop binge eating.

That’s where mindfulness comes into play.

Mindfulness / Self-Awareness –

Mindfulness is the examination of your feelings, surroundings, and being self-aware.

Below is a common conversation with a client.

Client: “I fell off the wagon yesterday and messed up my diet. It was bad. I binge ate and just ate all the things.”
Me: “Can you elaborate? What happened and what triggered it?”
Client: “I ate all the things… like I failed epicly and had no self-control.”
Me: “Hahah, no you goober. I mean what were you feeling before the point of binging? What triggered this feeling?”
Client: “Huh? I mean I just messed up.”

In the conversation above, the client sees a binge as a failure without any underlying context. They’re actually confused by the fact that you can expound on a binge.

An interesting thing that I’ve noticed about failing in fitness more so than any other subject matter is that people do not learn from their mistakes. In other subjects, such as business or relationships, people look for patterns so that they don’t make the same mistakes again.

Me: “Think back. What were you feeling at the time? What caused that pattern?”
Client: “Well, let’s see… on training days you have my calories at about maintenance. I actually ate 50 calories above maintenance and I figured I screwed up anyway. That led me to feel anxious. Eating everything in sight was a way to cope with that anxiety.”

By practicing mindfulness, the client eventually broke down their binge into discrete events and related them back to the decisions that were made. We objectively agreed that going 50 calories over maintenance is hardly a slip up.

The next time this client sees this same pattern, he can use previous experiences to disrupt his usual course of action.

Think of mindfulness as fitness wisdom. It’s the ability to learn about yourself and your feelings. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to learn from your mistakes. You can improve mindfulness by following the “totem exercise” that I write about here.

Self-Compassion –

What are the typical feelings of someone who messes up on their diet? Hate. Guilt. Self-loathing.

For many people who have never been able to lose weight, their failures have created a lifetime of these feelings. Yet they keep trying over and over again, often relying on willpower to overcome their deficiencies.

Each time, they face the same disastrous outcome.

The solution for these folks is to think of fitness as a skill, and research has shown that developing self-compassion allows people to do just that. Those who show self-compassion forgive themselves for their mistakes so that they can try again.

While this is slightly “meta,” think of self-compassion as “the skill that allows you to think of fitness as a skill” and therefore something that can be improved.

The next time you mess up, cut yourself some slack, then exhibit mindfulness to figure out what went wrong.

Humility –

The first time I heard Martin Berkhan of Intermittent Fasting fame mention that “Breakfast is not that important,” I was outraged.

Seriously, Martin? Everyone knows that breakfast is obviously the most important meal of the day.

Think of a time that someone credible presented fitness information contradictory to what you knew to be true. You were probably angry, no? What you felt is what I affectionately call PubMed rage. (It’s usually displayed by an “Internet warrior” in a fitness forum of some sorts)

It turns out that this reaction is normal. Research has shown that when people’s deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory, credible information, they actually cling on to their existing beliefs even harder.

I later found out that Martin was correct. I started skipping breakfast and was rewarded for doing so; as an entrepreneur who works 80+ hours/week, skipping breakfast has added countless hours to my productivity. (There are considerations to suboptimal muscle protein synthesis, but I’m willing to make that tradeoff.)

The only way that I was able to realize that was showing humility – suppressing my ego and being open to the possibility that I was wrong. The more you learn about fitness (or any other skill for that matter) the more you realize the amount that you don’t know.

Humility is the skill that gives you the motivation to improve all other skills. Without it, we would stagnate. Whenever you feel the need to be an Internet warrior because someone contradicted your beliefs, make sure to examine your beliefs and be open-minded first.

Discipline (Habit Building) –

Decisions are taxing from a cognitive point of view. If you’ve ever felt mentally exhausted after a day full of meetings, then you know what I mean.

This poses a problem when it comes to fitness. Subjecting yourself to this cognitive overload depletes the same pool of resources that you need to exhibit the willpower and self-control to do things like go to the gym.

Hell, thinking really hard depletes self-control so much that it impacts maximum voluntary strength.

Put another way, making hard decisions at work, deciding whether or not to go to the gym, and saying no to that piece of cake all compete for the same pool of mental resources.

How do we solve for this pesky little problem? Luckily, Mother Nature provided us a nifty solution.

When something is repeated often enough, the decision to execute that task moves to a part of your brain called the basal ganglia. Once there, the decision is processed in the background and no longer requires a costly conscious decision. This is what’s known as a “habit.”

Discipline is the skill that allows us to create habit. You do this by repeating a task over and over again – going to the gym at the same time every day, preparing tomorrow’s meals at the end of every day, etc.

Habits require willpower at the start, but it is the correct use of willpower.

Discipline allows us to utilize willpower as the “battery” that starts the car, as opposed to the energy source that keeps it going.

How to Improve Your Fitness Skills

Like any other skill, you’ll need to improve by doing.

First, find a diet and training plan to follow for at least 8 weeks. This takes research and adding to your “knowledge” skill set. You’ll have to invest some time to find a plan that fits your goals and lifestyle.

Now, here’s the important part. Stick to the program as best as you can, but expect to slip up along the way.

When this happens, go through the skills in order that they’re listed here (I was sneaky and listed them in order of priority) to find out what needs to be improved.

Did you find yourself straying off your diet frequently? Exhibit mindfulness to find out why.

Perhaps you feel guilty after skipping multiple training sessions and can’t get back on the horse? Time for a dose of self-compassion.

Perhaps you realized that the morning is the only time you can train. Utilize some discipline and create habit around waking up early every day, no matter what.

Run through each skill and determine what you need to improve. Sometimes, improving a skill – like mindfulness – is as easy as being aware of it.

Do you see the difference in understanding that fitness is a skill? Small failures can be examined and improved upon. If you do not think about fitness in this way, failures are all the same, big or small, and they are all tied to your sense of worth.

Want to know what’s the best thing about embarking on your own fitness transformation? It’s that it makes you an even more amazing person.

You will become disciplined enough to do the mundane, tough enough to relentlessly forgive yourself when you fail, and brave enough to be willing to being wrong.

That’s because a successful transformation on the outside first requires a transformation within.

Good luck!

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Is the Fitness Summit a Circlejerk?

I’m not sure why, but I get pensive and analytical at the end of these conferences. Whether it’s the physiological impact of alcohol withdrawal trickling into my mood or the fact that I overanalyze human interactions (sometimes I think I may be a high-functioning sociopath…) is anyone’s guess.

Last year, immediately after the summit, I wrote about my analysis of the fitness industry and why it’s broken. This year, a few comments about “The Fitness Summit” being a circle jerk, coupled with a Facebook post by my brilliant friend Clifton Harski (this guy totally gets it, by the way) left me wondering the same thing.

On a scale of 1 to Judy, Clifton’s post is somewhat judgy (he admits so himself), but I always respect a bold opinion. It’s interesting that I would be open to agreeing with Clifton’s overall sentiment, because I absolutely adore everyone who spoke and all of the people that I met. Echoing Clifton’s sentiment, at the atomic level, everything was great, and I truly enjoyed (if not idolize) almost all of the presenters. Something, however, also gave me pause.

So… is The Fitness Summit a circle jerk? To answer this question, let’s look at some characteristics of the fitness industry.

The Fitness Industry as Political Factions

In politics, factions appeal to particular user bases in order to garner their vote. Politicians position themselves along divisive issues in order to appeal to a specific group of people.

Many of those issues, such as gun control, are emotionally rooted in nature; people have firm opinions that rarely change, no matter how much information is presented. The voter density of these niches (which we can think of as market sizes) behind these issues will vary. For example, you won’t find many African American Jews who are pro-life. Market sizes will additionally dictate the ways that politicians position their brand. Obviously, you want to be where the voters are.

Also relevant is the fact that relationships are central to politics. There is a barter economy where politicians trade favors and endorsements. Alliances are strategically formed for the purpose of strengthening one’s political brand. Conversely, politicians mudsling simply as a marketing tool in order to garner attention and position their brand far away from their targets.

If you’re familiar with the fitness industry, this should sound eerily familiar. Have you ever heard Gary Taubes making his media rounds in order to promote Paleo? It literally sounds like he’s hitting the campaign trail making his stump speech.

Like politics, the fitness industry is comprised of various camps. You have a Paleo camp, a vegan camp, an evidence-based fitness camp, a running camp, a functional strength camp, Lyle McDonald a̶n̶d̶ ̶f̶r̶i̶e̶n̶d̶s̶, and so on and so on.

Some of these camps play well together. For example, there’s a high degree of overlap between the CrossFit camp and the Paleo camp.

Some don’t. Belonging to the Paleo camp automatically means that you are mort enemies with the vegan camp. (By the way if vegans like animals so much, why the hell are they eating all their food?)

Relationships are arguably more integral to the fitness industry because of the way that digital product economy works. Barter economies exist between fitness pros leveraging each other’s email lists. The larger your network, the more people you can reach with your product. On the flip side, calling yourself a friend of Lyle McDonald means a necessary trip to the psychiatric ward.

I’d like to note that the formation of these systems in both politics and fitness is completely natural. I’m not judging in any way, because they organically evolved this way for a few reasons:

  1. Within domains that tie strongly to their sense of self, such as politics and religion, people are highly susceptible to marketing. And the only other domain that I’ve seen right up there with politics and religion is – you guessed it – fitness.
  2. Within these domains, people look to personalities in order to make their decisions. I’m not exactly sure why. (Probably has something to do with being much simpler to default to an authority figure when there’s so much information.) If you are a fitness persona, people will look to you for their health. This is a huge responsibility.
  3. Within these domains, people will follow these personalities first, evidence second. We’re more susceptible to this than we think. People often backwards rationalize their favorite fitness persona’s beliefs and recommendations. For example, if Alan Aragon told me that consuming semen would raise my testosterone 1000% and I didn’t think he were trolling, then… well… I’ll leave this PG.

Ok, now that I’ve neckbearded enough about this, let’s talk about The Fitness Summit.

The Fitness Summit

The Fitness Summit contains all of my fitness crushes (to borrow the term from my friend Kevin Packer), and this is no coincidence. Like-minded people who approach fitness like me (geeky autodidacts who are always trying to improve their mental models) inevitably end up following guys like Alan, Brad, Mike Nelson, etc. That’s why we feel a bond whenever we discover someone in real life follows them as well; it’s like finding a kindred spirit.

That is because this particular faction of fitness is the evidence-based faction. Like the Starks in Game of Thrones, they are the good guys. They’re the guys you root for. You want to see them win the throne.

How do you position yourself as being part of the evidence-based camp? It’s simple. You do so by paying little attention to marketing yourself as evidence-based at all.

You simply do whatever you can to help people. Actions, not words. That’s what makes you a good guy that people are rooting for. Ok, one last time, because this is what leads to the circle jerk phenomenon.

You position yourself as being part of the evidence-based camp by paying little attention to marketing yourself as evidence-based at all.

And that’s where the circle jerk is prone to happen.

Whenever someone aligns themselves with one of the good guys (or positions themselves by bashing the “bad guys”) purely for the sake of personal brand, social capital, or any other personal gain, they are circle jerking.

This includes agreeing for the sake of agreeing or trying to build rapport, asking questions for the purposes of making yourself sound smart, or bashing Kiefer because it’s the cool thing to do.

This, of course, isn’t unique to The Summit. You’ll see this phenomenon at all conferences. To occur at The Summit, however, is particularly nefarious, because of an implicit, unspoken, understanding by folks in the evidence-based camp.

The understanding is that if you are in the evidence-based camp, your main purpose is to seek and disperse knowledge, thereby helping others in their fitness endeavors. They are not willing to make the same tradeoffs that other camps make for marketing purposes. It’s an unspoken oath.

Positioning yourself as “evidence based” for the purpose of winning over a crowd or a relationship, breaks this oath. It becomes circle jerking.

To clarify, I am not saying it’s wrong to get down and drink/network all weekend with cool, smart peeps (i.e. why I went). That’s different. The key characteristic that determines circle jerking is motive.

Now, all that being said, I didn’t catch who was engaging in such behavior. Nor do I care. I just wanted to discuss the reasons that it exists and it’s inevitable, given the industry and the conference’s positioning. Frankly, I was drunk the whole time, so I probably wouldn’t trust my own recollection.

But I want to shift the topic to something that I do care about.

We Are Asking the Wrong Question

The biggest thing that stood out to me is this – We, as fitness professionals, are asking the wrong questions.

Too many people ask “What should my client’s macros be?”

Not enough people ask “How do I get my client to adhere to his/her macros?” And that is the question that needs to get asked more.

Questions like… How do we maximize adherence for Average Joe, who is undoubtedly not like us? How do we help clients identify habit loops? How do we help a client who is working 80 hours/week develop a positive feedback loop around fitness and teach them that fitness is a skill.

These are the questions that need to be asked in 90% of cases, because 90% of clients are Average Joe.

In one of the seminars, Brad and Alan asked the question “Is there an anabolic window?” This is a great question to ask, as it has amazing implications for ROI based on the client’s fitness level (Brad actually started talking about this but was low on time) and therefore, a chance to improve client adherence.

But this is only one piece of the puzzle. The second piece of the puzzle is to ask “So what?”

We need to learn how to take these concepts and package them into a gummy vitamin, something that people will want to consume. (Metaphor coincidentally stolen from Clifton)

We also need to stop asking the wrong questions, such as whether walking on a treadmill is superior to walking outside. This is circle jerking, and here’s why. As evidence-based fitness professionals, our goal is to seek and disperse knowledge to help others in their fitness endeavors.

Knowledge for any other reason is mental masturbation (or neckbearding) and equally nefarious in nature, because it ignores the main mission – helping others – in favor of sounding smart. The question above is akin to asking how to maximize MPS for an obese 500 lb male. We don’t need to figure out the solutions to third order problems.

So is The Fitness Summit a circle jerk? No, it’s not, because motive is important. The overall motive was overwhelmingly good. As were all of the speakers and attendees.

But we need do need to start figuring out how to take the brilliant insights that were discussed by the experts and distribute them to the mainstream; we need to learn how to create a gummy vitamin. Otherwise the evidence-based camp relying on evidence alone to compete with the other factions will truly lead to the same fate as The Starks.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my head chopped off by some asshole who puts butter in his coffee.

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