20 weeks ago, to the day, I was obsessed with results.
I wanted to improve, get stronger, bigger and leaner, I had gathered all my best knowledge, every supplement that I could imagine that might help and amalgamated all of my training knowledge into a super program. I was set and couldn’t wait to experience my new rapid progression, after all, everything was the combination of cutting edge industry knowledge and strategies, what could possibly go wrong?
18 weeks ago, to the day, I grinded to a miserable halt. Engulfed in a confused funk.
I’d pressed on for 2 weeks with the over-complicated, unrealistic plan and gained nothing but a perma-cold and a bitter disdain for anything even remotely barbell shaped. I’d gained some (fairly insignificant) strength but I didn’t know which of the hundreds of factors was responsible. All I knew was that I was tired, drained and had lost all motivation to train.
Confused and frustrated with my failure I called fellow editor Yusef.
He helped me see the light with one simple question:
“How can you know what worked and what didn’t when you implemented everything at once?”
He was right, I was being impatient and essentially ignoring everything that my training pursuits have taught me – results are a product of the right knowledge and the consistent application of that knowledge, its not a 2 month sprint, its a lifelong marathon.
My desperation to make changes had simply caused me to jump feet first into training twice per day, adding loads of new supplements, adjusting calories, feeding windows and lengths of fasts. Did any of it actually work? I had no idea, the strength I’d gained could merely be complete coincidence.
Lets say I’d battled on and my “super-plan” HAD worked, what would I have gained? Sure I may have gone on to add some strength, a bit of size, maybe even lost some fat, but I would have had no idea WHY. One of the variables? Maybe two? Maybe all combined? I’d never know and once the program was over i’d be back at square one, compiling everything at once to try and push myself to the next level.
The situation reminded me of a very famous economics concept, “Ceteris Paribus”. It simply means “all other things being equal or held constant.” and allows a conclusive causative link between two variables a factor that you want to measure and an outcome. In order to be able to say “x has an effect on y”, we need to hold all other parameters constant. The result? We can definitively say “x effected the outcome, in this way” and be certain (within reason) that it was x that caused it.
I’d changed everything about my training and diet at the same time and was now in a position where I didn’t know what had worked and what hadn’t.
I needed to change how I approached things, but first I needed a sensible base and starting point. A diet that I could stick with long term. I’d been using John Keifer’s Carb Backloading for a month or so prior, I decided to stick to that (what can I say, I really like pastry)
I split time into phases, each phase was 6 weeks long with two parts (a and b – each of 3 weeks).
Each 6 weeks I decided on 3-5 hypotheses that I was interested in testing and used the mid-way point to make informed changes or refinements to allow me to get a deeper insight into what I wanted to examine.
I wanted to test the following:
- Could I eat maintenance calories (as per the Harris-Benedict formula) and still create positive changes in body composition?
- Could I improve the results of my bio-signature test by following Poliquin’s anti-aromatase protocol?
- Could I de-prioritse workout nutrition and consume just 1-2 scoops of whey isolate and a cup of coffee prior?
After 3 weeks I’d noticed that my weight stayed the same and I was getting stronger without noticeable body-fat increases. However, I was sore for longer after training so I changed “3” to:
- Did I get benefits from including Pepto-pro in my workout nutrition?
After the 6 weeks:
- My weight held constant at 90-91kg, body-fat was the same (according to bio-signature) and I had added a lot of strength, 20kg to bench and deadlift. I concluded that this method was good for stength accumulation but for signficant body composition change I would need to re-incorporate periods of over and under-feeding. I implemented my concept of “anchoring” in the phase 2. I’ll cover this in a different article.
- My biosignature showed a huge reduction in skin-folds indicative of aromatase. Success! I went on to try his cortisol protocol in phase 2.
- My recovery seemed better with Pepto-Pro combined with whey isolate around training, rather than just whey on its own. I experienced DOMs for noticeably less time after training. I went on to add creatine to the mix, In phase 2.
So, 6 weeks on, I’d made great progress AND actually learnt a lot about myself, what I would do again and what I wouldn’t. Extrapolate this, I’m starting phase 4 as we speak and always learning. I’ve completed periods over overfeeding and mass gain, cycles of ADF and I’m now entering a cutting phase with some methods I’ve never tried before. I’m confident that this time next year I’ll have tried and changed a lot about the way I do things. Whats better, I’m open to almost anything new, after-all, the worst that can happen is it wont work – but at least I’ll know.
The changes I now make aren’t simply wild, hopeful, shots in the dark. They’re informed, measured decisions, tested with an exact method and rounded off with a definitive conclusion bolstered with my own anecdotal evidence.
1. Pick a starting base, follow a diet schedule you know and like. Don’t change it.
2. Take photos, weigh yourself and take measurements. Consider getting your body fat tested. You need to be able to quantify any changes.
3. Decide on 3-5 things that interest you but dont overlap (don’t test German Volume Training and Westside at the same time etc etc). I good approach is pick one diet change, one training change, one supplement strategy and one lifestyle alteration. It could be as minor as adding incline bench instead of chest press or as major as biphasic sleeping or cutting carbs.
4. Set a time period: I like 3 weeks minimum, I think its the least amount of time it takes to notice the effect of an intervention. Between 3-8 weeks would be a good approach.
5. Measure, regularly: Weigh yourself, take photos, repeat the measurements. Collate this data at the end of the period and draw your conclusions.
6. Be specific: If you decide to test creatine don’t just throw a spoonful in your shake when you remember, decide on a dosing schedule, make a note of it and stick to it.
7. Draw conclusions and make a definitive decision. Did the intervention make a difference? Look at the results and try to draw the best conclusion you can. Maybe it needs refining and re-testing in a different way in next period? Maybe you need to test it for longer. Don’t rule something out if you dont notice anything in 2 days but equally don’t stick with something for months if you aren’t seeing any benefit.
This method has really changed my diet and training for the better, I hope it does the same for you. Let me know what you think.