Sometimes people come to me with ludicrous body comp goals and they can’t grasp that their goal is unquestionably unattainable inside the time frame they have in mind.

This isn’t their fault. It is the Media’s fault for displaying photo-shopped images of body builders who have prepped for months for a single photo shoot usually following extreme diet and dehydration protocols. Look like this in 18.6 Days!!!!

Not gonna happen even with some very hardcore supplementation.

Yes, there are people out there who are really naturally jacked and tan. But, I know plenty of people who look good in board shorts or a bikini who are ridiculously unhealthy. Maybe their body just runs hotter. Maybe they are genetically more sensitive to thyroid hormone or sex hormones. Maybe they have an eating disorder you don’t know about. Maybe they have self-image and self-esteem issues that they cover up with deadlifts and hill sprints. Hell, maybe they have a tape worm.

What we do in the functional medicine space is put the wheels back on the car so clients can potentially gain muscle and get leaner through health. I will not advocate extreme caloric restriction and/or insane amounts of exercise because that is not maintainable long term or even healthy. I will advocate finding the right amount of food for you and the right amount and type of exercise to get you up to that next step and then the next and the next.


Some people are not ready for a ton of exercise physiologically or from a movement quality point of view. They need time to master or at least comprehend the fundamentals. This is not to say that they will not gain lean body mass during an initial training protocol with a qualified and experienced trainer. This is also not to say that bicep curls are not a functional exercise for someone who wants to look good in da club or has aspirations of becoming a professional body builder. But, no matter how many body building exercises you add in for client who has been sedentary and eating Ho Hos they certainly won’t look like a John Cena or an NPC bikini model (I think that’s a thing) after an initial 12 week protocol.

Why?

Science and experience.

“An entry-level lifter can gain 2 to 3 pounds of muscle mass in a month without adding much fat. An intermediate can gain 1 to 2 pounds a month, and an experienced lifter will be lucky to add a half-pound.”
-Alan Aragon

That means Jimmy Bob whose only exercise used to be searching the couch for M&Ms can gain maybe 9 pounds of LBM in a 12 week protocol (if Jimmy Bob doesn’t have insulin resistance and tanked hormone levels). I have gotten these kind of results to happen. It is fun and their mind is blown, but the gainz will slow as they lose their newbie status and eventually they will get really really slow or even nonexistent if we don’t have health dialed in.

Now, let’s take an intermediate level client who came into a consult and had the goal to be 195 lbs and 10-12% body fat in 3 months. He is currently 181 pounds and 18% body fat. This means that he wants to go from 150 pounds of lean body mass (LBM) to more than 172 pounds LBM in 3 months, that is a gain of 20 pounds of lean MUSCLE. 195 and 10% body fat could be a great life goal if he has the frame to make it happen, but for this summer 156-159 pounds of lean body mass (+6-9 lbs in 6 months) would be a better but still extremely aggressive goal.

And to run the gamut let’s point the finger inward at me. I have not missed more than 2 weeks of exercise/training since I was 13 years old and am pretty close to how much LBM I can likely build genetically or support with my frame if you look at my bone mass. I have been around 170 pounds of LBM for a while and I have to fight like hell to get that dial to move. Ladies and gentlemen – The Law of Diminishing Returns.

So where do you fit on this spectrum?

I don’t know.

But one of my jobs is to be honest with you.

Not mean, but real…with statements that sometimes go like this:

You aren’t healthy enough to try that program.

You don’t have the training age to lift five days a week without crashing and burning.

You may not ever be able to lose 20% of your weight because your brain won’t let you unless we get leptin (and insulin) sensitivity back online.

I always spin it in a positive light. Then we go over the why and give them action steps and accomplishable but tough goals!

The other thing is I don’t have the bandwidth to train any more clients and if you are serious about strength, power, and fitness you will need help. Most people have no idea what in god’s name they are doing in the weight room. Some people choose to watch sleeveless folks who look like they know what they are doing at Lifetime fitness and then sneakily do that 15 minutes later. Others bumble from one Men’s Health plan to another or use some awful training app with enough beeps and buzzers to meltdown a 5 year old. Yet, most trainees have never been through a solid movement evaluation or even a novice level strength training program.

Fundamentals!

There are some solid plans out there including anything by Poliquin, Aragon’s Lean Muscle Diet, Cressey’s Maximum Strength, and Robertson’s Bulletproof Athlete.  I am sure there are more, I just don’t spend a lot of time searching out entry level general training programs as one of the tenets of my philosophy is individualization. This is why I would be far more apt to invest in people such as quality coaches like Aaron Davis, Dave Rascoe, Teo Ledesma, Austen Cochren, Jayci Cormier, Joe Giangrasso, Ethan Grossman and many others.

I have lived and breathed S&C for a long time and I am one of the only functional medicine practitioners who can put a toe in the water of that field, and the exercise recommendations that I hear from other docs and nutritionists hurts my soul. They and myself need to be able to make referrals out to coaches who we know won’t bash our clients face in with burpees and back squats. We need strength coaches who understand physiology and know when to push the gas and when to lay off. We need trainers who can help us be realistic but still tough on our clients. We need fitness professionals who are picking up what we are putting down in the functional medicine realm.

AND functional medicine practitioners need to stop acting like they know everything about exercise because they read an article by Chris Kresser (who I absolutely love, but obviously does not lift). They have to stop giving general and random exercise advice. I mean just think how pissed you get when some yahoo without any kind of credentials reads an article or backpacks in on a weekend Functional Medicine seminar and starts trying to do what you do. Thought so.

Let’s help our clients formulate realistic and individual plans.

And let’s get our clients all the results they can handle and more. Through health.

Be Well,

Ben

* Photo cred to both Kyler Allison and Ethan Grossman – two of the strongest and most dedicated guys I know.

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