The internet is an endless sea of information. While it can be a fantastic resource, many people lack the proper tools to discern the good from the bad. Even those who have managed to maintain a lean physique, and “healthy lifestyle” may not fully understand truly why or how they’ve been able to do it. When someone gives credence to a particular method because it worked for them, we call this “n=1.” In scientific research N represents the sample size of the study. In other words if you were doing a study with 500 participants, then N would equal 500. Obviously the bigger the sample size the more you can trust the results. Hence why N=1 is not always a compelling argument.
On top all of your well meaning friends and acquaintances who are chiming in on your social media about their personal experiences with particular diets or workout routines, you also have hundreds if not thousands of businesses trying to sell you on products or services. These are often both businesses local to you but also national brands selling supplements or digital products like fitness apps or remote coaching programs.
The efficacy of these programs and services you’ll see online will range from being complete wastes of time and money all the way up being legitimate methods producing long lasting results. There will also be plenty of products and services in the mid range that may work to an extent, but for a short time and not nearly to the extent their proponents claim. This begs the question…why do people sell products and services that don’t work?
There are multiple reasons why people would sell a product or service that doesn’t actually work. The first, and what I believe to be the larger group, is what I would call true believers. These are people who honestly 100% believe in the product or service they are selling. However, they are not too unlike you, in the sense that maybe they have an interest in health and fitness but are lacking the tools to discern between correlations they think they are observing vs outcomes via actual scientific principles. This usually happens when someone uses a training method themselves, sees some results from it, and then decides to pursue that as a full-time or part time career. They believe they have stumbled upon the BEST way to train or eat, and are very passionate about this and want to share it with others. There are several businesses that prey upon people’s well meaning intention for profit. This is the crux of all pyramid schemes like Herbalife, Beach Body and Isagenix, etc…
To give an example of how people can fall into this trap of thinking, we’ll take the case of a good friend who lost roughly 25lbs simply by switching from regular soda to diet sodas. This person was absolutely convinced that soda and in particular the sugar in soda was making them overweight. Because they had “personal experience” with the results that switching to diet soda had produced, there was no convincing this person that soda isn’t responsible for America’s obesity epidemic.
In reality what had happened was they had reduced their calorie intake. Consider that the average 160z can of soda has roughly 140 calories. This person drank 2 cans per day. That is a reduction of nearly 2,000 calories per week. Given that the average person needs somewhere been 1,800-3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight, this was essentially like switching to eating only 6 days a week for this person. The truth is they could have removed those calories from some other source in their diet and experienced the same amount of weight loss.
Now let’s apply the soda trick to someone who is overweight but only drinks one soda per week. A reduction of 140 calories per week will make almost no difference to this person, as that’s only about 20 calories per day. Or in other words, about two pieces of celery. Obviously to one individual switching to diet soda was the holy grail and they were happy to tell everyone about it, but many people who may have taken that advice would be sorely disappointed by their results.
If you don’t believe me that it was the calories, simply look at the number of people who are overweight but don’t drink soda, or consume little-to-no sugar. If it were as simple as removing sugar from your diet, there would be no people who don’t eat sugar who are also over weight. Or you can simply look at what the science says.
The next group of people who sell products or services that don’t work are those who are literally “selling out” to make some money. This ranges from people who are getting paid to sell a product they don’t even use to people who are taking illicit drugs like steroids to build their physiques and then trying to sell you on their special workout program or over the counter supplements. Again there is a middle ground here of people who may use a particular product or service, but they endorse it making claims they know are not true. For example when I lost 65lbs, I typically would eat Kodiak pancakes for breakfast. Did I lose 65lbs because of the pancakes? No. I could make an advertisement saying that I lost 65lbs and i eat Kodiak pancakes. Both of those things are true, and I may never claim that they are correlated, but it still leaves room for people to interpret it as such without technically “lying.”
Social media has become a breeding ground for this type of behavior. Companies seek out individuals with large social media followings, and then pay those people to push their products or services. That doesn’t mean that the product or service is bad, however often times these are pop-up companies that ride a particular trend for a time, make some money, and move on to the next trend. Think about what was popular last year or even 6 months ago? Probably not what’s popular now. Right now vegan diets are all the rage, last year it was keto diets. Next year it will be something else.
Making My Case
Historically I haven’t been the type of person to boast about my accomplishments. Not only do I not enjoy talking about myself, but also this is what as known as an “appeal to authority.” Appealing to authority is a logical fallacy in which one uses their credentials as justification for a particular idea, rather than actual data. While having personal experience can add some validity to a person’s perspective, it cannot be the sole foundation of their arguments. However being acutely aware of how people perceive someone “over weight” giving fitness and nutrition advice, I think it behooves me (and you ironically) to give my clients and those who watch my videos a little back story about me.
When I was a young boy, my older brother was challenged to an arm-wrestling competition at school. He lost. To keep such a tragedy from occurring again, my father signed him up at a local gym, next door to where I took Karate lessons. When I turned 12, my father told me I was “too old” for Karate, and signed me up at the gym with my brother. I still remember my first workout, the trainer had me train legs, and we started with the leg press. They were amazed when set after set I told them that it was “too easy.” Finally we finished the workout with 350lbs for a few sets of 8. Noting my propensity for strength, the trainer set me on a path to become a Powerlifter. I competed the next year at 13 years of age, and 155lbs body weight. Squatting 350lbs, bench pressing 200lbs, and deadlifting 375lbs.
I continued to train in Powerlifting through most of high school, but also developed an interest in other sports. Primarily track and field where I ran the 100, 200, 400 and also competed in the high jump. The heavy lifting that I had done for Powerlifting made me a decent sprinter despite being aerobically inexperienced.
After high school I gained the classic ‘freshman 15″ in college and that’s when my interest in training for aesthetics began. I was hyper focused on becoming as lean as I could, and my workouts looked like they were straight out of an 80s bodybuilding magazine. During this time I was working the front desk at a gym to pay my way through school. One evening the owner of the gym and the head trainer had a massive blowout argument, and he stormed out of the building. The owner approached me and told me I seemed like i knew what I was doing, and asked if I wanted to be the new trainer. They agreed to pay for me to get the necessary certifications, and this launched my career working in fitness. During this time I dieted down to the leanest I’ve ever been, right around 10% body fat. As someone who is not very lean (most of the people in my family are over weight), this was both extremely difficult, but also very rewarding.
After a while I eventually was asked by the gym owners if I wanted to travel to open new locations for them. My first assignment was in York, PA, home to the famous York Barbell company. Nearly a century ago York was the epicenter of strength, with owner Bob Hoffman being a major catalyst in the development of equipment, supplements, as well as organizing teams to compete in Weightlifting and Powerlifting internationally. During that time I was fortunate enough to train at York, where the Weightlifting Hall of Fame resides. This was where my love for “Olympic Weightlifting” was first born.
It was also in York where I was first introduced to CrossFit. Being 2007, CrossFit was not the fitness juggernaut it is today. I used to workout with two guys who went on to open CrossFit York, one of the first 100 CrossFit’s in the US. I remember walking into a Gold’s gym one morning and seeing two guys doing overhead squats. I asked if they were Weightlifters, and they told me they were CrossFitters, and they invited me to do a workout with them the next day. I showed up early and they explained to me the rules of the workout:
3 Rounds for time.
At the time CrossFit didn’t incorporate nearly as much strength training as they do now, particularly with barbells. My training partners watched in awe as I performed the sets of 10 deadlifts unbroken. While the burpees exhausted me, being able to do a set of 10 deadlifts saved me a ton of time. Although my first time doing a “CrossFit” workout had impressed them, I didn’t really enjoy the training session, and I had a headache the rest of the day. About a year later, I would do this type of training almost exclusively, often taking workouts directly from CF HQ with mixed results. I’ve been highly critical of CrossFit over the years, and many people have argued that’s because “I can’t do it” or have “never done it,” when in reality I was testing it out on myself before CrossFit was even a blip on their radar.
After moving back to NH and bouncing around from job to job for a bit, a friend approached me about working for him at a new gym he was planning on opening. This was when group training like CrossFit and Bootcamps were starting to catch on. I took the job and we opened one of the first bootcamp facilities in the Concord area. Again, the results were mixed. Typically people would come in as first time exercisers, lose a respectable amount of weight, gain a respectable amount of strength and then plateau after about 3-6 months.
We then launched a more strength based training program, which produced better results, however our space was a bit too small, and I still felt limited by the group aspect of the training program. Both experience and science pointed to training needing to be more individualized than what a group workout could provide. The owner of the business didn’t want to expand, and I felt like my growth opportunities were limited. I was also feeling a bit burnt out on working as a coach.
With absolutely no plan, I quit. Over the next few months I rested, took a look at my options, and decided that my work in helping people was not yet over. That’s when I decided to open Arkitect Fitness.
When I opened Arkitect Fitness people thought I was crazy for not offering group fitness classes. But when it comes to gyms in Concord, there are literally dozens of group fitness training options. I thought to myself “There are no gyms near me that do it this way,” so that’s why I decided on the format that Arkitect uses. Everyone gets their own program. Everyone can come when its convenient for them. No generic workouts. No restrictive class times.
This was the first time when I had full creative control over the way the program ran, what clients did, and I knew that if we did or didn’t get results, there would be no one to blame but myself. That’s the way I like it. While we served many clients with various goals, I poured a lot of time and resources into developing our Weightlifting team, and we had excellent results. We produced our first national level medalist with Gunnar Mattson at the 2014 collegiate national championships.
Two years later my athlete Mackenzie Roy won the bronze medal at senior nationals. Along the way we also had many New England record holders and regional competitors. A few years after that we added another collegiate national medalist with Tyler Schade, and Masters World Competitor Jim Soucie. During that time we have also launched a Powerlifting team, with team members breaking NH records, as well as several athletes qualifying for the National Championships.
Of course I have to mention the many people who we’ve had lose significant amounts of weight, recover from surgeries, reduce the amount of medications they have to take, college scholarships earned, run their first 5k, run their first marathon, and more.
My Achey Breaky Heart
The last piece to this puzzle is the story of my heart. Apologies to those who may have heard it before. In 2012 it was found that I living with a heart condition known as WPW. Although I had had it since birth, and I was asymptomatic, it was recommended that I undergo a procedure known as an “ablation” to correct this arrhythmia. The procedure seemed to be a success, however there was some damage done to my A/V node in the process. Over the next few years as the damaged tissue continued to scar, my heart rate became slower and slower.
When your heart rate slows down too much, this is known as bradycardia. Although I wasn’t aware of it happening, my heart rate was getting slower as time went on. This caused a great deal of fatigue and weight gain. What I attributed to the stresses of opening a business, was actually a mechanical issue with the electrical system of my heart. I had gained a massive amount of weight, and peaked at about 315lbs. When the issue was finally diagnosed, the only remedy is an implanted medical device known as a pacemaker. After the pacer was implanted, I started to feel better, and to no surprise, was able to start exercising regularly and losing weight.
After about 8 months and losing about 45lbs, I noticed that I started to feel fatigued again. I was getting short of breath doing every day activites. I was waking up during 2-3 times per night to use the bathroom. Something wasn’t right. Going back to my doctor they performed some tests and found that my heart’s pumping strength was nearly cut in half. This is known as “heart failure.” So while my heart was beating fast enough, it wasn’t pumping enough blood with each beat. The next year was spent getting nearly every heart related test done to me, seeing a wide variety of specialists, as well as spending copious amounts of time on the phone arguing with my insurance company as they didn’t want to pay for all of the out of state visits to various doctors.
In the end I was told “You either have a rare autoimmune disease known as sarcoidosis, or…we put the wrong kind of pacemaker in you.” After doing a lot of my own research and spending innumerable hours reading scientific papers, reaching out to various experts, I knew that it was the latter issue. So in 2018 I had an “upgrade” to what is known as a biventricular pacemaker.
Once again I was on the fast track to feeling better, and my training had been the best it had been in years. And then suddenly, when loading a couch in to the back of my pickup truck, I started to feel…off. The next day I got a call from my doctor’s office. My home monitor had notified them that something was wrong with my pacemaker. After going to see the doctor they determined that I had crushed one or more of the leads (wires) going in to my heart.
It turns out that my pec muscles literally crushed the wires. It makes for good bragging rights, however after the very dangerous procedure to fix the wires, I was told that my Weightlifting career was officially over. Now my exercise options are jogging, sit-ups, and some light arm exercises like curls. All of the staples of a solid training program like push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, bench press, etc… are out. Forever.
As someone that has dedicated their entire adult life to the pursuit of mastering human movement, this has been a hefty blow to my conscious, however since I’m not a quitter, I feel like it has given me a unique opportunity to improve my coaching in other ways. Since my gym time is significantly cut down, I can dedicate more time to the study of the exercise sciences. I also have learned a lot about what it takes to battle with huge obstacles like severe obesity and physical restrictions. I feel as though this gives me an empathy few other coaches can have.
While that ripped 25 year old who was a star athlete in high school before becoming a personal trainer may understand the science of exercise and nutrition, they will never understand the physical and mental strain of a client who is staring down the journey of 50, 75 or 100lbs of weight loss. There’s something you cannot understand when you know that your goal may be 300, 400 or 500 days away. I don’t want to take anything away from people have produced change in their own bodies. Losing weight is difficult no matter how much or how little you have to lose, but the gym can be a daunting place when you are out of breath from tying your shoes.
At this point I think I offer a unique blend of knowledge, experience and empathy. I’ve been there on the competition platform with all eyes on me. I’ve spent the hours in the gym, often by myself, sweating, grinding out reps, putting in another sometimes monotonous training session. I’ve been on both sides of the body weight spectrum from lean as can be, severely overweight, and now resting some where in the middle. I’ve had my body betray me, and been under the knife…too many times. But I’m still here. I’m still moving forward. I’m still trying, and I still feel like I have work to do, both with myself, and with you. There are still so many people out there who are completely lost and are struggling. I don’t want to stop until I can help them take back their lives. Take control of their results, and be the masters of their own destiny.
And remember…Don’t ever give up on yourself or your goals.
Thanks for reading.