August 9, 2013

SPECIAL THREE YEAR ANNIVERSARY ARTICLE - Principles Take Precedence Over Everything

Three years later...

The fact that I’m writing this article three years, and over 100 articles, after, I had set out to start putting out the most relevant, effective, and practical information on the web related to maximizing the results one gets for their investment of time, is an accomplishment in itself for me.

Just over three years ago, after searching endlessly online for a single resource that covered all aspects of maximizing human performance that I felt were most relevant and necessary to getting the best results in the shortest period of time, I had come to the conclusion that much (not all!) of what is available online for others, with a hunger to learn, to rely on as a resource of information was incomplete at best, and complete and utter bullshit at worst. As a student of the game that is health and fitness, with a passion for maximizing human preparedness and subsequent performance, I decided that my time would be better suited by doing something about the lack of structured information available by being one that provides it, instead of just another ‘know it all’ who complains about it. In doing so, I had essentially forced myself to rapidly expand my horizons, so that I could keep up with the self induced commitment to constantly put out the most relevant, effective, and practical information possible.

To do so I turned to reading books by authors whose body of work I respected (even though I may have initially been turned off of their methods), articles/websites of coaches whose successes I admired, certifications provided by coaches/organizations that I deemed to be credible, and bodybuilders and athletes who I’d followed and looked up to.

In the last three years I’ve easily learned more about strength and conditioning, than the ten years prior combined, when I had initially discovered that getting the greatest return per investment of time in the gym, for both myself, and all the people that I come into contact with that share the same passion, was going to be my lifelong mission. I could not have realized it at the time, but starting this website, and attempting to continuously put out as much valid information as possible has been one of the greatest blessings I could have only dreamt of.

Over the years I’ve devoted countless hours, day in, and day out, to educating myself in the field that interests me more than any other, and that desire to constantly seek never-ending improvement has carried over to each and every aspect of my life, not just strength and conditioning. In my efforts to develop, and become as well rounded an individual as possible, I’ve come to realize that there is one primary, global, systemic (call it what you want to call it) approach to excelling in any given field, and that is to find a (role) model that has achieved the success that you wish to accomplish, and adopt the principles they adhered to, that lead to them making the decisions necessary to achieve their accomplishments. After all, I realize that we’re all where we’re at now, as a result of the decisions that we have made up to this point, and to get to where we want to go, we need to make decisions that are in line with our desired outcome, but making those decisions can very often be the most challenging part without a model.

If for whatever reason, you can’t find a model that demonstrates the level of excellence that you wish for yourself, the next best choice within your control would be to create one, and simply define what principles that model would have to live by, to be the successful person they’d come to be.

All things being equal (and I realize that they’re not and that genetics play a huge role in our physical capabilities), in a perfect world, we would be able to simply make the exact same decisions as our model and get the same results as them, considering it is the choices that are made (and effort is a choice!), that lead to the actions, and subsequent results that are had. Unfortunately, it’s as close to impossible as anything I can imagine, to try to think exactly the same as another person, simply because each and every individual’s current perception of their life/reality is a result of their life experiences, and how they perceived such experiences (and even their perception of past experiences can be altered if they choose to view things differently), so for now, we’ll stick to key principles.

Through thorough studying of my role models over the years, and breaking down and analyzing the training programs I’ve been able to get my hands on, I’ve come to adopt several key principles that shape each and every one of the decisions I make in regards to my own workout and program design (and some of them even shape the decisions I make in my personal life as well, therefore having functional carryover). The following are the most influential principles that I adhere to, in no particular order of importance because, THEY ARE ALL IMPORTANT, followed by a brief example of someone I model that I feel applies each given principle.


A lot of debate is, and has been made, over whether or not free weights are better than machines, and which exercises are better than others, but at the end of the day, muscles only know tension. Muscles do not know whether or not they are resisting against a machine, free weight, or any other form of resistance. It is the brain (nervous system) that is ultimately responsible for developing and reinforcing motor patterns, so it basically ‘takes note’ of whether or not machines or free weights are being used, as well as how much weight is being lifted, based on the force requirements and difficulty in stabilizing the load.

It is for this reason, that I select the exercises for my workouts based on which I believe direct the most amount of tension, to the desired area as possible. The goal of how much tension, and where I want that tension to be placed, will ultimately determine whether I select a free weight exercise, machine based exercise, compound movement, or isolation movement, as well as how many sets, reps, exercises, and amount of weight I choose to use.

Every exercise, and set and rep scheme, come with their share of pro’s and con’s, and I’ve spent hours, days, and possibly even weeks of time obsessing over minor details when it comes to exercise selection, execution, and set and rep scheme, but have concluded that, as long as I’m directing as much tension as needed to generate an optimal training effect to the desired area, than I will be well on my way to moving toward my goal.

* A good example of someone I look up to that I believe applies this principle is strength coach, Charles Poliquin. The common denominator I find in much of Charles’ work is that all parameters are adjusted based on just how much tension is desired to generate a specific response. While he does advocate free weights over machines in much of his work, you also have to keep in mind that he is primarily gearing his work towards athletes, who’s brains are responsible for the movements of their bodies, and because of that, it is essential to not only strengthen their bodies, but also have their brains developing the most efficient neural pathways for the movements in their given sports, so that they are as physically prepared as possible come game time.


Because the body adapts to a given stimulus, and adjusts itself based on current demands, paying attention to detail can prove to be invaluable, if getting the greatest return per investment of time appeals to you. By tracking and recording as many details as possible, you can finely tune your training and diet regimen to give you the best results, and also provide insight as to what is, and is not, working for you.

The more variables you keep track of, the easier it is to monitor and quantify progression, which not only saves you time, but also works as a motivating factor, as we humans are naturally results motivated, meaning we are not likely to continue doing something if we are not seeing the results we wish to see (think, would you go to, or continue to work, without receiving a paycheck?). How else are you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt if you’re even moving closer to, or further away, from your goal, if you have no records of your progress?

Testing, assessing, re-evaluating, and repeating the process over again, increases efficiency by diagnosing what can be safely removed, without sacrificing the end result. I’d argue that nearly anyone, if not everyone, would want to know if something is, or is not working, so that they don’t continue wasting valuable time doing it, and the only way to do that is by keeping track of as many details as possible.

Aside from saving time as a result of removing what is not serving you, you save time by identifying different factors that are ‘difference makers’. A difference maker is something that sacrifices the end result if it is removed, and what I mean by that is, if you can effectively identify and remove certain variables, and still manage to get the same, if not get better results, you’d increase your efficiency, enabling you to spend more time doing other things that matter. If you can apply that same principle to other aspects of life, and remove all but the difference makers, you’d have a hell of a lot more ‘free’ time on your hands.

*A good example of someone I look up to that I believe applies this principle is the head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichek. In what I know of Coach Belichek, based on what I’ve seen and heard about him through various media outlets (TV, internet, etc), is that he pays great attention to every single minor detail, spending up to 20+ hours a day in the film room watching footage to have his team as ready as possible come game time, and to me it shows in the end result (which to date has been 3 Super Bowl victories in a span of 4 years, and almost a clean sweep of division titles in the span of over a decade, and still going)!


I was in middle school the first time I heard of the ‘KISS’ principle (Keep It Simple, STUPID!), and definitely didn’t realize at the time, just how incredibly valuable that principle was in all facets of life. While paying attention to past details is critical to planning for future success, majoring in on minor details of the possibilities of what to do in regards with something that has not happened yet can be very time consuming, and therefore costly (time is money, right?).

To this day, I still catch myself paying attention to every little detail when constructing my own training programs, or analyzing those found written by one of my role models, and this can get overwhelming and frustrating at times. By majoring on minor details, time is lost that I’ll never get back, so when I’m stuck with a decision, in which I’m spending unnecessary time trying to determine the best path to take, I remind myself that keeping things simple, and trusting that I have all the tools necessary to get the best result at this moment in time, is the most efficient way to go.

After all, we are all left with the exact same amount of time to use every single day (24 hours), regardless of our profession, personal life, etc. How we choose to use that time is our free will, but we must realize that once time has been used, it is not something that we will ever get back. Being conscious of this has developed a sense of urgency for me to personally start focusing on things that matter most, and keeping things simple has enabled me to minimize time lost.

I no longer allow myself to obsess over minor details like what angle of bench is the best for the upper chest, or that a shoulder press no longer a shoulder press if the bench isn’t at 90 degrees (even though most people arch their back to the point that it is pretty much a high incline press anyway). I don’t care if my palms don’t fully supinate to 90 degrees during alternating dumbell curls. It doesn’t bother me if I have to use a different bar attachment than I’d prefer for cable tricep extensions. While paying attention to detail is definitely important, there are some details that really aren’t worth the trade-off in time spent obsessing over them, and you’re better off making a decision based on keeping it simple, than making things complicated and losing time.

* A good example of someone I look up to that I believe applies this principle is 8 time Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman. When I first got into strength training, Ronnie was in his prime, destroying the competition at will, and became my biggest idol as a result of his dominance (who would be a better role model in the field of muscular development than the reigning champ of bodybuilding’s biggest stage?). I wanted to know everything about Ronnie and what he did to get to where he was, because I was positive that there must be some secrets that only he knows about, which would be responsible to his success. What I eventually found was, Ronnie kept things as simple as possible. Each and every piece of written information I could find on him had looked nearly identical to the last (I dare say they were only slightly different, just so the magazine companies could sell more magazines, because no one would invest in buying the same thing over and over again), and the video footage online, and in his ‘unbelievable’ dvd’s confirmed this. Much to my dismay, there were no fancy exercises, techniques, set and rep schemes, or even machines used in his training, just basic barbell and dumbell movements through as full a range of motion as his overdeveloped body would allow.


Out of all the principles I adhere to, none carry the weight, value, or have as much significance as this one does. The reason I can say this is, if you were to remove this one principle (from any facet of life, not just strength training), all others would be far less impactful if you weren’t willing to work hard, and on the flipside, as long as you’re willing to work hard, your efforts will be much more impactful, regardless of what other principles you adhere to. This principle is a difference maker in itself, if there ever was one.

Hard work is the reason why some people who virtually have no clue what they are doing in the gym, still manage to appear to get results. Genetics aside, we’ve all seen boneheads who seem to progress over time, regardless of what they are doing, and I’ve spent more time than I wish to admit to, trying to understand why some people still seem to get results, even though it appears as if they are dumb as a doorknob, and the only logical explanation is that they make a point to show up, day in and day out, and work their ass off.

The common denominator between all those who seem to get results, in spite of their lack of knowledge, is that they are all willing, and able, to work really, really, hard! The sets, reps, exercises, routines, etc, are all secondary to work hard, and results can still be attained by anyone who is willing to work hard.

Through researching successful people, at least those who I consider to be successful both within the realm of strength and conditioning, as well as other areas of life (ex. financially/economically), I’ve found that there really are no secrets when it comes to... well, life really. All the answers appear to be readily available in plain vision, if you just look in the right places for them, but naturally we all want to look beyond the obvious and try to discover some hidden gem that others have yet to discover, with the hope of it taking us beyond what we ever thought was possible. Over time, I’ve come to realize that I have all the answers I need, and the greatest limiting factor is taking action, and working hard while doing so, and I think that goes for nearly anyone who has put in the time and effort researching whatever it is that they are passionate about.

* A good example of someone I look up to that I believe applies this principle is... ANYONE WHO HAS EVER ACCOMPLISHED GREAT LEVELS OF SUCCESS! Eric Thomas, motivational speaker, and one of my role models, says ‘success is very intentional and deliberate’ and ‘there has never been a person who achieved great levels of success, and had it happen by chance’, meaning that those who achieved success had to work hard to get it. Will Smith, A list actor, talks about his ‘sickening work ethic’ being the factor that separates him from everyone else. Steve Jobs, the man responsible for Apple’s current renaissance, had said ‘you have to have a lot of passion for what you do, and the reason is because it’s so hard, that any rational person would give up’, and you have to be willing to work hard to get what you want. Arnold Schwarzenegger says ‘none of his secrets to success will work, unless you do’, further cementing that hard work is the greatest limiting factor that there is.

I whole heartedly believe that the principles above, to which all training related decisions I make are based on, are the most valuable pieces of information that I have to share, and is why I decided to put them together for a special occasion (special to me, that is) like my third year anniversary of this site. It almost sounds too easy to think that working hard, paying attention to details, while keeping things simple, and exposing the muscles to the right amount of tension is all you need to transform your body into whatever it is you choose, but I can say with confidence that, experience has taught me that really is all that you need.

Because training is both a science and an art, one of the most appealing things about principles to me is that you still have the free will to use your own creativity, and add your own uniqueness, or flavour, to the decision making process, and as long as you work within the parameters provided by the principle, you are on par to get the results you are looking for.

If you have any questions about any of the principles outlined throughout this article, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

1 comment:

  1. Amazing article Ben, I just bookmarked it and I will be sharing it on my website in the hopes that this valuable information will reach as many people as possible!