Of Exercise and Sheep

Read time: 2 minutes

Exercise for general fitness is the bastard child of a haughty fashion, starting decades ago in a celebrated black-and-white subculture of physique superstars who were woefully a transgression of the norm, then snowballing through the decades via muscle magazines, gym programs, and bro-speaks until a critical mass is reached — everyone is flexing a muscle in front of a mirror, in the same way.

Therein lie the angel, in the same bed as the devil.

Exercise through the years has pulled more people into the gym, and that’s a good thing; but, it has also defined superfluous parameters for use by people who simply want to feel good, be healthy, and look fabulous.

Today we use exercise methods, intensity, volume, and frequency established by anabolic-steroid-using athletes like bodybuilders, NFL linebackers, and Olympic weightlifters.

The exercise methods commonly employed in today’s gyms are a snowballing result of misguided practices by fitness enthusiasts, pedantic prescriptions by personal trainers, and propagation by internet fitness figureheads.

Further, modern workouts are substantiated by irrelevant scientific studies conducted by Gatorade University using white, college-age male athletes without full-time jobs, family, or life obligation.

That shit makes for great exercise programming for someone who just want to be healthy, feel good, and look great naked. Yes, can we get Nancy, the mother of two with a full time job, to do some power cleans and some NFL drills?

Seriously, since when does someone seeking general health, fitness and a lean body require the method, intensity and volume of exercise for elite-level competitive athletes?

You want to look like a bodybuilder? Fine, then you need to pay your dues in the gym (nothing wrong with that). You want to look and perform like a linebacker? How about a division one lacrosse player? You want to run the Boston marathon? You’ll need to train long and hard, and commit to a regimented and scientifically precise (yawn) program based solely on the educated hope of eliciting a performance improvement of… 2%. It’s exercise for high level athletes on the verge of full-blown tendonitis, neural depletion, mental burnout, and straight-up injury.

(Poor Nancy will surely enjoy placing her life, family and job on hold to exercise like this.)

Let’s get back to reality. What if we just want to be reasonably fit, feel great (no joint pain, no chronic inflammation, no burn out), and look fantastic in our swimsuit? What if we just want some lean washboard abs? What if we don’t care about a 48-inch vertical jump or lifting an SUV?

We have to ask, then, why we’re following exercise intensity, duration and frequency made for competitive athletes.

If that’s our thing, then that’s cool. But if we simply desire an awesome physique, decent muscle mass, and reasonable fitness (not “elite fitness”) while feeling perpetually well, then the key may be just keeping things simple:

  • Lift heavy stuff here and there
  • Elevate your heart rate here and there
  • Move around more in real life
  • Spend LESS time in the gym

And if we want to get lean — the almighty ingredient to achieving that highly coveted physique that the majority desire in themselves and in others — then we already know what to do: Eat whole real food, and eat less of it.

If we want a hot and reasonably functional body, then there’s no need to drift from exercise theory to exercise principle to complicated scientific hypothesis to the latest magic bullet.

There is no secret other than this: Be consistent.

For everything else, keep it simple. And enjoy life outside of the gym.

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15 Responses to Of Exercise and Sheep

  1. KevinT says:

    Awesome post. This is where I am now and what I want.

    I used to be way into all the exercise programming, etc and it just led to burnout.

    Sure, if other folks wanna be serious about it, fine. That’s their business.

    For the others that don’t realize they’re diggin’ holes for their ladder so they can wash the basement windows (as Mark Sisson likes to say) … hopefully they’ll figure it out soon. (Nice Biggest Loser pic there)

    But as for me? I dumbed it down a ton and do lots of eye rolling these days. ha! 🙂

  2. Robert says:

    I was one of those guys who followed the “silver bullet” routine (every new routine that came out in a book, or magizine) for a couple of decades. I was in a motorcycle accident, and had shoulder surgey. After Physical Therapy, I went back to the gym to lift again, looked around at everyone doing the same routines as I used too, 3 day split, twice a week, or some other “magic” hardcore routine, and for some reason, to this day, I still don’t know why, but glad it happened to me, I felt foolish. For the first time in 20+ years, I did a simple, but intense full body workout, just a few exercises. I have not gone back to my old way’s since. I am stronger, look, and feel better than I have in the last 20 years. When I look back at it, I see it was just a big, alway’s being sore, buying magizines, books, telling people how their routines are wrong, having to eat 6+ times a day, alway’s having to lose that last few pound of fat to get ripped (and I am not heavy, 6′ 175 lbs) TIME WASTE!
    Keep up the good work! It would have been great 20 years ago if someone would have shown me the error of trying to workout like Arnold. Yes, I bought his book too.

  3. Dave Krzeminski says:

    Great post, Johnny. I need to simplify my routines.

    On an unrealted subject, I was wondering if you have heard about the weight loss experiment performed by some college professor who basically ate junk food, one protein shake, and one can of vegetables per day to lose weight. I believe he said he averaged 1500 calories a day. Thought you would enjoy reading this:


    Dave K

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Dave,

      Here are my thoughts on Haub’s experiment:

      As I’ve been preaching: Eating less is the irrefutable fact to weight loss. It doesn’t matter what dietary composition — or diet — you’re using, as long as you eat less.

      Haub has proven that even on Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes one can lose weight.

      From experience, however, wholesome, real food is nutrient-dense and calorie sparse; it also tends to be more satiating and may prevent the stimulation of hunger.

      Whole, real food may make a lower calorie diet (or a temporary calorie deficit diet) more manageable over the long term, which is what makes a diet effective.

      I believe Haub proves an excellent point — weight loss is a simple process: Eat less.

      To eat less long term? Eat mostly whole, real food.


  4. Jordan D. says:

    I think it’s interesting that Haub mentioned something about not having a strong preference for snack foods. I forget the exact words, but it was something along those lines. And that he didn’t eat snack foods that much before undergoing this experiment. It’s probably easier for him to practice portion control than it would be for someone who really, really enjoys these foods. He’s also mentioned that in the past, he’s overeaten “healthy” foods.

    So he found a way to practice portion control using foods that other people might have difficulty managing. But at the same time, each person has their own “problem foods,” some of which can be “healthy” foods and whole foods. Ultimately, it boils down to calories, and being wary of one’s particular problem foods.

    • Russ says:

      He may not have had a strong preference for snacks, but he had it for something – one of the many blog rants against this ‘experiment’ did the math and figured he was over 30% bodyfat. As a nutrition professor.

      I think this also has something to say about losing weight/being skinny=healthy. Not always the case. He may have experienced improvements in his lipid profile short term, but I would hate to see bloodwork on him if he continued this long term.

      I just pray that due to media influence the take home lesson does not become

      “Twinkie diet to lose weight!”

      • Jordan D. says:

        Russ, as I already stated, he also mentioned that he used to overeat “healthy” foods. You can gain weight eating any food as long as you create a calorie surplus. Of course, it’s easier to create a surplus eating foods that are high in calories.

      • Russ says:

        Indeed you did. Though one would have to eat a ridiculous amount of food to obtain a bodyfat percentage of 30% or more. I would be interested on hearing what he considered ‘healthy’ food on a side note.

        As far as weight gain, yep you are right – though I don’t recall implying anything to the contrary?

      • Russ says:

        I meant to say ridiculous amount of “healthy” foods.

  5. Danny says:

    Great post Johnny,

    since you mentioned diet and exercise I have a quick question: what’s the best way to lose fat without losing muscles? I know this shouldn’t happen but when I lose fat I also lose muscles with it, more than other people and I become flabby. This happened even when I exercises 6 times per week but I burned out and today I don’t tolerate lot of exercise much, I become sick and feel weak the next day. Is there a way to make sure you only lose fat when dieting and no muscles without exercising a lot?


  6. Jordan D. says:

    Russ, I don’t remember him mentioning specific foods. I’m curious about that, too. Depending on what foods he was eating, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a “ridiculous” amount. Beef, pork, dark meat, cheese, butter, oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, pasta, burgers, etc. It’s pretty easy to gain weight. He wouldn’t have to force feed himself those foods to gain 30 pounds or so.

    • Russ says:

      True, not necessarily using the examples you used due to their caloric density. Though considering he is a nutrition professor, I would imagine he would have avoided just about everything you listed with the exception of pasta – and maybe the nuts/seeds – knowing what nonsense they tend to have in curriculums to this day. Everything else would have been deemed not healthy.

  7. Jordan D. says:

    That’s a good point. I guess I was thinking of “non-junk” foods, or whole foods in general. Grains, meat, dairy, etc. But you’re right that animal products high in saturated fat aren’t considered “healthy” by the mainstream. I guess my point is that if someone gave himself free reign to all whole foods, they could put on weight pretty easily.

    Okay, I stopped being lazy and re-read the article! lol. Here we go:

    “Before his Twinkie diet, he tried to eat a healthy diet that included whole grains, dietary fiber, berries and bananas, vegetables and occasional treats like pizza. ”

    Obviously that’s not comprehensive. He probably ate a lot of starchy foods.

  8. Reggie says:

    Couple of questions:

    1.) How long do you rest between sets? 30 seconds – minute, does it matter?

    2.) Do you find any advantages to training fasted and then eating all of your calories after the training? Or could you eat, traing, eat? Does it matter?

    3.) Feelings on potatoes?

    • Johnny says:


      Generally I’m not concerned with these details. But since you ask:

      1. The heavier the weight, the longer I rest between sets. I may rest up to 3.5 minutes or so. Metabolic exercises, I rest little to none.

      2. I train fasted a lot. Teaches the body to convert fat to ketone and to recycle lactic acid for more energy.

      3. I love sweet potato and yam. I don’t always eat them because I tend to chose green leafy vegetables, but I enjoy root veggies on occasion, and sometimes regularly.

      Thanks for reading, Reggie! Remember, my philosophy is to keep things simple.


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