5 Real Reasons You Are Weaker Than You Believe You Should Be
by David Berman, MS, PT, COMT, CSCS
About the Author
David Berman received his Master’s in Science and has been a licensed and practicing Physical Therapist since 1997 (MS, PT). He obtained certification as an Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT) in 1999 from the OGI, an accredited and internationally respected manual therapy residency. He is also a Certified Sports & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA. He is a nationally renowned speaker and educator, a published author and a patented inventor.
This report is about the REAL reasons you are weaker than you believe you should be. Each reason is like a quick jab to the head - enough to stun you a bit, but (hopefully) not enough to keep you from reading on. These reasons are the root causes of why you aren’t making the progress you want in the gym. And they are the answer to why you feel like your age is creeping up on you - making you look and feel old before your time. By understanding all 5 of these reasons, you can start to take steps to get stronger starting today. In some cases you may be able to literally double your strength in as little as 90 days. And as a natural part of the process, you’ll have more energy to do the things you love to do. Oh, and you’ll lose a good amount of belly fat and build muscle. So you’ll not only feel younger but you’ll look younger. If you choose to ignore these 5 reasons you’ll continue to struggle in the gym, continue to suffer the natural effects of aging and you might actually get weaker. In addition, you’ll put yourself at greater risk of injury (or re-injury) - and if you do get injured, you won’t be able to exercise at all so you’ll get even weaker. I uncovered these five reasons over the course of 25 years of working out (including martial arts and bodybuilding) and coaching thousands of clients. And I have a formal education in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, exercise science, neurophysiology and physical medicine and rehabilitation.
I mention this because in my experience there are a lot of “experts” out there sharing advice that have neither experience NOR expertise. As an added bonus to you, I read a copious amount of books and scientific journals and articles. This means you get the benefit of my reading habits and lessons learned without having to pour through science-jargon filled journals and textbooks. Okay... On to the report.
Your Body is a Machine
Your body is an amazing machine that literally becomes what you ask it to become by virtue of the actions you take (or don’t take). If you sit around and watch television and eat crap, you get one kind of body. And if you move (i.e. exercise, participate in sports or active recreational activities) and eat well, you get a completely different kind of body. It would be like having a car that could mutate based on how well you took care of it. If you treated it well, gave it high performance fluids, and drove it like a master driver, it would become an Aston Martin. If you treated it like crap, let it sit for years outside in a harsh environment, and never did basic maintenance on it, it would become a beater (you name the brand). I’m sure you get the point. Right about now, though, I hope you are considering three key points: (1) What kind of body you currently have and (2) How your past actions have created that body And lastly, (3) What kind of body you want, and what you’re willing to do to get it.
The great news is that you get to CHOOSE. Your body can literally become what you ask of it. It all depends upon what you are willing to do. I hope you see the power in this. You don’t have to: • • • • Be weak Be overweight Be out of shape Look and feel old
Many cultures represent humans as helpless victims of the aging process. What you’ve been lead to believe is that it’s both inevitable and not your fault. What “they” say is that as you age:
● ● ● ●
You have “naturally” decreasing levels of testosterone You lose muscle mass Your metabolism slows down You are intrinsically at greater risk of systemic diseases (i.e. obesity, cardiovascular disease, etc.).
The truth is - none of that is “natural” at all. In other words, you don’t have to suffer from those things. You choose to by not addressing the 5 real reasons that this report highlights. Want some proof? Here’s a quote that comes directly from a New York Times article:
“Causes of the loss of muscle mass or strength might include hormonal changes, sedentary lifestyles, oxidative damage, infiltration of fat into muscles, inflammation and resistance to insulin.” The implication is that there are complex biochemical processes going on inside your body that are beyond your control and they are conspiring to make you lose muscle and get weak. When you learn what’s really going on you will see that you are doing this all to yourself! If you read a little deeper into each part of that quote, here’s how you would translate each of those scientific items: Hormonal changes = “I eat crap, don’t exercise, indulge in recreational drugs (including alcohol, smoking, and you can fill in the blanks from there...), and subject myself to excessive bad physical and psychological stresses. This wreaks havoc on my body and throws my hormones completely out of whack.” Sedentary lifestyles = “I sit on my ass more than I move and I am completely out of shape.” Oxidative damage = “I am in a state of chronic systemic inflammation and my body is literally breaking down because of it.” Infiltration of fat into muscles = “I am so inactive that even my muscles are getting lazy and fat. Literally.” Inflammation = “I have a poor diet, bad habits, and I mis- or disuse my body resulting in joint and systemic dysfunction.” Resistance to insulin = “I eat so poorly that I am slowly but surely killing the cells of my body that make insulin.” (aka the Islet or beta cells of your pancreas).
Oh, and by the way, here’s another quote from that same article: “Experts say the best approach to restoring or maintaining muscle mass and strength is exercise, particularly resistance training.” Really??? Have we become so ignorant that we need experts to tell us that?? The problem is that even though you may accept that you should be doing resistance training and eating better - almost no-one is telling you exactly how to go about doing it. When it comes to exercise - It seems like every program out there is created for a 20 year old or for someone taking steroids (or other physique enhancing drugs). And when it comes to nutrition, there are more fads out there than you can shake a stick at. Eat more protein and less carbohydrates. Eat more carbohydrates and less fat. Eat more healthy fat and less bad fat. Eat more raw food and less processed food. Eat whole wheat for more fiber. Eat gluten free. Drink more milk. Eat dairy free. Drink more water. Don’t drink too much water… Holy crap! It’s no wonder no one has any idea WHAT to do – and just settles for a quick meal at the local fast food joint. And it doesn’t help that any goofball with a computer and an internet connection can build a website or blog and start “sharing information” on what to do and how to do it.
If anyone could easily sort through this vast sea of information and make sense of it, there would be a hell of a lot more fit and healthy people. And you wouldn’t be reading this report. And as long as the media and scientific world keep promoting the idea that “it’s not your fault” and you are just a “helpless victim” of your own body, less people will be inclined to take action in the first place. Bottom line: -As long as you hold on to the victim mentality (“it’s not my fault” and “there’s nothing I can do about it”), you’re screwed. -As long as you stay paralyzed by too much information provided by people that have no expertise or qualifications to provide it, you’re screwed. When it comes to whether you can or cannot get bigger and stronger - The science is very clear: Neither loss of muscle size or function (strength) is inevitable with aging. In fact “These losses can be minimized or even reversed with training.”1
[1The Effects of Aging and Training on Skeletal Muscle, Donald T. Kirkendall, PhD and William E. Garrett, Jr, MD, PhD, Am J Sports Med July 1998 vol. 26 no. 4 598-602.]
And when it comes to HOW TO do it, the path is also very clear. Stick to the tried and true methods backed by performance psychology, anatomy, physiology, neurophysiology and biomechanics. Ready to get to it? Here comes the first jab... And get ready, because it may be the toughest one to accept and even tougher to “fix”.
REASON #1: Your Ego is Too Big
That’s right - I said it. The main reason you are weaker than you KNOW you should be… the main thing keeping you from getting stronger…is your big dumb ego. It’s not like you don’t already know this. You do... But you most likely think (and behave) like it only applies to everyone else and not you. Let’s face it - The number one mistake men make in the gym is... Using weights that are WAY too heavy. Doing this results in two major faults: Fault #1: Moving through an incomplete and very small range of motion. Assuming you don’t have an injury and you’re not in pain…If you aren’t able to perform a full range of motion repetition, the weight is likely too heavy for you. Common examples of this are: ● Bench presses where the bar only travels halfway down (i.e. the bar never gets anywhere CLOSE to your chest) OR only travels halfway (or less) up ● Biceps curls where you never straighten your arms ● Squat or leg presses where the bend in your knee is not even close to 90 degrees If you’re not sure about this, here’s how you can test it: 1. Choose an exercise. 2. Use a weight equal to 50% of your normal work weight. For example, if you normally bench 200 lbs, set the bar up with 100 lbs.
3. Do one set of 5 repetitions moving through a FULL range of motion. Go all the way up and all the way down. 4. Rest 1-2 minutes. Add weight to the bar (i.e. 20 lbs). 5. Do another set of 5 reps. 6. Repeat until you notice that the range of motion is no longer FULL. What you are doing is starting with an easy weight and slowly working your way up to your typical work weight. The key pieces of this test are to show you that: (1) You are capable of doing a full rep if the weight is light enough and (2) Your range of motion decreases / deteriorates once you pass a certain threshold. If your range of motion DID in fact decrease – you are guilty of Fault #1 and need to decrease your weight. Fault # 2: Poor form and cheating the weight up (aka excessive use of “body-English”). When your target muscle group(s) aren’t capable (i.e. strong enough), you may cheat the weight up by rocking, swinging, swaying, shrugging, or performing some other compensatory motion(s). Common examples of this are: ● Biceps curls where you (1) sway front to back to help move the bar and (2) use shoulder flexion and (3) come up on your toes to get the weight up ● Bench presses where your ass comes so far off of the bench that a compact car could drive under you You can test this the same way you tested Fault #1. Lighten the weight and try to do a set with excellent form. Increase the weight until your form falls apart…
Bottom line... You aren’t fooling anyone by using weights that are too heavy for you. “Partials” and “cheating” are viable advanced techniques – and they have their place in any good routine. But they should be used infrequently and only after the fundamentals have stopped working. If you want to get stronger, start with a strong foundation. And know that you aren’t ever going to make progress as long as you are cheating this way. If you want to get strong, leave your ego out of the gym. If you want to lift heavier weights, earn them. A good place to start is (unless otherwise indicated): ● Move through a full range of motion ● Use good form The rest of this report outlines the rest of the reasons you are currently weaker than you should be. But if you don’t get your head right, nothing else will matter. So be prepared to drop your weights down for a while. Don’t worry too much about it. As you fix the other problems (listed in the remaining reasons) you’ll systematically eliminate the physical causes that are blocking you from getting stronger. The weights WILL come back up…And your strength WILL increase. And you’ll be able to make a huge increase in strength when you finally address...
REASON #2: You’re Too Jacked Up
Don’t confuse this with my saying you are too “jacked” (i.e. huge). When I say “jacked up” I mean you are too: ● Imbalanced ● Crooked ● Asymmetrical ● Out of whack This category includes several things - like postural imbalances, muscular imbalances, flexibility or joint range of motion issues... And all of them (if you have them) need to be addressed if you want to make progress and get stronger. However, the main item for most guys over 40 is dealing with chronic nagging injuries. The usual suspects are things like: ● A bad shoulder ● A bad knee ● A bad hip ● A bad back When I say “bad” I mean that those areas/joints may have been an area where you had a past injury, or where you have joint (i.e. cartilage) degeneration. Understand this - I’m not blaming you here... Injuries are usually nobody’s “fault”. And in case you're wondering, I’ve dealt with several of these problems myself over the years. They suck, but they are generally “fixable”.
My point is that until and unless your issue is dealt with, you have almost no chance of getting stronger. The fact is that an injured (even slightly injured) body part won’t be able to function optimally. So to get stronger, you’re going to have to deal with that injury. Your best bet is to go see a healthcare specialist, get properly diagnosed, and get on a program to fix the problem. For most people, a conservative approach (i.e. physical therapy, chiropractic, etc) with sound nutrition and maybe some supplementation or over-the-counter (OTC) medicine will work just fine. For others, more drastic measures (i.e. surgery plus rehabilitation) will be required. I’m not here to give medical advice - that’s between you and your doctor (and if you feel you need medical advice – go and get some!). But I can tell you that until you deal with this issue, you’re never going to get as strong as you know you can be. In my experience, if you fall into the “conservative approach” category, here’s what to expect: ● You’ll need to get on a good program including exercise and nutrition. A good starting place regarding exercise is: Pick exercises that involve that joint or the movements / muscles you have problems with. Use light weights – weights that allow you to do 25 to 30 repetitions. Only move through a pain free range of motion. Unlike “cheating” – when it comes to pain, you get a pass. Do 3-4 sets of 25 reps of each movement.
You may choose to use supplements (i.e. natural or OTC) to mitigate and manage inflammation In my experience, some effective supplements when it comes to dealing with inflammation are: Turmeric Omega-3
It’s going to take weeks to months - maybe even up to a year - to “heal” You can’t rush healing. Go slow and steady, and progress by increasing range of motion and intensity (i.e. increasing weight and adding new movements) as you are able to – so long as they are pain free.
That’s the “bad news”. The good news is that you can address that issue at the same time as you are dealing with...
REASON #3: You’re Too Out of Shape
Question: If you get winded running up a flight of stairs, how do you suppose you’re going to be able to work out with enough intensity to make any sort of progress? The truth is, if your heart is out of shape, there’s really no way the rest of you stands a chance of getting in shape. Think of it this way... Exercise is hard work. After all, you have to give your body a reason to adapt / change. That means you have to present it with a healthy stress that results in it changing so that it’s prepared to deal with that stress again in the future. And if you aren’t in a very basic way physically prepared to do the hard work, you literally get stopped. Getting out of breath so much so that you can’t go on is your body’s way of saying that the work you just did was so challenging that the demand for oxygen (and the circulatory demand of getting rid of metabolic waste) is literally more than you can keep up with. If your heart and entire cardiovascular system is so deconditioned that just lifting your body weight up a flight of stairs (14 steps) is too challenging, then what chance do you have of squatting your body weight PLUS a barbell for 10-15 repetitions for SEVERAL sets??? Answer: NONE It may sound like a paradox, but you have to get in shape to get in shape.
But it’s really not a true paradox. The first “get in shape” refers to a basic level of cardiovascular fitness. Then you can develop the second “get in shape” - losing fat, building muscle, and getting stronger. Like I said earlier - you can address this reason at the same time as you are addressing Reason #2. So you can be doing your “rehabilitation” or healing exercise routine at the same time you are building up your cardiovascular fitness. If you are doing that, I recommend doing the resistance or rehab exercises first, then doing your cardio. To get started: Do some form of cardio exercise 3-4 days per week. Warm up for 4-5 minutes. Work up to exercising between 70-80% of your target heart range for 1520 minutes (see Figure 1). Cool down for 2-5 minutes.
Figure 1 - Age Based Heart Rate Zones
Once your cardiovascular system is up to par and you have attained a basic level of fitness / conditioning, you’ll really start to make progress in dealing with....
REASON #4: You’re Too Fat
Let’s be clear on this one... I’m not saying you LOOK fat (though maybe you do). What I’m saying is you are carrying around too much body fat. How can I say this? Because it’s statistically shown to be true. Let’s look at this graph (Figure 2) that shows the percentage of body fat for U. S. adult men and women. This data comes from an analysis of 13,000 North Americans between the ages of 20 and 80.
Figure 2 - U.S. Adult Body Fat %
What this graph (Figure 2) shows is that the average body fat percentage for the American man (black bars) is 26% (it’s the tallest black bar). And well over 50% of those men tested were at 26% OR HIGHER!!
Just to give you an idea of what that looks like, I’m going to show you a picture of 3 guys at 26% body fat. Here, for your viewing pleasure (Figure 3), is the torso of the average adult American man...
Figure 3 - Average U.S. Male at 26% body fat
So what does this have to do with getting stronger? Glad you asked... First, what kind of eating habits do you think these guys practice? -Are they likely eating too much? -Are they likely eating “good” foods? [And by that, I don’t mean good-tasty, I mean good-healthy.] Does it look like they have developed the habit of regular physical activity? How often do you think they exercise? And what do you think their body craves? -Lots of movement or lots of sedentary behavior? -Healthy foods like leafy greens and lean meats or beer and chips? The reality is that your behavior not only creates what you are - but what you are can also very strongly influence your behavior.
That excess amount of fat you might be carrying around is greatly influencing your appetite and the hormonal environment of your body. And it’s affecting your desire to stay still versus exercise. If you are interested in getting an estimate of your current % body fat, you can do on online search for “online body fat calculator”. Here’s one I found: CLICK HEREOnline Body Fat Calculator You might be wondering – What’s a good goal to shoot for? How low should I strive to get my body fat? It’s really a personal decision, but there are some general standards you might want to work from. Figure 4 shows Body Fat % for Men and Women as determined by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
In my experience, 15% is the highest you should set as a goal. Most guys won’t have a visible 6-pack at that level, but they’ll look great in clothes.
For a beach-ready body, you’ll probably have to set your target at 10% or less. (Everyone is different in that how lean you look has to do with how muscular you are plus how and where you hold fat.) Bottom line: If you want to create a stronger, healthier and younger you, shed the body fat. There are two powerful ways to get rid of body fat. (1) Nutrition - How and What you eat and (2) Exercise - How, How often, and How intensely you exercise. The more powerful of the two is nutrition. Most of your body fat shedding emphasis should be on cleaning up your eating. Here are some tips to help you do this: Eat well at least 90% of the time. That means, if you eat 3 meals a day, you get 1 “cheat” meal every 4 days or so. So what does “eating well” mean? It means no crap. No chips, no cookies, no cake, no candy, no cola... You get the idea. This isn’t rocket science here! It also means no alcoholic beverages. Yeah… No beer. So you get to eat fruits, veggies, legumes, lean meats, fish, poultry, pork and some dairy.
Every meal should have both veggies and a protein (i.e. fish, meat, poultry, etc.). Throw in 5 servings (about ½ cup per serving) of fruit per day either with meals or as part of a snack. Keep total calories per day to about 8-11 times your bodyweight in calories, and you should start to see the fat melting off of your body in about 3-6 weeks. Simple, right? Oh, and if you nail this part of things (the eating part), you’ll have no trouble dealing with...
REASON #5: You’re Too Puny
This one should be pretty clear - You don’t have enough muscle mass. Let’s take a closer look at what this means using some examples of body weight combined with body fat. The average American male is about 5’10” tall and weighs about 190 lbs. And remember – he’s at 26% body fat. Suppose there are 2 guys that fit these stats. Guy Number 1 is average. Guy Number 2 is fit. If Guy Number 1 is at 26% body fat - that means he is carrying 19049.4=140.6 lbs of fat free mass. If Guy Number 2 is at 10% body fat - that means he is carrying 190-19=171 lbs of fat free mass That means Guy Number 2 has approximately 30 lbs more muscle than Guy Number 1! Here’s another way to think about it... If you are “average” at 5’10” tall, 190 lbs and at 26% body fat, and you decide to trim down, you could expect to lose (if you were lucky) about 1 lb of muscle for every 3 lbs of fat. So by the time you lost 30 lbs, 7.5 lbs of that would be muscle. After all of that work, here where you would end up at 16.9 % body fat at 160 lbs. Here’s the math:
Starting: 190 x 26% body fat = 140.6 fat free mass After: 190 - 30 = 160 lbs total After: 140.6 - 7.5 = 133.1 lbs of fat free mass After: 160-133.1= 26.9 lbs of fat Here’s what that looks like (Figure 5):
Figure 5 – This guy is 5'10" tall, 160 lbs, 16.9% body fat
Not very muscular, by anyone’s standards. And, very likely, not very strong (at least not as strong as he COULD be). There is a very general scientific principle about muscle that states:
For a given individual, a muscle with a larger cross sectional area will be stronger than that same muscle with a smaller cross sectional area. That means that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. So if you want to be stronger, it makes sense that you’re going to have to be bigger. And by bigger I mean more muscular. Here are some general tips to build muscle: 1. Train with sufficient intensity. This includes: • Training Frequency - I recommend hitting all body parts you want to grow twice per week. • Volume - I recommend programs that have 1 to 2 exercises per body part per workout with anywhere from 6 to 12 work sets total. • Repetition Speed - be sure to incorporate explosive movements. This means the concentric motion (i.e. the press in a bench press) should be explosive, and you should always lower the weight under control. And stick to exercises that are safe to do explosively. 2. Consume adequate protein. I’d suggest no less than 0.8 grams of protein for every pound of lean body mass. To calculate that for yourself, you’ll need to know: Your current weight in pounds (CW) – unclothed scale weight upon waking Your current % body fat (BF) – you should have calculated this using an online calculator as shown in the last section. Use this formula: 0.8 x [CW – (CW x BF)] = Minimum Grams of Protein to Eat each Day
For a 190 lb guy at 20% body fat, that would equate to: 0.8 g x [190 lbs – (190 x 0.2 )] = 121.6 grams of protein per day (at
3. Use progressive resistance training. Whatever program you are on, strive to gradually and regularly increase the resistance you use in your programs for each exercise. 4. Aim for repetitions per set of between 6 and 16. 5. Keep rest between sets to between 30 and 90 seconds. 6. Always do resistance training before cardio. So… That was Reason #5. Surely we must be done! Not just yet. You still have to have a way to use this new knowledge. You may even be asking yourself…
Before I answer that, let’s have a look at where you should be if you eliminate all of the reasons listed in this report...
Before After Change in Strength Why?
Your Ego is Too Big
Your Ego is In Check
0% +25 to 100+%
This is just the prep work... With the right “mindset” you are well on your way! Fixing these glitches and eliminating imbalances pays HUGE dividends. I bet you had no idea how much your pain was holding you back! Now that your heart can handle the work, you can actually DO the work! Yeah... It’s a bummer, but it’s true. However, strength should be considered relative to your body weight - so though the absolute numbers drop, the RELATIVE one’s do not. Like I said - bigger muscles equals stronger muscles.
You Are Your Glitches Are Too Fixed Jacked Up You are You are Too Out of Cardiovascularly Shape Fit You are Too Fat You are Lean (15% body fat or less)
You are Too Puny
You are Muscular
Net gain: 35 to over 100% increase in strength.
(probably in the first year only… after that you might expect a 5-25% increase in most movements per year)
Keys to Success
The main key is to tackle the problems (i.e. Reasons) sequentially starting with Number 1. Literally start with Reason Number 1, then move one at a time to Reason Number 5. The only exception is you get to take a shortcut by combining Numbers 2 and 3. So… 1st Address and deal with your EGO: Get it in check Deal with INJURIES + POOR CARDIO FITNESS: Let old injuries heal + get your heart in shape Deal with BODY FAT: Get down to 15% or less Deal with BUILDING MUSCLE: The sky is the limit – well, depending on your genetics!
2nd + 3rd
How long should this all take? At the very least, you can expect going through one cycle of this (i.e. Ego Check - Fix Glitches - Get Conditioned - Lose Fat - Build Muscle) to take 90 days. Depending on how bad off you are when you begin, it can take upwards of a full year.
But so what...? Think about where you were 1 year ago compared to today. Were you able to: Heal an old injury AND Get cardiovascularly fit AND Lose fat AND Build muscle – The results of which made you 100% stronger in your major lifts? If so, AWESOME! Perhaps, for the sake of variety you’ll give this system a try... BUT If not - Then what have you got to lose??? Oh, other than: ● An ego that prevents you from getting stronger ● Old nagging injuries that prevent you from getting stronger ● Being too deconditioned to get any stronger ● Having too much body fat ● Having too little muscle mass Back to how long this will take… Instead of just thinking of this as a one shot deal, you might better be served by thinking of this as a process. In other words your fitness goals aren’t a destination… they are a journey.
You might, every year or so, go through the list to make sure you aren’t getting stymied. And as you reach your goals, you might set new, more lofty and challenging goals. -Maybe you got down to 15% body fat, but really want to go for the ripped look and shoot for 10%. -Maybe your upper arms grew to a respectable 16” measurement, but you’d like to see how 16.5” stretches your shirtsleeves. If there’s still any doubt, read on to find out…
How to Get Started
Start at Number 1, and implement the tips at the end of that chapter. Then move to Number 2, and do the same. It’s really that simple. Now what are you waiting for? Go get strong! Cheers,