Home Blog Strength Training Programs: The Higher Up You Go, the More Hot Air You Encounter

Strength Training Programs: The Higher Up You Go, the More Hot Air You Encounter

Written on April 29, 2010 at 6:55 am, by Eric Cressey

A buddy of mine – we’ll call him Bobby Ballsofsteel – has been really working at it lately in a dedicated push to pack on a little muscle mass with his strength training program.  He’s somewhat of a classic “hardgainer” who needs to really forcefeed himself to gain every ounce. Nonetheless, Bobby’s busted his butt in the gym (I train with him, so I know) and the kitchen over the past few months and has gone from 200 to 210 pounds.  This is a huge deal, as we aren’t talking about “newbie” gains; we’re talking about a guy who had already gone from 160 to 200 over the previous two years.

Bobby was super-intimidated about starting a strength and conditioning program back in 2007 because, although he was a great athlete, it was unfamiliar territory for him because he immediately become the little dog at the pound.

It took a lot of guts to start things up – something we see with a lot of people from different walks of life who begin exercise programs with motivation and a desire to change, but a long way to go and a fair amount of intimidation and embarrassment in their minds about where they stand with respect to the challenge ahead.  Whether you’re an elite athlete who has never trained in an organized setting, an untrained 14-year old baseball player, or a 55-year-old female who is just getting into exercising to drop body fat, the first step is the toughest – and it’s our job as fitness professionals to make this first step more manageable and less daunting. The problem is that we have outside influences with which to compete.

With many people embarking on a strength training program, there are other people in their lives – maybe it’s relatives, spouses, employers, best friends, or others – who for whatever reason go out of their way to find fault with people for making the decision to start exercising or eating healthy.  In many cases, these “disablers” sabotage people’s efforts at the exact time when they need the most support from those close to them.

Usually, the ones doing the “disabling” are simply insecure about themselves.  Maybe they are just comfortable eating poorly and not exercising, and they perceive it as a threat when someone close to them starts changing these habits, as it may have a spillover effect to them.  Or, perhaps they’re deconditioned and just don’t want to be alone – so it’s easier to try to bring someone else down a peg than elevate themselves.  Maybe it’s just that the world wouldn’t be safe with only one overweight superhero as opposed to two.  Batman wouldn’t just leave Robin out to dry like that.


And that’s how we come back to my buddy, Mr. Ballsofsteel, and his great progress of late.  Bobby came to the gym royally pissed off the other morning, and proceeded to tell me the story of how he had met up with some of his best (long-time) friends the previous night.  While it had been good to see all of them, one of these friends – we’ll call him “Tommy the Tool” – went out of his way to remark (in front of the entire group) that Bobby had “gotten awfully big suspiciously quickly.”  Effectively, he was implying that Bobby was using steroids (which is clearly not the case if you ask anyone who has seen him regularly throughout this time period).  The accuser (or shall we say “disabler?”) practically tried to turn it into a group intervention.

You can imagine what an awkward position this created for Bobby.  On one hand, if he had gotten defensive in light of all the hard work he’d put in to do things the right way, they’d have thought he had something about which he should be defensive.  On the other hand, if he had just shrugged it off, they’d have thought that the accusation is true and that Bobby just wanted to change the subject.  Awkward situation, indeed.


Awkward situation aside, there is a “not-so-coincidental coincidence” that emerged in my eyes as Bobby told me the story.  Apparently, Tommy the Tool presented to this gathering about 15 pounds of “not-so-good weight” heavier himself because he’d been on the road for work, eating poorly and not exercising.

It’s funny how our disabler chose to call someone out and attempt to delegitimize someone else’s progress at the exact same time when he was feeling the worst about himself.  Actually, it’s not really “funny.”  It’s more “predictable” and “pathetic.”  You try to take someone down a peg to make your unfit, unhealthy status quo feel more acceptable; it’s easier to take when everyone is miserable.  Or, maybe it simply takes the attention off you, Tommy the Tool.


This happens in fitness, athletics, business, academics, and countless other components of our everyday lives.  I always tell our athletes that the higher up you go, the more hot air you are going to encounter.  Get negative people out of your life and surround yourself with those who are not only supportive of your goals and your progress, but can actually help to set you up for more success.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, one message from authors Chip and Dan Heath is that you will almost never effect quick change a person, but you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts – and do so relatively transiently.


As an example, we’ve had numerous high school athletes who have completely changed their family’s nutrition for the better by applying the principles they’ve learned in nutrition consultations at Cressey Performance.  It isn’t that their parents didn’t want to be healthy prior to that point; it was just that the situation in which they cooked and ate was different.  Once a young athlete came home excited about nutrition armed with knowledge and recipes, though, their supportive parental instincts enabled him to adopt these new habits, and his enthusiasm and newfound education and resources enabled them to adopt new practices for the family.  They were still the same people; they just happened to have new situations.

It’s why I think our semi-private training model at Cressey Performance works so well.  Sure, it makes training more affordable, and the strength and conditioning programs are obviously very individualized.  However, I think that most important thing we’ve done is creates an unconditionally positive training environment where people can support each other – even if they may have different fitness/athletic goals.  Success is both visible and encouraged.


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25 Responses to “Strength Training Programs: The Higher Up You Go, the More Hot Air You Encounter”

  1. Brandon Cook Says:

    Damn Tommy the Tool! I agree with what you’re saying… a supportive environment can make all of the difference and it looks like Cressey Performance has that environment in place.

    On another note, I look forward to the day someone accuses me of using steroids… because I’ll know deep down all of the hard work and dedication that went into building my body. Just take it an a indirect compliment I guess! haha

  2. Tim Says:

    question for Bobby B: Why are you not flattered when someone implies you’ve been using steroids and you know you’re results are clean? Basically, that dude just gave you the biggest compliment ever- its like being called superhuman.

  3. Nate Brookreson Says:

    What about if you have an athlete that is your “Tommy the Tool” and is negatively impacting your entire group? How would you go about dealing with that situation, besides calling them out in front of teammates (which didn’t work so well)…

  4. JD Says:

    Didn’t I read this article 5 years ago – only by Shugart as author then?!

  5. W Says:

    Great post! Instead of calling these people “disablers”, I like to use Tony Perkis’ term “destroyer”.

  6. Brandon LaRue Says:

    I’ve oftentimes seen this behavior amongst husband and wife. It’s difficult to see this behavior happening amongst those who are supposed to love and care for one another! In general, I try to prepare clients for these situations. Isn’t it sad that being fit and healthy has become “uncool!”

  7. Paul Berube Says:

    The pic of the urinal peak made me crack up laughing. Some people never stop comparing.

  8. DHirsh Says:

    Another apt post, Eric. In these days of 50% societal obesity, I’m pretty sure you can whiz right by the disabling individuals amongst us point the finger straight to our popular culture full of messages aimed to disable those who would make positive health and fitness changes in their life.

    Advertising, situational television shows, and even sports broadcasts are full of depictions of “regular” guys being stupid, overweight, dull, and contentedly so. The intent is to tell guys, “being like this is perfectly normal.”

    For another example, I remember reading a CNN article written by a Maxim Magazine columnist about making changes in his diet, by simply adding vegetables and salads. His premise was that taking care of yourself is actually a pretty “manly’ thing to do. You should have seen the comment thread that followed. He was accused of everything from homosexuality to being the kind of guy that holds his girl’s purse at the mall!

    Now, I know that reading comment threads on internet sites is hardly an absolute indicator of conventional wisdom, but if the opinions expressed following an article about adding salad to your weekly nutritional regimen brought out that kind of blow-back, clearly there are larger cultural issues at play. Some of which surely flow to cases of individual disablers you mention in your post.

    Keep up the good work.

    David, Seattle

  9. Benjamin Kusin Says:

    Timmy the Tool exists in all areas of life. Anytime you are better than other people at something, especially if you started out at a disadvantage (hardgainer, not a natural at whatever it is, etc.) there will be someone trying to shoot you down. As Dave Tate put it, “they would if they could but since they can’t, they rant”

    As far as “hardgainer” goes, Thibs says most of them just have poor digestion. Probiotics and HCL tablets are worth looking into for Bobby.

  10. Eric Cressey Says:

    Nate – It’s a primary goal to not let that happen in the first place. It’s nothing a sit down heart-to-heart with that athlete won’t fix, though. It helps to have a lot of strong, athletic guys on staff who can more than hold our own with our athletes!

    JD – Don’t think so. Something I missed?

    Thanks, everyone, for the kind words and contributions!

  11. jamie douse Says:

    excellent post Eric

    f*#k the haters, i like to call the disablers dickheads, they are an isnpiration to continue to work hard

  12. jamie douse Says:

    …inspiration even

  13. Matthew Says:

    Hey Eric,

    Yeah JD is right there was a similar article on T-Nation written by shugart about “Toxic People” but he was also talking about the V-Diet at the time. The thread is here

  14. Mike Westerdal Says:

    What are all those tshirts on the wall from the video at your training center? Mike

  15. Paul Valiulis Says:

    “The higher up you go, the more hot air you are going to encounter.”

    I’m writing that on my window.

  16. Rees Says:

    Great post.

  17. Carlos Says:

    You should know better than mocking obese people.
    Too easy.

  18. Pat Koch Says:

    Eric so well written. I have had great success using these phrases to fend off haters.

    When ordering a relatively healthy meal like a salad…and people give you a look like your crazy. I usually smile and say “This is the only country where you could get made fun of for eating your veggies.”

    When being badgered by some no name to drink more booze a quick, “What are you my girlfriend? Worry about yourself.” Shuts em up quickly.

    -Bobby Bad News

  19. Rob Says:

    Great post, Eric. Appreciate the excellent advice always found in your postings.

  20. Mike Delattre Says:

    This post really hit home with me. I had hip resurfacing surgery almost 2 years ago, and I get a lot of people (not my doctor) telling me I should now give up the sports that I love so my hip will last. I play in 2 baseball (not softball) leagues, and a winter basketball league with my new shiny hip. BTW, I am 44 years old, and have improved my hip strength immensly with a lot of your techniques. I wish you were here in Chicago!

  21. Conor Says:

    Awesome post and so true. Jealousy comes into play a lot when you demonstrate positive changes around those that are too lazy/unmotivated/insecure to make changes. I have friends that love to be the center of attention and when you’re successful it seems to take them down a peg, so they feel the need to say stupid things to try to bring you down. We need more positive people that encourage each other and are happy for others when they’re successful

  22. Shawxxx Says:

    So many weak PT’s have the same steroid accusation habit to justify their own lack of interest in real hard training.
    So many PT’s nowadays rather do weed alcohol and other drugs rather than train hard and carry their meals with them.
    Many girls are stronger than these lifestyle party drink PTs..

    Makes me feel sorry when I see that.

  23. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Rob!

  24. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Mike! Glad you enjoyed it. And, keep proving the naysayers wrong!

  25. Eric Cressey Says:

    Good ones, Pat!

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