Written by Christopher Kelly
Jan. 17, 2020
Christopher: Well, James, thank you so much for hosting me here in a very foggy, sad Santa Cruz.
James: It is foggy.
Christopher: I moved to California for the sunshine. Where the hell is it? I want my money back.
James: I know. We got a little bit of -- my fiancée and I went on a nice walk on West Cliff this morning, and we actually got a little bit of sunshine. We were on the way back, I was like, "Maybe Chris might be able to walk down," because they have a nice spot by the White House where you have -- even the Steamer Lane where they have the coffee, we go there and get a coffee because they have some tables there. We can maybe set up a beautiful -- there's a huge swell right now, so you got people all over the place surfing. I would imagine a lot of people have called in sick today. Then the clouds rolled in and yeah, I think it's just what we're going to get for the rest of the day.
Christopher: Of course, it's nothing compared to what everyone else in the world is like.
James: Yeah, exactly. I'm still in shorts, and it's December 13th. So yeah, based on other places I've lived, it's a major victory.
Christopher: Absolutely. So I came across your work via our mutual friend, Zac Cupples. Send me what you know about Zac. I can tell you a little bit about what I know about Zac. So Zac has been on the podcast before. I'll link to that episode in the show notes that you can find over at nourishbalancethrive.com/podcast. And since I recorded the episode, I worked with Zac as a client. I think I'm getting the timing right there. Anyway, I've just completed a cyclocross season with no low back pain whatsoever.
James: There we go.
Christopher: That's epically good. I did maybe two sessions with Zac on Zoom. I never saw him in person.
James: He's a magician.
Christopher: He is a fucking magician. He is amazing. Tell me what you know about Zac.
James: So I know Zac through, I guess, how all these things work like mutual friends and relationships. So early on in my career pathway choices, et cetera, I did an internship at a place called Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. There's a gentleman there named Bill Hartman who is a just phenomenal physical therapist. He's a mentor for Zac. So Zac had gone through there when he was going through PT school and spent time with Bill. So I met Zac through that connection because Zac came out -- there was some type of event or weekend workshop that Zac came for, and so we met there. And then once you're kind of in the circle, in the network, you just continually cross paths over and over again.
So the last time I saw Zac was actually down in Costa Rica at a retreat that Ben House hosted. Yeah, we had a chance to kind of catch up and talk shop there because he's been doing a lot of cool stuff. But yeah, very smart, bright individual, these really cool things from a long distance.
Christopher: Yeah, amazing. Absolutely incredible. Well, let's take a step back. How did you get interested in health and performance and strength and conditioning in the first place?
James: Yeah, I think a lot of it is probably for selfish reasons, like having been an athlete my entire life, a lot of the choices I made were trying to figure out how to better help myself first.
Christopher: It was a good thing, I think, like you love yourself and saw you're going to have something else too.
James: Yeah, kind of like my N of 1 experiment a little bit. But just like normal background, I was an athlete growing up, I played anything and everything that had a ball associated with it. I went and played baseball in college, started really training seriously, kind of strength conditioning stuff late in high school, kind of a summer before I went to college. And then in college, I started running into a lot of injury issues that I hadn't experienced before like stress fractures in my back, tons of pulled muscles, just little things that popped up over and over again that kept kind of costing me playing time, essentially.
So college ended and I wasn't really crazy about how that whole process had been handled from talking with doctors, spending time with physical therapists. I didn't love the message that I was getting there, and for whatever reason, I didn't agree with it.
Christopher: What's the message? Can you describe the problem exactly and what the message was?
James: Yeah. So the approach to trying to "fix" this problem just wasn't working. Essentially, what I was being told was, well, if you're going to be an athlete, you're going to train hard and do all these things. This is just kind of par for the course.
Christopher: This is what happens.
James: Yeah, I just didn't agree with to begin with. I was like, well, if you're chasing high-level performance outcomes, then you're playing with fire to a certain degree, but the consistency with which these things are showing up should not be happening. I should be able to train to be this kind of like freak athlete while at the same time not being consistently beat up and in pain. Plus, you go to see doctors like when I have a stress fracture in my low back, I went to a doctor and he's like, "Well, you're never going to squat or deadlift again." I pretty sure actually got up and left because I was like, well, I think we have a very short-sighted approach to this. We need to think outside the box a little bit more. There's more in the world than what your education taught you and you kind of live in this very small box, and you have a hard time -- which is rightful because of your background and the time investment you put in to your practice and what you're doing, you have a hard time looking outside the realm of kind of like what you view is right versus wrong.
So I got out of college. I actually went to work for a bank right off the bat which was a short-lived experience because it was terrible. So I went to work with Bank of America for a little while. I did not enjoy the experience in the least. So I immediately came back to strength conditioning. I had always been obsessed with what makes people bigger, faster, stronger. How can we do this? But my big question was how can I do it differently than was done for me? How can I make these big, fast, strong athletes who also move really well and aren't chronically in pain don't get beat up all the time? So that was the big question in my mind is I know what I was put through. And did I become a better athlete? Absolutely. But it came with a lot of costs, lots of costs.
Christopher: Can you describe the traditional approach that didn't work?
James: Oh, boy, we could be here for a lot of time.
Christopher: Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. Can you summarize it a bit?
James: There wasn't a real appreciation for what I would just broadly call movement or even energy system development. It was like a very rigid -- everyone's been trained like a football player. It's like we're all essentially going to be not even like a football player. We're essentially being trained like powerlifters was the model because powerlifting kind of got tied in early on and that kind of became this standard for strength conditioning in a really weird way. You go talk to strength conditioning coaches and the questions are like, well, what do your player squat and bench? It's like, well, I don't really give a fuck what your player squat and bench. I care about how good of an athlete you made your player. But it's not having appreciation, I think, for movement more than anything.
Christopher: So what's your definition of a good athlete?
James: Yeah. So for me, I think of athletes kind of -- at least the athletes I work with -- I think of it kind of as six pillars. So you have strength, hypertrophy, power, endurance. The fifth pillar, which is big for us, is movement IQ, and then the last pillar, I haven't thought of a good name for it, it's kind of fusion. That's where we put more kind of like metcons and medleys. It's like how well do you blend these other five things? But if you're a fields forward athlete or course forward athlete, things along those lines, and the last pillar is really like when you go play your sport, do you do a good job of blending all these other pillars together?
So traditional strength and conditioning is really good at getting you strong. They're pretty good at getting you powerful. They can definitely get you jacked. I think that their understanding and how they approach the endurance side is a little bit off. But the big pillar that's missing in most of those programs is all the movement pillar. It's just overlooked, and it's not approached in the right way and so which is why you end up with these athletes who end up becoming train wrecks late in their careers for whatever reason. It's just because of whatever reason, we haven't done the job of creating a really robust movement foundation for these people.
Can they actually get into positions we want them to get into? Can they feel the things that we want them to feel? What does this look like? What is it supposed to look like? Kind of getting away from this notion and this idea that everyone has a back squat with a straight bar because that's dumb. That's really stupid. Maybe the best thing for you right now is heels elevated squat because of the position of your skeleton, right?
Christopher: You're going to have to explain this now. You got all technical on me. You have to remember I'm an endurance athlete.
James: Exactly, right.
Christopher: I'm actually frightened of barbells. That's not true but -- so what do you mean by straight bar?
James: So think like a straight barbell. That's what most people will be familiar with. It's just a straight barbell and for whatever reason, everyone's like, well, you have to back squat with a straight bar because if you want to get stronger, that's what you have to do. We're fortunate enough now, you have lots of different kinds of bars floating around.
Christopher: Oh, I see what you're saying. I know what you mean now.
James: I can use a safety squat bar. What do I love about a safety squat bar? Well, putting my hands in front of my body, I can reach, I can retract my ribs, and it allows me to be in a much better position in order to squat than as like a back squat is really hard to do. And unless you want to compete in powerlifting, there's really no reason for you to do it. I think that's just a poor exercise selection. I'm not telling you not to squat and get strong. I'm just saying, well, maybe we pick a variation of a squat that makes way more sense for you based off of kind of like where you are walking in the door.
Christopher: Right. So if you're an endurance athlete, this definitely applies to you, right?
Christopher: I'd be surprised if you could even do the bodyweight squat.
James: Yeah, right. It's like who cares if you can back squat? unless you compete in a sport where that is like the thing. But otherwise, that's just a means to an end as opposed to being in and of itself. And that's like an important distinction that people kind of have to be able to make.
Christopher: Right. And I do know what he's talking about now because I've seen these bars at Ben House's because --
James: I have one in the garage. I can show it you when we're done.
Christopher: Yeah. I've definitely seen Ben using that bar. Yeah, it's way more comfortable than traditional straight bar.
James: Yeah. It's just being open minded. Don't be rigid. Be open to change, and these other things that are coming out that just potentially make more sense. Don't be married to things and either constantly willing to put more and more tools in the toolbox and admit that -- like what I was doing two years ago was dumb, but I'm doing my best to continually move forward and change and update my practices.
Christopher: Right. You might call this growth mindset, right?
James: Yeah, exactly. Right. You just need to kind of have that beginner's mind, constantly be growing and evolving in some way.
Christopher: Right. Can you explain the process that led to your low back injury, the stress fracture? You understand that now. Is it complicated to explain?
James: I have a good idea now. I'll try to say it simply, but when we go down this path, it gets difficult because there's going to be some form of bastardization that goes into it, so with that as the framework of it all. So you have like three planes of movement and someone like Zac Cupples is much better in this movement biomechanics from that I am. I essentially steal and take as much as I can from guys like Zac or his mentor, Bill, or someone like Pat Davidson. I take as much from them as I can, and then apply it to my own practice because I'm more interested in physiology.
I'm not innovating in that realm. But if we want to go down that path essentially, you have three planes of movement, right? So there's a sagittal plane, a frontal plane and then transverse plane. So sagittal is just kind of like front and back, frontals, east, west, and then transversus, rotational. So what you see in a lot of these athletes who are kind of coming in the door, they're very like what I would say sagittalized. So they have no frontal plane. They have no transverse plane. It's the guy that walks in and your people aren't going to be able to see this, but it's like this thing, this posture. Your ribs are poking me in the eye. You're essentially dumping water out the front of your pelvis and you're just like -- you think about your ribs and your pelvis like a mouth, the mouth is wide open on the front and you're super closed off on the back. You're like this dude here and you're walking around. And it's like, well, maybe you just like exhale a little bit. But it's trying to appreciate the fact that you need to put ribs and a pelvis in a good position first. And then once the ribs and the pelvis are in a good position, now I have an opportunity to move successfully.
But for me, like my ribs and pelvis were not where they needed to be in any stretch of the imagination, and then I'm playing a very rotation-dominant sport in baseball. So it's like I'm trying to rotate with the skeleton that I feel like fucking can't rotate. Like you put me on a table, the table test means like, okay, well, you have no internal rotation and we know that you can't rotate because if you extend your spine, the set joints line up in a way to where you literally can't rotate your spine.
So a lot of it is just kind of like a reclaiming what we would say is a flexion and extension, like helping people find hamstrings again or adductors or side abs or like a serratus, just so they can at least appreciate what flexion and extension is supposed to feel like, because if you can reclaim some flexion and extension, now I'm opening up some avenues. Now we can start actually making some progress forward because when I have you go deadlift or squat or do something, it's like you can be in the position I want you to be in and you can feel what I want you to feel right. Does that all make sense?
Christopher: Yeah, it does make sense. Can you describe some of the -- I don’t know if I want to use the word exercise -- some of the movements, some of the things you did to rediscover those feelings?
James: Yeah. So for me, what ended up being really successful was it's kind of a brand called PRI, so the Postural Restoration Institute.
Christopher: I've heard that before. Have we had Mike T. Nelson talk about that?
James: Probably. Mike T., I'm sure, has spent a lot of time with it. Zac has a really strong background in it. But PRI was a very different approach, and so I got very attracted to it because they came at it from a very different angle. So traditionally, me being an athlete coming up, it was, "Oh, well, this is tight, stretch it." I would stretch all day long and make no progress. I think this is a really dumb way to go about doing this. Like, "Oh, your hamstrings are tight. Let's stretch your hamstrings."
And then finally, PRI comes along and they're like, "Well, it's not that your hamstrings are tight. It's that your pelvis is in this position. And then we measure it on a table, your hamstrings should appear 'short and tight' because of the fact that your pelvis is in the position that it's in." So if I were to lay you on the table and do a straight leg raise test and you come up short, you need to ask more questions. It's not "Oh, your hamstrings are tight. Let's stretch your hamstrings." It's "Oh, let's first consider the underlying position of the pelvis and the ribs before we start jumping to this conclusion," because what you see on the table may make perfect sense.
I think it ties in really nicely with kind of the functional medicine world right now to where I was always interested in getting more root causes. What's the root thing driving this? Because my "tight hamstring" is probably just -- it is a symptom of something that is underlying. I want to know what's going on underneath the hood that makes it appear that I have these short tight hamstrings.
So PRI was huge for me. That was really big. That's very -- let me try and sum this up without really destroying it. It's a different type of model. It's very neurological. It's appreciating that if I can put your ribs and pelvis where I want them and I can get to take a deep breath, like I'm sending a very different signal to the brain. It's appreciating airflow in and out of the chest wall. It's appreciating infrastructural angles. It's appreciating the fact that you have a balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. That worked wonders for me. It was huge. So those are things like 90/90 hip lifts, all four belly lifts, and a lot of different variations on those movements, that's a very big world. But those are the things that helped me the most was kind of getting into that line of thought. They have tons of courses and stuff that people can check out in that realm.
Christopher: Okay. You mentioned Pat Davidson there. Can you tell us about him? It seems like every coach in the strength and conditioning world respects him hugely. But for someone on the outside, it's like kind of hard for me to understand why he's so special. Can you tell me?
James: Pat is a very special person. So Pat has a PhD in some type of human physiology, biomechanics. I'm probably not right there, but it's one of those two.
Christopher: We'll fix it in the show notes, by the way.
James: Yeah. So Pat is brilliant. He's a very smart dude. He's incredibly cerebral. People are attracted to Pat because he kind of walks the walk and talks the talk. Here's this dude that can go mash weights in the weight room, and then he's going to sit over here and just drop biomechanic bombs on you for an hour. So I think that's probably the biggest reason why people respect Pat as much as they do is because he's a powerhouse and both realms. A lot of people in the performance world, it's hard to walk in and say, like a physical therapist, for example, and then you walk in the physical therapist is like 30 pounds overweight and not in shape and they're having me do things that I don't think are really helping. It's a little bit different when you go to see someone like a Pat. He's not a PT, but it's like, okay, well, this dude can jam on a 500-pound deadlift and he's also going to make me feel a lot better.
So I think that's probably one of the reasons why people have a lot of respect for him. The other thing is he's just very smart. He gets down to the rabbit holes, and then he does a very good job of coming back out and teaching his model in a very simple way. So he takes tons of complex information and gives you a very simple kind of nuts and bolts template to follow and makes it kind of like idiot proof for the end user, which is what's so nice for people. To get to his level of understanding would take so much time, effort and energy, so he kind of sums it all up and gives it to you like, hey, just follow this strategy and these tactics, you're going to be doing a much better job than you were doing a week ago.
Christopher: Okay, I like that. Yeah, complexity tends to lead to me not doing anything at all when it comes to strength and conditioning. So I do enjoy that. I am a bit worried though about thinking that the physique of your coach is an indicator of anything at all. I learned this in a quite young boy doing martial arts that you should be careful about that, because you don't know where that person started.
James: Yeah, you have to be careful with it. That's just human psychology. The cover of the book does matter to a certain degree. I think in order to get buy-in from your athletes and the people that you're working with, I think if you can show that you walk the walk, it's going to get more buy-in from the people you're trying to work with because what you're saying just is going to carry more weight. And by no means is saying that you don't need to deadlift 600 pounds to be a really good coach. There are other ways to get there. I think it's just, if you're going to live in that realm, you need to at least be able to show that you do to a certain degree.
I think we can take that away from numbers for a little bit. I don't have numbers in place for like, well, you have to be able to squat bench or deadlift these numbers for me to respect you. That's not it at all. It's just more of like, at least know that you're living in that realm and you're working out and your training, and then I also know that you're brilliant because you spend a lot of time reading, studying and adding constructive things to the conversation.
Mike T. Nelson is a perfect example of that. He was hilarious on the podcast he was on this week. He was talking about his childhood and his upbringing. He was like, "I was a terrible athlete. People would fight over not having to pick me last." I thought that was hilarious.
Christopher: I think he's had more than his fair share of challenges as well there, physical challenges.
James: Yeah, exactly. So Mike T. is not a physical powerhouse by any means, but the dude is a phenomenal coach. I know that he is. So there's definitely a fine balance there that you have to walk.
Christopher: Yeah. And there's also that question, can this person communicate what they know, right? So going back to my expensive martial arts, I think I trained for a while with the guy that at the time was the Lau Gar world champion. I mean, obviously, he'd kick my ass. It's insane. But I don't think he was that good at communicating. I don’t think he's that good at teaching which limited his utility quite severely compared to people that were not nearly as skilled as he was.
James: Yeah, I think that's a good point. There's a really interesting balance, I think, between being very good at what you do. I found personally in my time as an athlete, the best coaches were the people that were always barely good enough to make it to the next level because they had to do everything under the sun. They struggled. They tried 27 different things just to make sure they're good enough to make the next cut. The people who were rock stars out of the gate were miles ahead of you and have always been miles ahead of you and it just comes to them, I found they are not the best coaches.
Christopher: They can't empathize.
James: They can't empathize. They're like, "Well, just do it."
Christopher: Yeah, I did it. I don’t get it.
James: Just do it. Just do this thing. Whereas the guy who really had to try a lot of different things and that's kind of a category I would throw myself into coaching is trying almost everything under the sun, to think about how do I fix myself so I can train the way I want to train and then being able to go help other people do the similar thing.
Christopher: So did you get back to deadlifting to do it?
James: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I deadlift, basketball. I do everything I want now with no issues. The goals right now, we're working to a 600-pound deadlift and a 500-pound back squat.
Christopher: How much do you weigh?
James: Before grad school started, I was 15 pounds off of both of those numbers, but then priorities shifted during grad school. So those kind of had to take a backseat, but now that we're kind of on the back end of the grad school experience. We can reprioritize and kind of make sure those things take place.
James: Thank you.
Christopher: That's fantastic. Did you go back to see that doctor and tell him the…?
James: No, no, I did not. I saw him twice and the second time I saw him, he had had almost like a total worldview shift.
Christopher: Oh, really?
James: Because that realm gets really interesting when you get into backs or shoulders and things. Tissue damage or damage of some kind does not have to be correlated with pain. We know that. There's more than enough studies that show that if you go look at a large population, some people are going to be in pain who have no underlying damage whatsoever if you take an MRI. Then you're going to have other people who have no pain, but it's like, well, you have a bulged disc here and you have a slightly torn rotator cuff here, but you're totally fine and functional. It's like what gives there?
So the second time I saw him, I don't know what he had been doing, but he spent some time with some weightlifters. He was like, yeah, this guys' backs light up like a Christmas tree, but they're totally fine.
Christopher: That's amazing.
James: So he is kind of in the process of making a little bit of a shift, I think, in how he thought about things.
Christopher: Okay. Tell us about your academic experience.
James: Yeah. So I guess to continue with the backstory, so I left the bank, got into strength conditioning because that had always kind of been my interest and passion. After spending probably three years traveling around, doing internships, being a strength coach, I decided I wanted to go back to school because that was what I enjoyed most out of the experiences that I had had was digging into more of kind of like the deep physiology of all of it. So I went back to the University of Utah. I originally went back to do a PhD in integrative physiology and then decided to stop after the master's portion of it because I wanted to work on my business and a few kind of other things, but it was a really good experience. Very glad that I did it, learned a lot. I think getting into academia, getting into good labs with good mentors, it does a lot in terms of refining your thought processes and how you think about attacking problems and just appreciating the scientific method and how to formulate arguments and things along those lines.
Christopher: So why did you drop out the PhD program? How did it become worth it to pursue a business career rather than continuing in academia?
James: Academia is an interesting place. For me the big decision came, I have my own business and that kind of reached a point money wise where I could afford to go work on that at the time.
Christopher: So you'd already -- even when you were in --
James: I had started that before I went to grad school. It was like a side project. It was just a hobby for a long time. And then it kind of crossed a particular revenue threshold where I was like, okay, well, I can start to take this seriously as a full-time job.
Christopher: I mean, that's how I always look to academia. I actually did an undergraduate degree in electronics and then decided I really wanted to do software. And I went to university and take computer science. And then Cisco Systems kindly offered me a job before I'd even finished my undergraduate degree. I'm done. Everybody I live with at the time, they were doing a four-year master's program. I was doing a three-year undergraduate. So what's the point? I don't need to stay any longer. Someone's already offered me a job I want. It's a means to an end, not an end in itself. So I suppose that's the same is true. I'm not just here in academia because I don't know what to do with myself.
James: Yeah, exactly. So that was kind of the big deciding point. I was going to have to choose one or the other because they're both going to be more than full-time commitments. I'm either going to work full time in my business and grow that, or I'm going to have to pretty much push the business to the side and then work full time with my PhD and do that. So I looked at that kind of framework, the decision was, well, I don't think I want to stay in academia. I don't think I want to play the grant game.
Christopher: You better describe the grant game now.
James: So in academia, there are a couple of different, I think -- well, let's just broadly say they're kind of two paths you can go down if you stay in academia. So if I get the PhD, then the primary place you're going to stay is academia. Yes, you can go into industry and do that stuff, but I have zero interest in working for pharmaceutical companies and biotech, in that realm. So okay, I'll stay in academia. If I'm going to stay in academia, then I need to go to kind of a smaller liberal arts school where I'm going to have a pretty nice base salary. My priority in terms of job is to teach the students and then I'll probably have a small lab, or you go to the big university and you aren't going to have a great base salary because majority of what you do is going to be based on how many grants am I getting? How much funding am I bringing in? That's how you're largely going to pay yourself.
So I wasn't crazy about playing the grant game. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to have to continuously be writing and getting grants all the time in order to keep my job and keep the university happy. And the number of jobs on the other avenue, if we're thinking about these smaller universities, kind of like where I did my undergraduate, so I went to Davidson College, I would love to go back and be a professor at Davidson. That'd be an amazing job. Those jobs come around so infrequently. I'm not going to stake my entire future on the possibility that someone in the science department is going to retire or die because once they get the jobs, they don't leave. They keep great base salaries, an incredible place to work. There are so few of those positions, and they come open so rarely.
I was like, I don't want to like spend another four to six years in school studying for a PhD and then have this very, very low percentage chance of this thing taking place. That's really the only positive outcome where I would be probably pretty happy. I like, well, I could probably go work in my business right now, which I love doing, and be plenty happy and be my own boss and have tons of autonomy. So that was the decision that I made at that point in time. I could always go back to do a PhD later.
Christopher: That's true. That's true, yeah.
James: That was the other thing is if I ever decide I really want to, I can. I'll have a nice CV, and I have a really good academic transcript at this point.
Christopher: That's the nice thing about decisions. You can always make another one.
James: Yeah, exactly. But the business opportunity may not come around again. We had momentum. We had something moving in the right direction. So it's about trying to capitalize on that while we can. If I do that for the next 30 years, I'd love it. That'd be awesome. That'd be a perfect world scenario.
Christopher: So talk about the business. You mentioned, you used the word "we" there. Who's we?
James: We is largely me. I use the we language a lot. So there are other people involved. So the business is called Rebel Performance. It is primarily a coaching and training company. So we work with strength athletes, strength athletes in particular who want to be kind of like these very well-rounded athletes. So if you think about strength sports, you kind of have powerlifting, strongman, bodybuilding. CrossFit fall in there as well, kind of these barbell-based sports.
The downside, though, is there isn't really a good methodology training program or competitive outlet for people who want to really just be kind of like really well-rounded athletes, who kind of want to pull the best of each of those worlds without having to specialize in one. I was like, I don't want to be just a powerlifter because of the fact that it comes with consequence of I'm probably going to be a little bit out of shape. I'm not going to be that great of an athlete anymore. Like running, jumping cutting isn't going to be in your wheelhouse. That's nothing against people who decided to compete in those sports, like they are incredible athletes. But when I think about myself, I want to be a very well-rounded athlete. I want to be strong, jacked. I want to be powerful. I want to have a good engine. I want to move really well. I want to be able to blend all those things together.
So those are the type of athletes we get. There are usually people who played high school or collegiate sports, they missed that kind of locker room team feel and they miss training to be like this total just kind of complete freaky athlete, we'll term like an Apex Athlete, someone who can do a little bit of all these things. That's the primary kind of person that we work with. And so I say we because I own it. It is totally mine, but there are a bunch of other really good people and coaches involved. Pat Davidson is involved. Dr. Ben House is involved with Dr. Pat Davidson. Andrew Troiano, Lance Goyke is involved, Kyle Dobbs, Ryan L'Ecuyer. You can go to the site. Steve Tripp, Michelle Boland.
Christopher: It is a we.
James: Yeah. So it is a we. They're all definitely involved. They've all contributed programs. They are all working to help us kind of build this really just like cool, robust community because I think that's another big part of what we're trying to do is to make community and camaraderie and competition really the center of what we're doing. People will probably come in because of the programs, because of the prowess that the coaches have, because they know they're getting really good training and programming.
But the programs I view as they're kind of our way to get you in the door. And then once you're in the door, I really want to focus on like the relationship aspect of connecting people and getting you to have some competition back in your life because most people, once you quit playing sports from high school or college, you have this huge gap in your life. I love competing, but there isn't that thing that I love competing in right now because it just doesn't exist, because I don't want to compete in powerlifting for X, Y, or Z reasons. I don't want to compete in CrossFit for X, Y, or Z reasons. I know what I want to compete in.
Christopher: You can tell us why then because this does sound a lot like CrossFit, isn’t it? CrossFit has obviously been wildly successful, especially here in Santa Cruz.
James: CrossFit has been wildly successful, yeah. It's nothing against them and their model. It's just we approach it differently. So we're not playing around with Olympic lifts. We're not playing around with gymnastics. And I think that our movement IQ pillar is very drastically different than theirs. How we think about and approach and teaching coach movement is very, very different. People in my realm, if they were to look at CrossFit, that's the number one knock on CrossFit as a whole is the movement problem. You're giving people the wrong movements. You're asking to do the wrong things.
Christopher: Okay, how can you ask the wrong thing? Is it not like an individual? Really generally it's wrong for everyone all the time?
James: Not all the time, no. It's always going to boil down to some level of an N of 1. But after seeing and working with enough athletes at this point, you begin to realize, okay, not everybody needs to be pressing things over their head because 98% of people can't do it well. So why are we having everybody do military press and push press? This person can't bend over and pick up a weight off the floor. Why are we worried about having them do a very complex Olympic lift?
Christopher: I see.
James: This person can't raise their arms over their head without their ribs poking me in the eye. Why am I having them do pull-ups? It's having a better appreciation --
Christopher: I do pull-ups. I wonder if I'm poking you in the eye.
James: So I think just kind of taking a step back and having a greater appreciation for why am I giving this exercise to this person at this point is meeting them where they are. It would be a great world if everybody could do all the things that CrossFit asks you to do. I'm not saying that it's not -- I think that's a very -- it is an outcome worth searching for.
Christopher: It's an admirable --
James: Yes, admirable. Thank you. It is an admirable outcome. But I think the road they're taking to get there was just not the road that I would personally take based off of my experience and my knowledge and the things that I've done.
Christopher: So tell me about the competition. How do you get competition back into something is generally not competitive?
Christopher: What I mean by that is you look at the bike race. It's pretty clear who won the race. The first wheel to cross the line wins the race. How do you do that with a barbell?
James: So for us, in the membership forum we have, every month we post a competition and it varies. Sometimes it will be more strength based. Sometimes it will be more endurance based. There's this kind of a wide range. We're going to try to really push and challenge you to be well rounded. So if you come in from a very strength-based background, you're going to do really well in the strength competitions. But then I have you do like a 10-minute max distance sprint on an assault bike, and you get absolutely destroyed by these other people who don't have the huge strength base but they come from more of a cardio background.
So we run them through the member forum that way monthly. And then our goal here over the next year to two years is to start actually having in-person competitions, where we start testing these athletes how we think about testing the athletes, how we want to test the athletes.
I think another way of thinking about it is we're essentially building as a very strength-biased field sport athlete. It's kind of like the middle linebacker of humans, if you want to call it that, but it's just like we're way more interested in the big four, like squat, push, pull, deadlift, things like that.
Christopher: Okay, so how do you know these people are not cheating? You're not seeing them in person, right?
James: Video. They have to submit a video. Everything is videoed. You submit the video. It's automatically kind of like rank ordered for us in Google Sheets. And then I can go through, and I can check the videos. So I can go in and say like, okay, this is our top three finishers. Let me just double check these videos and make sure that it looks good. And then the videos are nice too because if anything ends up on one of our leaderboards, there has to be a video with it so that our community can watch and they can check it.
Christopher: Right, that's interesting.
James: Because a lot of the apps and stuff that have those features in them, or you go look at the leaderboard and like it's just 10 lies because people just put in joke random numbers.
Christopher: Right. A classic example I know of is Strava, right? Oh, I think this guy was in a car.
James: Yeah, exactly. So the community will do a large job of policing a lot of that for us which is nice. But we're still really early on into this. I didn't start working on this full time until October. It's December right now.
Christopher: I love it. Wow.
James: We've worked three or four months in and it's good. We have some good momentum. We have the early adopters. We have a really good community right now, about 140 people.
James: So it's moving in the right direction. We know there's demand for it because I know people have said like, once they found it, they're like, this is exactly what I've been looking for. I feel I'm stronger than I've ever been, I'm more powerful than I've ever been, I'm more jacked than I've ever been, and I actually feel really good. And they have a hard time actually putting words to it. Actually, I had a phone conversation with one of my clients the other day. He's like, "I don't know how else to say it. I'm just telling people all the time that I just feel so good. It's like, I don't know what you did because we were just training. I feel good. My back doesn't hurt anymore. My hips don't bother me."
So that's the thing is just trying to blend the best of what's been done with the best of kind of what's coming down the pipeline. And particularly for us, like that movement categories where we spend a decent amount of time kind of redressing foundational issues.
Christopher: Tell me about how it works statistically then. It's team sports, right, but you're getting together with people, you need friends in order to compete in this, right?
James: Not necessarily, no. There are two different users. So just for the straight membership platform, no, you'll compete there individually unless we say one month, hey, like we want you to find a partner in the community forum and then you guys will compete in this thing together. The Silverback stuff is different. That's where we're putting people into -- like we put you into a team of three, or you join as a team of three. So that's a slightly different six-month based program where you can put in teams of three. You compete every week. You're getting points over the course of six months. We have cash prizes sent out for winners. That's a really cool program that's been really well for the past year for us. The guys have really bought into it and enjoyed it just because again, it's making that community and competition aspect really important for them. And it's kind of bringing it back to the forefront.
That's the biggest takeaway we get. The programming is really good, but one thing that drives me nuts is when coaches try to act like they know things that no one else knows. There are a lot of people that write really good programs. There are a lot of really good coaches. There are a lot of places you can go to get really good coaching and outcomes. It's like the differentiating factor most of time is not going to be your programming. Obviously, it's going to be dependent on what's the goal, what are you programming for? Because if you want to be the best powerlifter in the world, I will send you someplace else that I know that there are really good people that are going to make that goal for you’re a reality. This is not what we do. But the differentiator for us is going to be like that community and the competition because that's what a lot of people are missing right now in their lives more than anything, I think.
So it's yeah, we're going to give you really good programming and all that fun stuff. The biggest variables we're trying to really turn the volume up on is that whole kind of like tribe aspect of things.
Christopher: Yeah, of course. Of course. It reminds me of what Chris Ryan said in Civilized to Death about people's allegiance to arbitrarily chosen sports teams. It's just hankering back to something that our ancestors used to eat every day of their lives.
James: But if we bring back up CrossFit, that's what CrossFit did such a good job of. CrossFit crushed community and competition. It crushed it. It did such a great job with it. We just think that we can do a much better job in improving the model, like the training model for the people that are interested in our outcomes.
Christopher: It's making sense to me now. Yeah, okay.
James: Right. So if CrossFit is your outcome, go do their training models and their methodology. We just have a different model and methodology that we like for our athletes.
Christopher: I see, right. So how are you coaching people?
James: It's all remote.
Christopher: It's all remote. Do you write individual programs?
James: For some people, we will. So there's like three tiers. So we have like a baseline level which is just our membership site. It's $37 a month. You sign up and you get access to what I would call a buffet of program options. So the goal of buffet is to be able to meet people where they are and give them lots of high quality options written by as many different coaches as we can find based off of what their outcome goal is. So if you need to run like a 12 to 16 strength block, we have a program for that. If you want to prioritize hypertrophy, we have a program for that.
It goes back to that pillar concept from earlier. We have programs that bias these different pillars. So whatever you want to focus on right now, just pick the program that aligns with that pillar and then you can do that program. And then the middle tier option of that is the Silverback program. So that's where we kind of take guys, put them into teams of three. And that's a really cool experience. It's a six-month commitment. And the nice part about having people for six months is from a coaching standpoint, it gives me so much freedom in how I can program for them. So they get kind of a set program for six months where we can make some small alterations and tweaks on an individual basis. But generally, the program is the same for everybody, but the difference is kind of like the environment in which they're doing it. That's the biggest thing we're changing.
And then we do have the one-on-one, really personalized, individualized service. We're just not spending as much time there right now because what we've realized or what I've realized after the last five to eight years of doing this stuff, unless you want to be the best in the world at something or unless you are in pain, you don't need that level of individualization and attention.
Christopher: Okay, interesting.
James: I would rather just get you on a really good base program but then crush community and competition. You're going to get way more out of that. But if you are in pain or if you are trying to be the best in the world at something or you have these issues you're trying to fix it, you're going to want the one-on-one, super detailed, individualized approach. But I found that the number of people that need that are very, very tiny, very miniscule. I'm trying to push more people to this other thing right now.
Christopher: Do you talk about all the other things that I consider to be the pillars of health, things like sleep and eating and all this kind of stuff?
James: Yeah, absolutely. So when they join, we send them essentially an onboarding document. So we're in the rare position that the people that we get are coming in like three to five years of experience. We're not getting people fresh off the street who were like, I need to get working out again. That's not who we're serving. There are a lot of good people who work with that population. Precision Nutrition is a good example of people who kind of get you off the couch and get you kind of like, let's get the momentum building again. It's way more focused on behavior.
Christopher: That's what most people need, but you're not helping most people.
James: Yeah, exactly. And so we get people, the best way I could describe it is they come to us and the car is already going 100 miles an hour down the highway, and I need to jump in to steer it and make sure we avoid accident. We are taking you in the right direction. That's how I would describe our normal customer. I don’t even remember what the original question was now.
Christopher: Neither do I. I was asking you about the other pillars of health. So do you get people coming in? They think they need a program, and what they really need to do is sleep more than five hours a night or something.
James: Yeah. So we outline that for people pretty clearly. So it's, okay, here are the standards for what we need to be doing, what I would call your 23 to 22-hour plan. It's okay, you're going to drink --
Christopher: That's how much people are spending --
James: No, no, no, no, no. So I think about it as a day. We have 24 hours in a day.
Christopher: Right, I see.
James: Let's say you're training for 90 minutes of that 24 hours. You have 22 and a half other hours of the day that matter and are probably way more important than that 90 minutes that you spent in the gym.
Christopher: That's a good point. Even when you're doing long distance on a bike, that's so true.
James: Yes. If you come in and you crush it for 90 minutes, then you're a complete jackass. The other 22 and a half hours of the day, you're going to be a train wreck.
Christopher: Right. You're not going to be able to outtrain.
James: Yeah, you can't outtrain terrible habits and terrible health choices. It's like, you need to sleep. What do you do for fun outside of training? Seriously, that's one of the biggest things we ask our people is, okay, I love that you love to train. What the fuck else do you do for fun? Or do you go on hikes? Do you spend time with family and friends? Do you enjoy grabbing a drink with your buddies down at the bar? Whatever it is for you, you can just have some fun again and have some of that community and that camaraderie that people need in their lives.
I obviously touch on the nutrition component. For us that's having Dr. Ben House, he's a big one for us in that realm. Our nutrition recommendations are very kind of basic. It's these are the things that are going to really help and work for 85% to 90% of you. If you want more details than I'd probably refer you to a nutrition coach or something along those lines. We're not doing bloodwork. We're not going down that path. It's just, hey, eat probably a gram per pound of body weight of protein. For your carbohydrates, that's probably be largely blood sugar base. How many carbs can you eat while keeping your blood sugar even? That's just a straight Dr. Ben House kind of -- of course, the carbs. And then fat is going to be 0.4 to 0.7 grams per pound. Super simple. And then from what you're eating standpoint, don't eat gluten because --
Christopher: It's not worth it.
James: What is it bringing to the table for you?
Christopher: No. And then we were thinking about that with soy as well. We're just talking about so in office hours. It's like, it just doesn't come with anything interesting. No micronutrients, nothing.
James: The only thing gluten brings to the table is on a lot of things it's delicious.
Christopher: Right. Of course, the problem now is that, especially here in Santa Cruz, the gluten free doesn't mean anything anymore, right?
Christopher: It used to mean something. It used to be in elimination diet. Now it's nothing of the sort.
James: Yeah. So the basic we tell them, it's rooted in like that Paleo concept. Buy organic as long as you can afford it, grass-fed, cage-free, cod for your meats and proteins and all that fun stuff. Eat lots of vegetables, like four to eight servings a day at a minimum of vegetables. For your carbs, let's go with white rice or potatoes, something in that realm that can be relatively safe and easy to digest. Because we make the joke, a lot of people we get to just kind of meat monkeys. So it's like, well, if you want to be a meat monkey, you've got to eat some food and so you got to be able to pile down some carbs. And you don't get that many carbs from broccoli and even sweet potatoes. You have to eat a preposterous amount of sweet potato. You have to eat, say, like 500 grams of carbs in a day.
Christopher: Yeah, you just can't do it.
James: Yeah, and then like with the fats, just be smart, like olive oil, coconut oil, in that realm of things that we're really comfortable with and happy with. But the biggest thing we tell them is cut out gluten because it's a shitty protein that brings nothing to the table for you. And it's gotten so much easier to eat gluten free now, especially since if you're not a celiac, you don't have to worry as much about cross-contamination. It's like, don't go eat a whole loaf of bread. For most people, we're like, just cut out dairy.
But the thing is that you can run these tests on yourself so easily, and that's why I hate when you have these internet discussions, these internet wars that pop up, and they're having this, well, there are no large-scale studies that show that dairy is bad for you. I'm like, okay, I appreciate that but you can also cut out dairy from your diet for two weeks and then eat dairy again. Just see how you feel. If you eat it again, you feel like shit.
Christopher: Yeah, or your skin breaks out.
James: Or if your skin breaks out, then maybe you don't eat dairy. If you're not white and of Northern European descent --
Christopher: Your chances are --
James: -- your chances you're not going to handle dairy are really, really slim, right? Soy is another one. So those are the big three we tell them. Hey, try to cut these things out as best you can.
Christopher: Right. Well, it's good to hear that it doesn't have to be complicated. People love to overcomplicate nutrition. Clearly, in your realm, it doesn't have to be complicated.
James: If somebody wants to make that complicated, we will refer them to someone else because it's not our realm. That's not where we specialize.
Christopher: What's your dropout rate? When you talk about competition, I instantly think about the loser avoidance bias that we've mentioned before on the podcast. So you've got people competing, and there's a degree of accountability there. But when things start to go wrong like going, oh, shit, it's all gone off at work, or something's happening at home, the house got flooded, I didn't get to do my workout for legitimate reasons, but now I have to come back to the group and confess that I wasn't able to do the work. And you know what? I think I might not do the group session this week. And then one week turns into two weeks turns into you never see that person again.
James: So for the membership platform, I don't know yet because it's still so fresh. That just went live December 2nd. So I'm still kind of collecting data on turn rates and stuff like that to try to get a better feel for how people are interacting and if they're leaving, when are they leaving? Right for Silverback that we've run that three times now and surprisingly, I've only had two people over the entire course drop. One was because of an injury. He needed to drop because he couldn't do the training we wanted him to do -- not want him -- he couldn't follow the program anymore, so we needed to get him to someone else because he just needed a different type of program at that point. He hurt his back. We're chasing performance. If you have back pain, you need to do something very different than what we're doing. And the other person that dropped, he's kind of fell by the wayside. I'm not entirely sure, having to be honest.
But the Silverback thing, I think the reason that drop rates right now are so low is because -- so you have like the bigger team as a whole which is going to be 30 guys, and then you have your smaller team of three people. And so what's really interesting is those smaller teams of three are where the most of kind of like your accountability takes place because you're communicating with them more than anybody, and then you're kind of competing against each other 10 teams of three. But the people we've had in so far can appreciate, and I try to set this tone in the beginning, is the competition is here so we can all improve together. I'm a big believer in a rising tide raises all ships. If you're here purely for the competition and to try to win money, then you're in the wrong place. It's just a tool for us to you so you can have some fun, and you can kind of feel that energy and aliveness again like you used to have.
So far, they've all been really good with that and that's probably because we interview anybody who's going to come in. And so if you don't have that attitude, I'm probably just not going to let you into the program in the first place because I think you're going to be a poor fit for it.
Christopher: It's funny how money is a motivator like that, isn't it? I just had that with the cyclocross races that if I get onto the podium and somebody puts a $20 bill in my hand, it's like --
Christopher: It doesn't even cover the cost of entering the bike race. It's still a really good feeling.
James: It's a great feeling. I remember the first time in high school playing summer baseball, I remember the first time there was an older gentleman who kind of oversaw our team. And the first time he gave me like a $5 bill because I hit homerun in a game, I was like, oh, this is sweet. I can get behind this.
Christopher: Excellent. Excellent. So are there any plans to do this in person then? Tell us about that.
James: Yes, an in-person stuff will hopefully, it'll start off more as what I'm going to call like fill the board events. So we have a leaderboard. The leaderboard, it falls on those pillars again. So we have strength-based things in the leaderboard that you'd be accustomed to a one rep max deadlift, five rep max squat, 10 rep max bench, stuff like that. They're kind of endurance events, power events. For us power is very kind of like jumps, sprints, throws, kind of things that you'd be used to saying when people play sports, agility, et cetera.
So the fill the board events are going to be fun because those will just be straight community builders for us. That's just, hey, come out. I'm not going to charge you to be here. We're just going to go to this gym in this city. This is where it's going to be. It's going to be on this weekend. Just come and hang out and throw it out. It's going to be 25 bucks just to pay for your food, but it's just going to be come and it's going to be all about let's just blast some music, have a good time, get together and kind of put some names and faces together from all the connections we have online and give people a chance in person to try to snack spots on the leaderboard per se.
Christopher: Well, that's great.
James: Those are going to be a lot of fun. If we're going to do our first one of those, late spring or early summer.
Christopher: Okay, any idea on the location?
James: Yeah, it's probably going to be -- so Steve Tripp runs a gym called the TOP Strength Project. It's in Rhode Island. Is it in Rhode Island? I'm sorry, Steve, if I messed that up.
Christopher: Again, we'll fix it in the show notes.
James: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But Steve is an awesome guy. He has an amazing gym. So it's probably the first place we'll go because we actually have a decent contingent in the northeast right now also. That's just going to be kind of try to bring back that team like feel for people. That wasn't my favorite parts of playing sports was the team lift. You get to go and just hang out with your buddies and blast music and throw down and have a good time. We want to bring that feel back for people. As far as the competition aspect of it, that we're still working on. The real competition, the "crown," this top strength athlete, that's going to be a little bit different. That's going to have way more of a -- there will be judges. It will be way more official because there will be money on the line. We're going to try and make them a legitimate sport. Whereas these other events are just like, let's just come together and have a good time. Just feel like a backyard barbecue kind of.
Christopher: That's awesome. It sounds brilliant. Tell us about Rebel Performance Radio. Who's it for? Can you summarize some of your key findings so far? Can you think of one or two things to tell us about that you've learned from doing Rebel Performance? I mean, you're listening to how I learn. This is my education right here.
James: It's funny you mentioned that. Someone was like, "James, why are you starting a podcast?" So it was recently after we moved to California. So one of my favorite parts about graduate school and being in that lab environment was being surrounded by a lot of very smart, bright people. My favorite part were the conversations. Doing the research, analyzing the data, not the most fun thing in the world, but I loved when we would all be sitting in a room and we would just start random conversations on topics. And you'd be often running and you're out on a whiteboard. And you're just trying to think through these things, and you're flushing out thoughts on particular topics. I love that.
So the podcast for me was largely selfish because it was my way of trying to keep that in my world since I knew I was missing it. I'm not going to have that outlet very often in Santa Cruz where I can kind of like go be around a bunch of other really smart, bright people and we can just talk about physiology and science. So the podcast is my way to try to back end get there. So it's primarily for kind of like coaches and strength athletes. It's very strength conditioning biased. It's all getting into what are the things that we need to be managing and doing to help make these better athletes in our world at least? So when we say athletes, we're thinking strength athletes or even potentially field sport athletes because we'll get on collegiate strength conditioning coaches as well and talk to them about their processes and kind of what they're doing with their athletes.
But yeah, it's very much we kind of make the joke that it's a podcast for educated meatheads is what I would say. I think that's the best way for me to describe it.
Christopher: It's funny how some of these people that maybe self-described as meatheads, they have a problem with being intellectual in any way, shape, or form. It seems like they always feel uncomfortable being an intellectual.
James: Yeah, we're trying to break that misnomer. We're trying to change how meatheads are viewed around the world. I think of myself as a meathead. And I don't know if I was the person that coined that term. I just think of myself as an educated meathead. I love deep self-physiology, but the same time I like grunting and deadlifting. So I'm trying to marry those two worlds as best I can.
Christopher: Yeah, I can't think of any reason why they wouldn't be compatible. Can you talk about are there any key findings or anything that surprised you or you thought is --
James: On the radio so far?
Christopher: Yeah. So what episode are you up to on Rebel Performance now?
James: We just did seven this past week, and so we'll have eight come out this week. Thus far, there hasn’t been anything revolutionary yet. Nothing has been like a major frameshift for me. It's been an opportunity to get on a lot of my friends and people I know and just to sit down and talk for an hour to an hour and 20 minutes and kind of flesh out their thought processes and their models and kind of what they're doing right now, which is largely are things that I'm already familiar with. But moving forward, though, kind of as we gain more traction, hopefully then we'll be bringing on people who will really kind of challenge me as much as they're going to challenge the listeners, if that makes sense.
So far Pat came on, Dr. Pat Davidson. Mike T. Nelson, we just did this past week. He'll come out soon. We'll get Ben on in some point. It is bringing on people from as many different backgrounds who are doing as many different things as possible, so we can just get into their models and tactics, because I'm always trying to flush out principles. I'm a very big principle guy. I want big principles because principles are what allow you to then use tactics and strategies well. If you don't have the principles in place, then you're going to be very lost on how to use tactics and strategies.
Christopher: I see, yeah. Of course, of course. Was there anything else I should have asked you?
James: For the radio there?
Christopher: Or anything. What did I miss? I don't get an opportunity to talk to you on the podcast every day, so I want to make sure that I didn’t -- we can come back and do another one at some point in the future. But what did I --
James: We could get into the whole -- one of the things I was really interested in in grad school was the concept of there being this need for stress with the organism because I think at a certain level, you may sit there and think, well, if I just sit around and don't do anything, wouldn't that potentially be better for me because I'm not stressing the system? If I'm not stressing the system, then maybe nothing bad will happen. But you see there's really, in humans at least, if we become inactive and we stop doing things, then we go down this like -- things degrade pretty rapidly.
Christopher: Right, use it or lose it.
James: Yeah, exactly. So one of the questions is why do we need the stress input? And the key point is it'snot like a psychoemotional stressor. It's more of an energetic-based stressor. It's like a physical stressor. Why do we need these stressors in our life to actually be able to not only just live, to be honest, you need them to be functional, let alone to increase your performance. I spent a good amount of time looking at mitochondria, this autophagy, mitophagy pathways. In California, it makes a lot of sense because it's similar to kind of a brush fire mechanism. That's how I think about it.
We can use movement and exercise and energy stress or even calorie restriction to a certain degree as a way of signaling kind of this brush fire mechanism of we need to go When we need to clear out these organelles and these things that aren't kind of carrying their weight anymore and they're causing problems. And then we need to replenish them with these new healthy things that are going to actually be able to help us function at a higher level.
Christopher: Have you come across any biomarkers that might be able to help me understand whether indeed the garbage is being taken out? If you had to pick something to measure autophagy, what would it be?
James: That's a tough one. That gets down into -- the things that we would look at in the lab are going to be very granular. It's very protein specific that you're not going to pick up in a lab test because you're looking at kind of intermediaries along with this autophagy pathway.
Christopher: I just want to know that it's working. Fasting and all these things, they are really hard, right? They have to be. They're not stresses. It just would be really nice to be able to quantify that it is indeed happening, and I'm not just lying to myself about how much stress I'm under.
James: Yeah, that's the thing. I don't have a great biomarker off the top of my head right now that would, I think, give you some pretty instant feedback and gratification because I think a lot of that is still being flushed out. Those mechanisms and those things are still in the realm of science very, very, very new in terms of how we're thinking about them functioning and working.
Christopher: I think things are going to change. The traditional blood test that we're doing now, I saw this week, somebody posted on the forum, it's actually Doug Hilbert from Virta, he's on the forum, he posted this study and it was a model of biological age and it looked phenomenal. I looked at the last function of the model and this looks fantastic. What the hell? What was the input? What were the independent variables? I look at this list of proteins they're measuring in the blood. I don't recognize the names of any of them. And this model has got hundreds of these proteins they're measuring in the blood. I guess this wasn't something I could do a quest.
James: Yeah, exactly.
Christopher: Maybe this is a sign of things to come out.
James: I would imagine that someone somewhere is working very hard on designing and figuring out a protein that we can look at in a blood test that will give us some insight into --
Christopher: So I think it will be hundreds of them. That's what I'm saying.
James: There are so many. As soon as you start getting downstream of your really big shotgun blanket things, you have ANPK that kind of sits at the top of these pathways in terms of the autophagy, mitophagy stuff, and then you very rapidly get into this unbelievably complicated kind of like metabolic soup and just like protein soup. There are so many moving pieces and so many things going on. In the lab, you're western blotting, you're staining, you're amino blotting for very specific proteins kind of in those pathways. I don't think that there's a way to do that in humans right now, just like by going to Questdoing a simple blood test. But I would have to jump into the literature because that's not that's not where I was living when I was reading that stuff all the time. I was still living pretty granular in terms of how are we -- because it's still so new, right? We weren't to the point yet where it's how do we test this in humans. I guess that's not entirely true, but you need to be in a lab setting to do it.
It's like one of the studies that we ran, so you can scrape endothelial cells out of the radial artery. So we'd have people come in and be do handgrip exercise, young versus old. You can put this J-wire into a radial artery, and you can scrape the endothelial cells off the artery. And then we partnered with somebody who would take those, they would play them, then they would stain them. And they were looking at these different, we know, major markers of autophagy are. And so they're trying to see, okay, free to post, like how upregulated are these markers in our young versus the old man, because the animal data does point to the fact that you have autophagy is kind of downregulated with aging. That's one of the things I thought to be contributing to the aging process is that, especially if you're sedentary and aging, you don't do autophagy stuff very well. If you're active and aging, you tend to hold on to it much better.
So like we could look at it in the lab, but that's pretty invasive and difficult to do. That's not something you can just go to Quest or LabCorp for and ask them to start scraping things for you and very complicated staining patterns for, but it's moving that way. I just don't know if there's -- I'm trying to think. I'd have to go in the literature and think about it right now because it's very observational what we were doing. It was less how are we going to take this and translate it to testing in humans? It was more of us still trying to observe and notice and look at and show that there's a "difference" between young and old or active aging and good or bad aging, et cetera.
Christopher: Can you summarize some of the things that people should be thinking about? So the system is expecting these stressors as inputs, what are those inputs?
James: So I think of it as just basic supply and demand. So I like mitochondria. That's where I spend a lot of time. So if you go and look at the electron transport chain, for example, you have a supply component, so you have NADH, FADH2 are dropping off electrons at the electron transport chain. Then there's a demand component. We're looking at more like ATP side of the world. So I think of it as quite simply just you need to relatively frequently be stacking in terms of demand. You don't want to be oversupplied and underdemanded. I think kind of like one of those teeter-totters. The normal kind of American right now is super oversupplied and underdemanded.
Christopher: Right, which is diabetic physiology. There's all this bad stuff happening. So it really isn't one anymore energy, right?
James: Yeah, once we get there, we start down this really kind of interesting path of it just feeds on itself too. That's where it gets so dangerous. We start changing the redox physiology, the redox balance in the cell, and that totally changes everything. And we're going to do a very oversimplistic view of that right now. But I think quite simply as like either via exercise by increasing demand or by calories friction, decreasing supply. You want to be doing one or the other. You want to be doing it relatively frequently. So you can at least be sending the signals that we need, and you can avoid this kind of fire-like mechanism that just feeds on itself in a very negative way.
Christopher: The two things are not necessarily unrelated, right? Would you agree with the statement that exercise is fasting in fast forward?
James: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of very close similarities in terms of what's being turned on from a cellular machinery standpoint. The one thing in that realm that gets really interesting is, okay, both calorie restriction and exercise are going to play a big role in this autophagy process. But if I think about mitochondria in particular, so you have mitophagy, which is the process of getting rid of what is called bad mitochondria and replacing it with good mitochondria, then you have mitochondrial biogenesis which is making new mitochondria. So it's kind of increasing quality versus increasing content.
I'm not clear on it right now. I need to look into it more. It's a question I've had. It's the time to dig into it. We know that fasting and that sort of thing is going to play a role in increasing mitochondrial quality. That's not going to increase content. There's no reason for it to. That's where training comes in. That's where your cyclist, your high-level aerobic athletes, et cetera, et cetera, the insults and the stressors and the signals they're sending are not only doing autophagy, they're also increasing content. So there are some very fine differences that have to be going on there, so you're getting these kind of like slightly different outcomes, both of which are positive, though.
Christopher: Right, right. Yeah, that makes sense. So is that something you ever did? Did you ever combine the two with the fasted-state training or anything like that, or is that more of endurance thing?
James: It depends on the person. I'll use kind of like maybe a fasted-state training if I have someone who's trying to cut and lose weight, or if we're trying to very specifically get them to metabolize fat better as an example. If I'm trying to prioritize a certain fuel source, I can try to stack the deck in our favor in terms of what we're doing before and after a session.
Christopher: That makes sense.
James: If I get someone super well fed in carbs before I go do, say, a 60-minute bike ride, then I'm probably stacking the deck towards them utilizing the recently ingested glucose as a primary fuel source as opposed to sending them into a 60-minute bike ride, slightly facet maybe. Now I'm saying, okay, how well can we upregulate this lipolysis machinery so we're actually using fats to generate ATP as opposed to relying primarily on glycogen and glucose?
Christopher: Yes, this is a really scary thing to do the first time you do it, but yeah, going out first thing on a Saturday morning before you've had breakfast, I mean, take some food with you and stuff it in your back pocket, it seems to work.
James: Yeah, you have to know yourself too in terms of like a blood glucose standpoint. I run really low, so my fasting glucose measures in the morning are usually something along the lines of 72 and 76. I know that I can eat a lot of carbohydrates, and I kind of almost need to to a certain extent just so I can actually regulate and manage blood sugar appropriately for me. I can eat 500 grams of carbs in a day, and my blood sugar is never going to go over 100.
Christopher: That's amazing. You've got lots of skeletal muscle.
James: Right. But then you have other people who have two rice cakes and they're 190.
Christopher: Right, that's more like me.
James: Yeah, right. You can go to Walmart, and you can buy a [1:05:25] [Indiscernible] and you can test yourself and get a feel for how you're dealing with these things. What is your blood sugar doing? That's very easy N of 1 thing to look at.
Christopher: Right. So this has been great.
James: It's been wonderful.
Christopher: So Rebel Performance Radio is perhaps the place we'd send people to get to know your work a little bit better. How do I enter the competition thing? How do I do that? Can you describe where I go to get into the competition?
James: Yeah, so you just go to train.rebel-performance.com. That'll essentially kind of give you the information on the membership site. And then once you're inside the membership site, that's where kind of like all the competition itself is living right now. And then we'll eventually be running another round of Operation Silverback. I haven't decided when the start date for that's going to be yet, but then that's kind of taking everything we do in the membership site but just turning the volume way up on it. It's a much more intensive six months.
Christopher: Excellent. Excellent. So there's a waitlist or something for that? Is there if it's not happening right now?
James: There will be. There's a website right now. It's silverbacktrainingproject.com.
Christopher: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I've been there. Okay.
James: You'll find all those things out just at rebel-performance.com.
Christopher: Okay. And I will, of course, link to that in the show notes for this episode. Well, James, this has been fantastic.
James: This has been wonderful, Chris. Thanks for having me on.
Christopher: It's great to be able to come and interview someone here in person in Santa Cruz. It's fantastic. It doesn’t come up very much.
James: Yeah, well, I have to run it back sometime.
Christopher: Excellent, James. Thank you.
James: Thank you.
[1:06:55] End of Audio