Bodybuilder Ben Pakulski interviews me on his podcast to talk about how to structure a diet to get extremely lean, fasting, planning your diet over several months, supplements for fat loss, book publishing, and more.
This interview is different from my normal routine of drilling deep down into one topic, because Ben wanted to cover a lot of different topics including the finer points of getting lean, the ins and outs of self-publishing, and the hard lessons we’ve learned growing both as individuals and businesspeople.
For example, we discuss the value of suffering when it comes to achieving our goals, how to decide what projects are worth pursuing and which aren’t, what it takes to be the best at something, and really anything else that popped into our heads. 🙂
7:06 – What should people expect if they’re trying to get shredded?
8:39 – How does our unique physiological conditions affect fat loss?
11:12 – What are some of the challenges with tracking macros?
13:24 – What are your thoughts on muscle loss during extreme dieting?
16:51 – What was your experience with fat gain while fasting?
20:46 – What is your cut process?
26:03 – What’s the story behind writing Bigger, Leaner, Stronger?
29:23 – What are the main points in Bigger, Leaner, Stronger?
30:09 – Why do you recommend compound lifting and what is your experience with it?
33:04 – What do you recommend for people who don’t naturally fit a traditional exercise program?
38:49 – What advice do you have for people who want to start a business in the fitness industry?
43:43 – How do you overcome feeling like an imposter in the fitness industry?
52:46 – How do you grab people’s attention with content marketing? What’s the future of content marketing?
56:31 – What is muscleforlife.com and what is in store for its future?
58:22 – Where can people find you?
58:40 – What books do you recommend for personal development, business, and fitness?
Ben : [00:04:42] What’s up, ladies and gentlemen, Ben Pakulski, The Muscles Expert podcast. Today we’re gone deep on fat loss. My guest, Mike Matthews, is the author of Bigger Leaner Stronger. You might know him for his online programs, The Shredded Chef, Eat Green Get Lean, and Muscle For Life. Mike, what’s going on, my man?
Mike : [00:05:01] Hey, hey, Ben. Thanks for having me on the show.
Ben : [00:05:04] Mike is also the owner of Legian Supplements, which has been around since 2012 and properly dose efficaciously designed supplements. Previous guest, Kurtis Frank, is primarily the formulator, correct?
Mike : [00:05:16] Yeah. I mean, he’s kind of director of all research and development for us. And he’s the super-brain, the super supplement savant.
Ben : [00:05:24] Man, he’s a super bright guy. And we were so grateful to have him on. And, you know, going forward, fat loss, Mike. So, you know, you teach a lot about muscle building and we can definitely go down that route if it’s something you want to talk about. But there’s a lot of misconceptions. I know people are putting out a lot of books these days about “the most effective way to lose fat in three weeks” or “21 days” or, you know, “19 and a half days.”
Mike : [00:05:48] Yeah, it’s always so many pounds in so many days, right?
Ben : [00:05:51] Yeah. Because, you know, the psychology of the human psyche is drawn to that. “I can do this in a short amount of time.” And even if you don’t believe it, I think unconsciously it’s still appealing. So I don’t know if I fall for it, but …
Mike : [00:06:02] “What if?” [Laughing].
Ben : [00:06:03] I’m like, “oh yeah, that’s a hugely appealing proposition,” right? But I don’t want to get into, you know, what’s possible. What I want to get into is, how should people be actually doing this shit. Like let’s talk about, you know, four months of like, “Hey man, I want to lose a little bit of body fat.” Walk me down the path of your belief system and what you think the best line of approach is.
Not for just getting lean, right? I always tell people, ‘don’t just strive to get lean.” It’s like striving to make a few bucks, right? Strive to get absolutely inside out shredded because that’s what’s going to rip you out of bed in the morning, right? For me, it’s like, “I want to lose five pounds of body fat.”
I’m not going to get up in the morning at four o’clock to do cardio to lose a couple pounds of body fat, whereas if I have the goal, to get striated glutes and get absolutely inside out. Well, that’s going to rip me out of bed at four o’clock in the morning and get super excited. Let’s not talk about, like, just losing a few pounds. Let’s talk about someone who, you know, wants to go for the gusto here and wants to get absolutely inside-out shredded like you have numerous times for photoshoots, for book covers, and appearances. So let’s talk about that.
Mike : [00:07:07] I think the first thing, right, is you have to be ready for some pain. You don’t get that lean without paying the price. And in the price is not long term, you know, physical or permanent physical damage, no. But it gets pretty uncomfortable. I mean, you know, again you’ve been leaner than I’ve ever been. I’ve been at the fitness model level kind of lean, but I’ve never gotten on a stage and competed. Like I can’t say that. I don’t know if my glutes have ever been striated.
Ben : [00:07:34] You’re pretty damn lean, man. I’ve seen your pictures. You’re pretty damn lean. So, you know, don’t be so modest.
Mike : [00:07:39] I’ve gotten to where I felt like, “all right, I think this is about it,” right? “This is what I’ve got.” And so the first thing is, yes. It’s a pain in the ass, right? So you have to manage your energy balance properly, that’s where you have to start, right? So you have to understand the relationship between how much energy you are eating and how much energy you are expending, burning.
And you have to understand that the only way to lose fat is to be in an energy deficit over time. You know, we have over a century of metabolic research at this point that shows that is the only way to significantly reduce body fat.
Ben : [00:08:10] So let’s talk about that, man. I want to go down that road.
Mike : [00:08:12] Sure.
Ben : [00:08:12] Because I question that, right? I question the authenticity of that. As someone who kind of tends to be the devil’s advocate in many scenarios in my life, I question that calories in, calories out theory, because the more we learn about mitochondria, the more we learn about the microbiome, the more we learn about epigenetics, the more you start to realize that, you know, a banana to me is not a banana to you.
Meaning our bodies can do completely different things biochemically when we eat these foods. There’s got to be some – I’m not necessarily saying I know this, but this is my thought process: there’s got to be some influence based on somebody’s level of health, somebody’s level of hormonal balance, somebody’s microbiome, somebody’s level of information, somebody’s level of cortisol, somebody’s psychological state. You know, if I’m in a stressed state, definitively, it’s going to do different things in your body. So what would you have to say around that, Mike?
Mike : [00:09:01] Yeah, I mean, I think there’s definitely a case to be made there. Like, for example, I remember there were two papers that I had looked at, two studies where people very overweight, obese people that had a very, very poor insulin sensitivity. They lost less fat on a high carb diet than obese people with – I mean, their insulin sensitivity was still kind of bad, but it wasn’t as bad. That really comes to mind, for example.
So that’s something where you have a physiological condition that impairs – appears to impair fat loss, despite there being a caloric deficit. So these people lost less fat than was predicted by just energy balance alone. So, yes, I do agree that it’s not necessary that cut and dry for everybody, but I think that’s where everybody should start, is with, let’s keep it as simple as possible to start. Right?
And I recommend the same approach with muscle building as well. So, you know, if you’re somebody that wants to get lean, let’s say you’re a guy and you’re at 20 percent body fat, you know, what I generally tell guys that 20 percent body fat is, “let’s make 15 percent body fat your first milestone and then let’s see if you need to take a diet break, let’s see how you’re doing psychologically, let’s see how you’re doing physically, let’s see how you’re sleeping, let’s see how your workouts are going.
And you know, if everything feels good and you tell me, ‘no, I’m great, let’s keep going,’ then let’s make 10 percent that next milestone,” right? I’ve worked with thousands of people now. Just staying in touch with people – my email inbox is like over 100,000 emails by now and so I’ve seen a lot with men and women, all ages, all circumstances.
What I’ve seen most often is, yeah, every five percent or so getting down to about 10. Most people seem to do well with a diet break. So, you know, just raise your calories back up, give your body a break and then go back down and from there getting to 10 percent. So again, probably a good idea to take a break before you want to get super shredded because every percent of body fat you want to lose under 10 percent just gets progressively harder.
You just have to work more and more for it and you feel worse and worse, right? So coming back to your original point is I think it makes sense to start as simple as possible. So start with, let’s say, 20 to 25 percent caloric deficit, which requires that you understand how to accurately estimate your energy expenditure, which many people do not.
Many people incorrectly assume they’re burning more calories than they are. And it also requires that you are able to accurately estimate how many calories you’re eating, which many people are not. Even if they get to the point of like, let’s say if they have they’re measuring spoons and they’re measuring cups out every day and they think they’re eating 2,000 calories. Right?
What they don’t realize, though, is they go to measure a cup of oatmeal dry and so then, “cool, here’s my cup,” right? It’s a slightly heaping cup, but it’s a cup. And they log how many calories they log, you know, in their MyFitnessPal or in their log for that cup of oatmeal. What they don’t realize, though, is the cup that they logged was assuming, let’s say, 80 grams of dry oatmeal, but they just put 100 grams in their cup. They just accidentally eat whatever that is, an extra 80 calories, let’s say, in that meal, rinse and repeat for the tablespoon of peanut butter that was a bit over for blah, blah, blah and, you know, it goes on and on.
Ben : [00:12:06] Who does that, Mike? Nobody does that, Mike. [Laughing]
Mike : [00:12:08] Little bit more, come one, man. It can’t really matter.
Ben : [00:12:11] As long as it fits on one tablespoon it counts and that’s always the rule.
Mike : [00:12:14] Exactly. So have your energy balance. Right? And then, of course, you have your macronutrient balance. And we all know that a calorie is not a calorie as far as body composition goes, we all know that. I recommend again, if we’re just starting at what’s probably going to be the best place for most people is going to be a high protein, higher carb, moderate fat diet if you are exercising a lot, especially if you are doing a lot of resistance training.
That’s my general recommendation for people to start. Not necessarily if you want to get super shredded, because I think, again, the first goal is to get to – before you can get super shredded as a guy, at least you got to get to like 10 percent. You’ve got to get you to 10 percent before we can get you to 6.
Ben : [00:12:53] Let’s talk about some limitations of taking someone from from 20 to 10. So most people in their fat loss endeavors are going to go into some type of restrictive eating. Maybe they’re going to start doing some type of cardiovascular, maybe they’re going to be doing more weight training and cardiovascular.
And you talked about maybe the solution is they’re taking a few days off in between to maybe get some type of metabolic reset happening, any experience or thought process around those people who go from 20 to 10 and are actually getting a substantial amount of muscle loss because they’re in the cooler deficit, right?
Mike : [00:13:24] Yeah, I mean, I would say honestly, I’ve only seen that. And I’d be curious if you’ve seen otherwise, but where I’ve personally seen that, I have not experienced it myself, I’ve never lost any amount of muscle that I could notice going from …
Ben : [00:13:36] Notice.
Mike : [00:13:37] Yeah, I mean, going from …
Ben : [00:13:38] That’s where the hormone thing comes in, right?
Mike : [00:13:40] Yeah. And, you know, actually funny enough to that point, yes. You have your catabolic hormones versus your anabolic hormones. And I’ve never actually gotten a blood test. I don’t know where my hormones are at. I just never had the need to. You know what I mean? But I wouldn’t be surprised – I did a genetic test and one of the little interesting things that came of that is that I had a – I forget the words, the technical term for this. It’s a way that a gene can express itself. Polymorphism, I believe.
Ben : [00:14:08] Yup, single mutualied polymorphism snip.
Mike : [00:14:11] So that is associated with higher testosterone levels. They would see that in a lot of athletes that they would work with, for example. And I also had another polymorphism associated with, just enhanced recovery. Muscle recovery in particular and otherwise that would explain why I’ve been able to gain a fair amount of muscle despite not really having the anatomy for it.
I’m 6’2, I have long arms, I have long legs, the muscle insertions are not made for strength. Like, I’m not naturally a very strong person. You know what I mean? My body’s probably more made for endurance, honestly, than strength. So, yes, to that point, okay, so you have somebody who, let’s say, you have a guy with low testosterone generally, you know, higher cortisol, which obviously there is an inverse relationship there.
If you have higher cortisol, you’re going to have lower testosterone. And then that guy goes and tries to aggressively diet down from 20 percent body fat to 5. That’s just not going to go well. And I have come across a couple instances of that. I can’t say I confirmed it because I didn’t have blood work with them. But based on what they were telling me, very high stress, you know what I mean, like I think that they went super low calorie, blah, blah, blah.
Ben : [00:15:20] That’s where I’m going, man. I think that’s a huge issue with people going into these dieting phases who start doing cardio, which puts up cortisol, start blocking carbohydrates, which puts up cortisol or prevents it even coming down. And they go, “man, you know, I’m just not losing fat anymore.” “Okay, well, what are you doing?”
And they’ve backed themself into a corner and their cortisol is massively elevated, so their body is constantly breaking down muscle tissue. It’s constantly typically storing fat, their testosterone goes in the toilet, and they back themselves …
Mike : [00:15:47] Remember also water retention goes way up. So you could be losing fat. I mean, we have like the famous Minnesota starvation study, right? And so from that, we can definitely see that you can be losing fat, now, I mean, obviously, what those guys were under wasn’t a true – I wouldn’t say torturous, but it was pretty rough.
Like, they’re eating half of their daily expenditure and they were having to do some, you know, five, six hours of physical activity every day. Because of water retention, of course, it can be completely obscured, which I’m sure, I mean, you have that whoosh effect, right? Where if you can correct that, sometimes you can all of a sudden see that, “oh, for the last month, I actually have been losing fat.
My water retention was getting really bad because of these other factors.” What I’ve never seen, and I’ve never seen evidence for, or seen a convincing argument for, is how you can gain body fat in a caloric deficit. A true caloric deficit.
Ben : [00:16:43] I’ll tell you definitively that I’ve done it myself.
Mike : [00:16:46] I’m actually curious, what are the details? Like how does that play out?
Ben : [00:16:48] I’m going to be honest with you. I experimented with fasting. So with a guy with as much muscle as I have, and to be honest, when I started I was probably eight percent body fat and I started experimenting with fasting. My activity level was very high, my stress levels were very high, I’ve got three kids, multiple businesses, there’s a bunch of things that are stressful in my life. And I was like, “Hey, man, I feel good. I’m going too fast.” And, you know, I did it for a couple of weeks at a time where I would have one meal a day.
Mike : [00:17:14] Do you know approximately how many calories that meal was?
Ben : [00:17:16] I would say maybe about 1,200 calories. 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day.
Mike : [00:17:21] Why did you want to do that? That sounds awful. [Laughing]
Ben : [00:17:24] Well, because I was trying to lose muscle, right?
Mike : [00:17:27] Oh, okay, that makes sense.
Ben : [00:17:28] Characteristically, I walked around at 300 plus pounds for 15 years. And was like, “alright, time to lose some of this.” I just wanted to lose scale pounds, right? I wanted to lose muscle mass, I wanted to lose fat definitively. I mean, my body weight went down. I went down from maybe, where I started was 268 and I got down to about 258. But, definitively my body fat went up like, probably 14 percent in six weeks, like, not up 14 percent, but up to 14 percent.
Mike : [00:17:55] And how did you measure that out of curiosity?
Ben : [00:17:58] Visually, but we did calipers. So, I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve done 50 or 60 dexess in my life, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it is. So we did calipers …
Mike : [00:18:06] It wasn’t water, like you were just straight fatter?
Ben : [00:18:08] Straight fatter. 100 percent fatter.
Mike : [00:18:09] That’s bizarre.
Ben : [00:18:12] I test everything, right? Everyone’s doing this fasting thing now. I’m like, “I want to test and see what happens.” So there’s outliers, man. There’s outliers with this because if you look at my energy balance, I obviously have more muscle mass than I have fat. So my body goes, “well, what do I have more of?” And this is my logic, I could be completely wrong with this, but my body was, “what I have more of, let’s burn more of that.”
And I held on to all my fat because my cortisol was higher, it’s honestly was surprising to me. My macros were, I mean, I probably ate, not that I want to get into details, but maybe 40 to 50 grams of carbs a day tops and the rest of it was protein and fat. But like, it was very minimal, man. And it’s really surprising. You know, my training intensity certainly dropped off.
Mike : [00:18:56] Of course.
Ben : [00:18:56] Which could be a consideration. But it’s really interesting, man. And I don’t put any judgment or weight on my results. Just purely observational to answer your question, because you brought it up. Yeah, man, it’s interesting.
Mike : [00:19:09] So it is ten pounds? Because obviously as your weight goes down a percentage is a percentage.
Ben : [00:19:13] But do you have an estimate of an absolute amount of fat that you feel like you gained in that? You came down ten pounds?
Ben : [00:19:19] Yeah. And I mean if I had to guess it’s probably at least six to eight pounds. I don’t know. That’s a guess, man. I should have probably done a little bit better job with the metrics. But I wasn’t doing it for any particular testing reasons.
Mike : [00:19:32] Your own personal goal, just like you wanted to get a little bit smaller, basically.
Ben : [00:19:38] Like I said, I’m writing a book. I’ve also got hundreds of clients that we work with, and everyone always asks about fasting. “Hey Ben, what do you think?” I’m not against fasting, but I realize that you need to do it in the right scenarios and you need to be very aware of manipulating hormones because if your cortisol is too elevated, your sleep is going to get very disrupted, which mine did, I slept much less. My energy levels were amazing during the day. I felt fantastic.
Mike : [00:20:03] Despite not sleeping, that’s interesting. Or not sleeping as well.
Ben : [00:20:06] Yeah, running on cortisone. I actually like the way I feel. You know, I could see why entrepreneurs like intermittent fasting because my energy is just consistent. My brain focus is great. My body doesn’t spend tons of time digesting foods, so I feel great. But it was an interesting observation.
Like I said, that’s one time and equals one and I may do it again. I’m actually planning on doing it again. So I’m currently going to be starting to get in shape to do some photo shoots from my books and then after that, I may play with some more fasting and see how it goes.
Mike : [00:20:32] Interesting.
Ben : [00:20:33] But anyways, tangents man. So let’s say you start into a 16 week fat loss preparation phase for yourself, Mike. Tell me what that looks like. What happens with your training? What happens with your nutrition?
Mike : [00:20:44] Yeah, so I’m actually doing that right now. It’s not can be 16 weeks because I’m starting out already fairly lean and I just want to get …
Ben : [00:20:50] So how long?
Mike : [00:20:51] So my plan is six to eight weeks. I think that’s what it will take. Obviously, it’ll go by what I see in the mirror, first and foremost. But I’m thinking six to eight weeks. And I’d say the longest cut that I’ve done in a while, even when I was at my leanest, was probably 12 to 14 weeks just because – I mean, generally, I kind of have always been, I’ll say anywhere between 10 and 13.
Yeah, 10 to 13 percent is kind of where I hang out, right? I actually don’t train anything. I don’t change anything in terms of my weight lifting. So I do a lot of heavy compound weight lifting, you know, push for progressive overload again, I really kind of stick to the basics. I program some additional accessory work for, you know, like shoulders.
My shoulders are never going to be big enough, basically. So I do extra shoulder work. I’m training my lower body twice a week. I’m happy with where my lower body’s at. I’m fairly happy with my physique on the whole. So it’s kind of like I have push-pull legs, that’s where I start, and then I have some accessory work built around that, specifically for what I want to do with my physique.
And so I actually don’t change anything in that regard. I still try to make progress. I still try to gain reps if I can. And I usually don’t start with cardio. I just bring my calories down and I like to add cardio in once it becomes necessary. So again, for some of the reasons that you just brought up.
Mike : [00:22:05] How do you gauge that?
Mike : [00:22:06] Progress, right? So weighing myself every day and then doing a weekly average of seven or ten-day average, also taking caliper measurements. Not that I care to extrapolate that to body fat because who cares? It’s more just you know, it’s just seeing, “okay is my suprailiac going down? Great.” And then waist measurement as well.
And so then that gives you a picture obviously of what’s going on with your body comp. You know, just knowing my body, it’s usually, I get three or four weeks of easy fat loss where I don’t have to work that hard for it. All I have to do is, you know, drop my calories. And I don’t want to then just continue dropping calories again for all the reasons that we just discussed.
I’m not going to go for – what was Lyle McDonald’s? It’s like 500 calories a day, just protein, you know what I mean? Like really aggressive protein sparing, modified fasting I think it’s called? It’s misery.
Ben : [00:22:49] I think it’s absurd. It’s kind of silly.
Mike : [00:22:51] Yeah, it’s misery. So anyways, at that point I will add some cardio in. I personally like to do high-intensity cardio. I do it on a bike. And the reason why is because you get the most fat loss for your time. So like obviously a 20, 25-minute high-intensity bike workout you’re going to burn more fat than 20 to 25 minutes of just LISS.
Not that I think there is anything wrong with LISS. If I were going to do LISS and I had more time I wanted to give to it, I’d probably just walk. I’d probably go with something that has the least amount of physiological impact because you get a good whatever 300 to 400 calories per hour of walking if you’re walking with some intention.
So anyways, yes, I’ll add cardio in. Usually it’s HIIT and I’ll start with two probably 20 or 25 workouts per week and then by the end of my cuts I’ll usually be doing four, but I don’t do more than that. Because again, I can only push my body so far before things start to go upside down.
Ben : [00:23:46] The beauty of what you said there, Mike, is moderation. And that’s where I think you’re doing it right. And that’s where a lot of people go wrong is because you’re not in a rush. And this is why I suggest 16 weeks for people, man. So understand a little bit of my thought process.
The first four to eight weeks, depending how much body fat you got to lose, is usually spent on accumulating muscle, improving your contract ability, improving your body’s ability to use more muscles in every contraction, in every rep, and thereby increasing the cleric expenditure, potentially even increasing your body’s ability to sustain work, to sustain volumes, we’ll get your volume and ability to work up, and then we can start pulling your calories down a little bit.
Right? So a lot of people when they start a “diet“, calories go up because we’re trying to sustain more work. And then once we get this work capacity up, then we can slowly start pulling those calories down, all of sudden, hooray, we’re actually eating more calories than we were before and we’re actually losing fat. So, you know, that’s why I usually suggest for more people to go a little bit longer.
Mike : [00:24:44] I could see that.
Ben : [00:24:46] For someone like yourself who’s naturally very lean, or at least stays very lean. I would say naturally anything, but stays really lean. Shorter period of time in moderation.
Mike : [00:24:53] Yeah, exactly. So, you know, along the way, I usually also like to train fasted. Not because in and of itself it makes a big difference, but I combine it with caffeine, synephrine, and yohimbine. And it’s the yohimbine and synephrine in particular that I like, and caffeine’s fine as well, it makes them more effective, but of course, yohimbine doesn’t work really, if your insulin levels aren’t elevated, it doesn’t really do anything as far as fat burning goes.
So I also will do my workouts fasted simply so I can get those supplements. Yes, I have a supplement company, but it’s kind of a unique type supplement company that one of the first things it’ll say about supplements is, “you don’t need supplements at all. Period,” to do whatever it is that you want to do with your body.
I would say if you have the budget and you have the inclination, some supplements make sense to add to your regimen depending on your goals. Even if your goal is simply to be healthy. So that’s also something I do like to add, because I’ve done it now several times with and without supplements at the fat loss in particular and it goes faster with the supplements. It just does.
Ben : [00:25:52] Sure.
Ben : [00:27:14] So, Mike, over your left shoulder, I see Bill Phillips’ Body for Life book there, and I want to bring up your book, man. So Bigger Leaner Stronger, you wrote that in 2012, tell me a little bit about that.
Mike : [00:27:24] So, I mean, was just kind of a lark. I wrote it because I had heard about Amazon’s KDP platform. Right?
Ben : [00:27:31] I don’t know what that is.
Mike : [00:27:33] It’s Kindle Direct publishing. So self-publishing platform.
Ben : [00:27:35] Okay.
Mike : [00:27:35] So it allows you to just, hey, write a book, put it up on Amazon, you know, you’re on their marketplace, good luck. Right? And I had heard about it because there was a guy named John Locke, who was the first KDP author, so the first self published author to sell a million books. And his story is kind of cool, too. He made a bunch of money in insurance, I think it was.
He like, built up an insurance company, sold it, did it again, sold it for even more money. And then he was like, “all right, well, I’m done with money.” And he always just wanted to write books. So he wrote – I haven’t read any of them because they’re primarily for women. They’re just kind of, I think, fun stories, they have sex, they have violence. He totally was like, this is what he wanted to do, right?
Because he didn’t care about money, he priced them at 99 cents, which at the time was very unheard of. Now everybody has 99 cent books, because he didn’t give a shit. He’s like, “I don’t care, you know, whatever. If I make no money off this, it doesn’t matter to me.’ And it turned out to be a really good hook. You know, he actually put time into them and he really did try to write a good book.
And like, “really 99 cents, like I actually liked this book,” you know what I mean? He exploded and then Amazon used that to promote their platform, saying, “Hey, this could be you,” right? “You could be the next John Locke.” So that’s how I heard about it. And I had always been interested in writing. And that was kind of just, again, random. I was always a good student growing up. I like to read.
And so that’s how one day I was like, “I would like to write. I mean, I like to read. I could probably do this. I could write stuff.” And so my original interest, it was actually fiction, I want to write novels. And I still have an abiding interest in it. It’s just I don’t have time that I want to give it right now. That’ll be my next phase.
At some point, I will do that. But I’m not going to give the time right now. So anyways, I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger as a simple kind of, you know, minimum viable product. What’s a book that I wish somebody had given me back when I was like 17?
Ben : [00:29:26] That’s exactly the answer.
Mike : [00:29:27] Yeah. So, you know, that’s what that book was. And initially it was not very long, it was 130 pages and I didn’t try to, like, make it super sexy, I didn’t try to say that I had some big breakthrough, or even that I figured anything out. I mean, I was just like, “I’ve learned some things from other smart people and here are the things that I’ve learned. And they’ve worked really well for me.
And they’re based on good science, so they’ll probably work really well for you, too. I don’t know everything. I don’t get everything right. Nobody does. So, here, try this,” basically, “and if it works, great,” and it did very well. And so now, you know, I’ve sold want to say close to 300 – I have to look at my spreadsheet – I want to say about 350 or so thousand copies of
[00:30:09] Bigger Leaner Stronger [00:30:10] now since publishing it in 2012. And I’ve published other books and I’ve sold over a million books now. So it’s kind of very again, just one of those serendipitous things, you know what I mean?
Ben : [00:30:21] Yeah. Good for you. So it was kind of one of those things, like most businesses start off, most entrepreneurs end up teaching what they need to learn.
Mike : [00:30:28] Scratch your own itch.
Ben : [00:30:31] Yeah, exactly. We go through struggles and we know there’s tons of people out there fighting the same battle.
Mike : [00:30:34] Exactly.
Ben : [00:30:35] So what were the main points that you feel is that you touched on that book that, you know, looking back at anyone out there who’s early in their journey, what were the things that you touched on that book that you think they should address?
Mike : [00:30:45] Well, I guess I think the first thing was probably the big mistakes that I was making, you know, before educating myself, basically. So on the training side of things, for example, I didn’t put very much work into heavy compound weightlifting. It was a lot of isolation work. It was a lot of very, very high rep stuff, a lot of fancier types of programming techniques that have their uses.
But for most people unless you’re just a crazy high responder to weight lifting, it’s hard to beat a simple approach of, let’s say, heavy squatting, heavy deadlifting, heavy pressing, and pushing for progressive overload as opposed to …
Ben : [00:31:21] So tell me about that. So I want to learn about your experience with squats, deads, and bench presses, because that’s one of the soundbytes that we hear most often. And people say, “hey, man, you should just do more competent lifting.” Why?
Mike : [00:31:35] Because, again, I’m looking at it from what’s most likely to work best for most people and give you the most bang for your buck, so to speak, right? And I do believe that that is the best place for people that are new to resistance training to start assuming that they can do it, right?
So assuming they don’t have preexisting injuries or issues that make that impossible or make that just, you know, they contre indicate that due to increased risk of injury and so forth. That’s again, the place where I would say, “this is where I would recommend people that start.” And specifically people that are limited in their time.
So let’s say you have anywhere from three to five hours a week, that’s how much time you can spend in the gym. And that’s a lot of the people that follow me, I’m one of those people myself, and I guess I can do whatever I want with my time, so to speak, but not really. Like if I want to continue along all the – if I want to keep all these plates spinning, you know, then I can’t be in the gym two hours a day, six days a week.
Something else has to give, right? And also, of course, they’re time-proven principles. So you have strength training programs out there like Starting Strength that have been around forever and you can gain with good programming, I think the average guy, regardless of age, should be able to gain anywhere from 15 to probably 25 pounds of muscle, of actual muscle, not just weight, in their first year.
And if you look at the research on that, 25 pounds is hard for anybody to gain more than that, regardless of what they do, assuming that there are no drugs involved. So if you can get there with a more minimalist type of approach, why not just do that?
Ben : [00:33:07] Do you find that you always executed those exercises as well? Do you find you’re kind of a natural squatter, deadlifter, bencher? They come pretty easy to you?.
Mike : [00:33:16] That’s a good question. The technique, I would say yes. But that’s probably because I grew up playing sports. So, you know, I was used to it. I grew up I played baseball when I was younger and then I played a lot of hockey and I also played golf. Golf is a weird technical sport that requires good awareness of your body and what’s going on and precision, right?
And so, yes, I would say that, what I did was, and this is what I recommend to anybody, is, of course, you watch videos, you learn about the technique, right, and then you video yourself. You don’t try to just jump into heavy weights and just go balls to the wall, but make sure that, you know, on video you can look at your squat deadlift, overhead press, bench press, or whatever, and you can compare it to a model and say, “all right, I’m pretty close.”
And the movements being yes, they’re obviously – a squat is a little bit more difficult to execute than a leg press, but I wouldn’t say it’s a tremendously difficult movement. It’s not a golf swing, for example. Golf swing is much harder to do.
Ben : [00:34:16] Sure. But making the assumption that everyone is built differently and everyone’s going to thereby get different muscular recruitment, different results, different potential pathologies from these exercises. What do you recommend for those? Obviously, you’ve dealt with a lot of clients in your life, a lot of people reading your books.
What’s the suggestion for the outliers? So the funny thing about outliers is I think it’s more like 75 percent of people that are actually outliers for those exercises, right? Like most people assume that you fit into those exercises, but I think more people than not don’t fit into those exercises.
Mike : [00:34:46] How so?
Ben : [00:34:47] I’ll explain. So their inability to muscularly control those exercises, the ranges that you’re being asked to go through, most people can’t actually actively control them with their musculature. Obviously, young people are an exception, some people are very athletic, that’s an exception.
Most people that I run into are so banged up that they can’t get to the bottom of the squat with anywhere past 90 degrees of hip flexion, they can’t get to the bottom of a deadlift without rounding the thoracic spine, they can’t get into the bottom of the bench press or touch their chest without doing some type of elevation and protraction of the shoulders.
So that’s my, you know, why bring up those questions, man. It’s like, what is the troubleshooting for those people? So I’m not saying that your suggestion is wrong, because I actually agree with that, too. But what’s the step before that for all those people who go, “man, when I squat it hurts. When I deadlift, it hurts. When I bench press, my shoulders hurt.” What do I do with those guys?
Mike : [00:35:46] I’ve heard from a number of people obviously over the years, I would say in my experience, and this is strictly speaking from people that have – I’ve heard via the books mostly, right? And also via the blog, where I’ve recommended a lot of the same types of things. I would say that my personal experience has been that the majority of people can do fine with those exercises so long as they learn the proper technique and don’t get too zealous.
But I definitely have heard from quite a few people that have not been able to do them for reasons like you’re describing or preexisting injuries, like there is going to be no deadlifting because of, you know, a lower back injury that they sustained, doing who knows what at some time, right? So for that, it’s always just like – and I’ve had people email me worried because they can’t squat, they’re fucked. Right?
Like, “oh, I can’t squat or I can’t deadlift, there’s no hope for me, right?” And that’s totally not true. Not at all. You can do everything that you want to do with your physique, without squatting, without deadlifting, without bench pressing, without overpressing. Absolutely. I am 100 percent – like there’s no question about that. So it’s just finding workarounds, right?
So there are always like, for example, if they can’t squat, can they leg press? If they can’t squat, can they do maybe a unilateral, could they do a split squat, or can they do a lunge? Or you know, for hamstrings you have various options. If nothing else, you can do a lying hamstring curl, right? Even take the deadlift. Okay, so we have to break that down now, we could do some hip thrusts for some posterior chain.
We could do, you know, depending on their situation, they may be able to do something like good mornings, we have options. So, yes, I would say that you don’t have to squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, but if you can – and this has been, I mean, I can’t say that there is any research that comes to mind immediately.
There’s some research out there probably on muscle activation for the squat and the bench press in particular versus variations, but I’d say if you can squat and deadlift and bench press, overpress and progress without having pain or problems, that’s probably a good idea. You’re going to benefit from it, you know what I mean?f
Ben : [00:37:57] Completely agree, man. Greatest bang for your buck as far as using the greatest amount of musculature at once for someone whose time is a consideration. One of the reasons that I think that paradigm always needs to be questioned – and listen, man, my rule in life is always play the devil’s advocate because it ends up bringing up a good conversation.
But one of my reasons for always challenging that paradigm is if you look throughout the history of our lives, and you look at the people that we model as far as being the best role models for bench pressing or the best role models for deadlifting or for squatting are the people who tend to be really good at it.
Mike : [00:38:29] Right.
Ben : [00:38:30] So you’re watching somebody on YouTube and like, Ed Coan deadlifts a thousand pounds and he has a huge ass and huge lower back. “I want to get a huge lower back and I’m going to deadlift like Ed Coan. I want to get huge quads like Tom Platz. So thereby I should squat,” or, “I want to get a huge like these powerlifters, thereby I should bench press.”
But they fit that exercise and we don’t always. And that paradigm needs to be always challenged for some people out there being like, “hey man, you may not fit in that exercise the same way I do. So don’t watch those exercises.”
Mike : [00:38:59] I agree.
Ben : [00:39:01] Yeah. Figure out what works for you, you know?
Mike : [00:39:02] Especially when you’re talking about weight. You know, you’re looking around on Instagram and you don’t know what you’re looking at half the time anyway of what’s going on behind the scenes. [Laughing] But still I absolutely agree. Like your body, your anatomy matters and what a lot of people don’t realize about, you know, people that are very good at weightlifting is:
One, they generally have bodies that are just built for it. The way that their muscles insert. You have limb lengths, you know, so they’re just able to generate so much more force. And I’ve run into that. You know, like squatting is very hard for me. I’ve never squatted more than 365 for three.
Now, to be fair, I haven’t programmed for it. I never programmed for squatting multiple times a week because I didn’t want to. But I was not. I had to work hard for what is considered like, “meh” kind of numbers. You know what I mean?
Ben : [00:39:54] That’s a pretty good number for a guy who’s six foot two, man. I mean, that’s nothing to snuff out for sure. So man, moving along, changing directions a little bit, I think what you’ve done in the fitness industry is very unique, or at least very brilliant. So you’re an early adopter. You’re somebody who came in and basically started your fitness journey and said, “I’m going to act right now.
I’m going to create this business, create a really successful business, and have a massive following.” I think a lot of my listeners are sitting at home questioning whether or not they should get started in the fitness industry. You drove right in and said, “Hey man, I’m going to write a book. I’m going to create a supplement company and do all these things.”
What advice do you have for people who are sitting there? You know, maybe they’re interested in the fitness industry, maybe they’re in the fitness industry and they don’t know how to kind of get the ball rolling on creating a successful business.
Mike : [00:40:35] Yes. And that’s a good question. Another question I do get asked a lot. I’m sure it’s a question you get asked a lot as well. And I’ll be curious, I want you to jump in here, too, at any point.
Ben : [00:40:43] Sure.
Mike : [00:40:44] So my take on that, I mean, I think of several things. One is: I’m big on content marketing personally. So that’s something that I feel is my – what is it from, Jim Collins’s book? My Hedgehog concept. Like here’s the thing that I can be excellent at and that if I just do this very, very well. My one thing to reference another book, right?
Ben : [00:41:10] Zero to 2?
Mike : [00:41:13] Oh no, that’s Zero to One. No, The One Thing by Keller over. Yeah. It’s actually a good book. It looks like it’s gonna be a gimmick.
Ben : [00:41:21] I’ve read it.
Mike : [00:41:21] So my one thing that I chose, the thing that I felt I could get so good at that people couldn’t ignore me, right? Cal Newport. [Laughing] Is content creation and writing in particular. And I’ve put a shitload of time into writing. I’ve published over a million words of free articles on my blogs, I’ve written probably close to, I don’t know, maybe 500,000 words between the books, and I’m working on new books and I’m always writing. And I’ve improved a lot as a writer. I look at the stuff I wrote, you know, years ago, and I’m like, this is terrible.
Ben : [00:41:54] It should be that way, though, right? I always say to myself, if I read something I wrote twelve months ago and I don’t think it’s terrible, I haven’t evolved enough.
Mike : [00:42:00] It’s very true. It’s very true.
Ben : [00:42:01] Yeah.
Mike : [00:42:02] So that’s first thing, that was something that I was like, “okay, what can I do that’s going to stand out.” So anybody trying to break into the fitness industry, I do think that you need to have something that stands out. And doesn’t have to be content. That’s what I’ve chosen. And the reason why I actually looked at it and I was just being objective saying, “all right, I have a good physique. I do.
And I’m happy with it. And I’d say most guys would probably be pretty happy to have my physique. I’m not interested in becoming a competitive physique athlete, and I’m not interested in becoming a competitive bodybuilder.”
Ben : [00:42:32] Good choice.
Mike : [00:42:33] I don’t think I even have the genetics for it, honestly. Like, you give me all the drugs, it doesn’t matter. Sure, I will look bigger and better. But I question if I would even be able to do it, right? Because a lot of people I mean, just as a quick thing, don’t realize that, when you have guys that are professional bodybuilders, these guys, they were like the super responders to weight lifting from the first day they ever picked up a weight.
Ben : [00:42:57] Everyone except for me. [Laughing]
Mike : [00:42:58] Yeah. I mean … Hey, I’m not familiar with your career. All I’m saying is, though you have the potential, your muscular potential is much higher than the average person’s period. I would assume, maybe I’m wrong, and it looks like I’m wrong, but that’s fine, but …
Ben : [00:43:14] I don’t ever want to – I try to get away from the genetic argument, man. Because I started off as a fat 155 pound, five foot ten guy, man. Like when I say fat, I was maybe 60 to 80 percent body fat, 155 pounds at 17 years old and by the time I was 19, I was 260.
Mike : [00:43:34] But very few people could do that. It’s not in them.
Ben : [00:43:38] I don’t know, man. Well, I also went from being a long-distance runner to a vegetarian. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good 260, but it was 26o and I got strong. I don’t know if I have great muscle-building genetics, but certainly not as good as the guys out there.
Mike : [00:43:53] Sure. Yes.
Ben : [00:43:55] I think my genetics was more for being stubborn and putting two middle fingers up to the world and saying, “you think I can’t do it, I’m going to do it twice.” It’s always the mentality.
Mike : [00:44:03] So anyways, to get back to your question, so, you know, I was like, “okay, that’s not the direction I’m going to go in. I don’t like the fitness scene in general. The fitness community, the culture doesn’t really – a lot of it does not resonate with me.” The darker the narcissism and the neuroticism…
And so I’m like, “I don’t want to be an influencer,” right? I don’t care about vlogging and building a YouTube channel, or getting a bunch of attention because, again, I was like, “that doesn’t build a business.” Your entire everything is owned by another company. And if one day – who knows, maybe you’re gone, that’s it.
Ben : [00:44:38] Youtube decides to shut you down.
Mike : [00:44:39] Exactly. “Oh, there goes your million subscribers.”
Ben : [00:44:41] It happens, man.
Mike : [00:44:43] Yeah. So when looking at it I was like, “okay, so what I’m going to do then is, I’m going to go all-in on creating really good content. And first I want to focus on written content because that’s what I like to do. There are a lot of people out there that like to consume written content.”
Ben : [00:44:55] How did you get over the initial trepidation or feeling of inadequacy that so many people face? And I’m sure at some level you question that, too.
Mike : [00:45:01] Yeah, I mean, you always have imposter syndrome to some degree, right? I mean, this might just be something about my personality. I just personally don’t struggle with that very much. That might even be a shortcoming. [Laughing] But it’s something where I guess in the beginning – I’m into planning. I’m into going, “how am I going to do this?” You know, Bob the Builder: how do we fix this?
How am I going to do this? Until I can convince myself that I have a good plan. If I can do that, then I should be able to – at least there’s a high probability that I can get the result that I want – and from there, it’s kind of no more thinking, and I just do it. And let’s see. And yes, I could have wasted all my time – whatever the time that I spent on Bigger Leaner Stronger could have been wasted, could have sold nothing.
And who knows? But that doesn’t bother me maybe because also fundamentally – and you’re probably the same way – is I like to work. I’m not afraid of exerting effort. I’m not afraid of, you know, spending my time and my energy and my attention on things. I actually enjoy it. So there’s a part of me, maybe it’s a masochistic part, that if I were out digging ditches every day, there’s a part of me that would still enjoy it.
Like, it could serve no purpose but at least I’m out there exerting effort. And there’s something to be said about the nobility of just being able to do that for its own sake, kind of like a Csikszentmihalyi – I butchered his last name, but flow state, right? Getting into that flow state.
Ben : [00:46:30] Yeah. Csik Csik …
Mike : [00:46:32] Hey, you’re better than I am. [Laughing] So, yes in the beginning, I was like, “cool, I think this could be something, who knows. I’m just gonna do it.” And that’s kind of how I’ve approached everything. Even the supplement business, getting into it we’re like – I was actually talking to my partner, Jeremy, at the time.
We’re like, “okay, there’s an opportunity to do supplements. But how much pain are we willing to take for this?” You know, what I mean? Like, “how much pain are you willing to take for this? How much shit are you willing to go through? Because this is not going to be easy. Nothing’s ever easy.”
Regardless of, you know, how easy it might seem going into it, it’s always gonna take more time, more effort, you’re always gonna have more distractions that you’re going to have to shield yourself from, and there’s always gonna be reasons to quit and whatever. So going into it, I just know myself that, again just knowing my personality and this has definitely been a thing.
But it’s become more of a thing, as I’ve continued in my career, that I don’t care how hard something is. It means nothing to me. If I think there’s a way I can do it and I want to do it, then I do it. And if I have to suffer, who fucking cares? I don’t care. You know, I mean? Similar to what we were talking about with dieting, like you’re not sleeping or not, but you got a reason to do it. Yeah, you suffered. Yeah, whatever. So a bit of that probably helped.
Ben : [00:47:47] Tomorrow is always another day to make a decision, right? And suffering today – it’s always like people on a diet, “I have to eat this cookie.” When you wake up tomorrow, that cookie’s still there. [Laughing] You know? So for you suffering through anything, you know, whether it be dieting or working, if I decide to stop tomorrow, one, I know that I’ve failed, but tomorrow still there, I can still make a decision to go another direction tomorrow. Failure just shouldn’t be an option until you’ve achieved your goal.
Mike : [00:48:16] I totally agree.
Ben : [00:48:17] You can choose to pull the plug at any minute, but if you choose to pull the plug, realize you just pulled the plug.
Mike : [00:48:21] Yeah. That’s okay sometimes too. I mean, I actually have had that discussion back to even your original question with people saying – okay, so I’ve had people that have emailed me, “hey, so I’m thinking of starting a supplement company. How do you find a manufacturer?” Okay, so if you’re asking that question, don’t.
Ben : [00:48:37] You’re fired.
Mike : [00:48:37] Don’t. Just don’t. Because what you do is you fucking Google “supplement manufacturer.” You know, that’s it. And then you’ve got to start humping. So there’s nothing wrong, I think everybody wants everything, right? Everyone wants things. Great, that’s fine. Goal setting what you want, who cares what you want.
What really matters is what are you willing to pay? What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to sacrifice? Take the things that you care the most about, and for a lot of people, that’s things that make them feel good. It’s Netflix, it’s food, it’s hanging out with friends, it’s sex, it’s whatever. How much of that shit are you willing to give up and how much?
Again, coming back to how much pain are you willing to go through to get where you want to get? You know, I recently watched Tom Brady Tom Vs. Time I watched the first episode of it, right? It’s a Facebook documentary thing and he said something that I really like. So he said that he has given 18 years now of his life to football or 20 years or whatever it is, and basically said, “if you want to compete with me, you better be willing to give up your life, because that’s what I’m doing.”
And he lives it, he doesn’t just say the words. I mean, that dude … And when you really actually, like if you go read about how he has lived his life and even how he got to where he is, he gave up literally everything starting at probably 13 years old when he started playing football. And he was bad in the beginning, like he was slow.
He had a good arm, but he was nothing, and sat on the bench for his first season in high school, right? But starting then decided he was going to give up everything, everything. He didn’t care what he had to give up, he didn’t care if every waking moment of every day had to be spent trying to become a football player, that’s what he was going to do.
Look at that, he’s the greatest quarterback ever, arguably, or whatever, right? And so I don’t think I’m necessarily … I don’t know if I could do what Tom Brady has done, even from that perspective alone, but I’d say I probably have a bit more of that than the average person. So for somebody, again, if they’re thinking about, “how do I get in the fitness industry” if your thought is, “how do I make a bunch of money really fast and really easily,” just don’t.
Just don’t even waste your time because it’s just not going to happen unless you have some super freak fluke type thing, right? I guess if you’re a 19-year-old kid and you’re super good-looking and you have an insane physique and you just make a YouTube channel where you run around and show off.
Ben : [00:51:01] But even that only lasts a very short amount of time. You know, we see so many of those, right?
Mike : [00:51:06] Flash in the pan, right? And a lot of those guys don’t make shit for money, actually, you know, because you don’t get paid that much if you’re shilling for gym sharks or something. So, yeah, those are two things I think is a piece of advice that I tell people is, “you got to find something that’s going to set you apart, something that is valuable that you can really get good at.”
I like content creation personally. Entertainment is another big thing. Look at the Broscience guy, he entertains people, he’s very good at entertaining people, that is his thing. So you don’t have to create educational, informative content. Entertainment is another option. But regardless, you gotta find something that you can do very well that will make you unique too.
You have to be in very, very good shape. Don’t try to become a fitness person if you look like shit. Why would someone listen to you? If you’re going to go, you know, you’re going to go learn to play tennis and you’re going to go see the person that sucks at tennis, you’re not going to get lessons from the person that sucks at tennis, regardless of how much they might be able to say they know about tennis.
Ben : [00:52:03] Sure.
Mike : [00:52:03] So you got to walk the walk. Which means you have to you gotta pay the fucking price basically again of, “what does it really take to stay lean?” And this is something I don’t think many people talk about. You can talk about the mechanics of staying lean, sure energy balance, macronutrient balance, you know, nutrient timing, blah, blah, blah.
But in the end, what does it really take to stay – let’s say as a guy, I don’t know, seven, eight, nine percent body fat year-round. You have to not give a shit about food. Essentially you’re eating the same meals every single day, seven days a week.
When you’re that lean you know this. You can’t go out to restaurants and just blow yourself up and think that your body will just … those calories just evaporate into the air. No. A portion of them stick to you, like you said with the cookie, right?
Ben : [00:52:45] Yeah.
Mike : [00:52:45] And so are you willing to do that?
Ben : [00:52:47] Yeah. And so people will think, “I can just train harder tomorrow.” But then the trading higher leads to more inflammation and more cortisol, which is sometimes …
Mike : [00:52:53] Or even more eating. Your appetite goes up and you’re like, “well, now I’m hungry. I’m training more. I’m doing cardio every day now, but now I’m more hungry.” You have to at least have the type of physique that the people you want to sell to want to have. Right? At least you have a start there.
And then from there, if you’re willing to suffer, if it matters that much to you and you can say, “I’m willing to …” Like to put numbers on it, if somebody were to tell me they really want to be successful and they’re not willing to work 80 hours a week for the first year to get somewhere I would say …
Ben : [00:53:26] Or ten years.
Mike : [00:53:28] Sure. I’m just trying to start – like, if you’re not willing to least start there, then just don’t bother, dude. Just don’t bother because it’s not going to happen. And there’s nothing wrong with, “I think.” Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with assessing a goal realistically, right?
And actually challenging yourself, “how much do I really want this?” And then if you decide, “actually I don’t want this. I’m not willing to do that.” I don’t think that you should necessarily feel ashamed for not doing it. I think that’s probably a smart decision.
Ben : [00:53:58] So you are a big advocate of content marketing and this is my judgment of it. The world is becoming bombarded, you probably agree at some level, with messaging everywhere, right? We’ve got so much marketing, we’ve got so many bells and whistles.
Mike : [00:54:11] Overwhelming.
Ben : [00:54:12] Yep. So what’s the future of content marketing? What’s the future of getting people’s attention in your eyes? Is it a different medium? What’s the future? What does it look like?
Ben : [00:54:22] I mean, probably video, right, is a big part of it. The reason I say that, I’m not super excited about it is, I don’t particularly enjoy, you know, recording YouTube videos. I do it, but it’s not something that I would enjoy if I were to say, “oh, shit, I want to become a YouTube star. What does it cost to become a YouTube star? I really don’t want to be a YouTube star.”
You know what I mean? But video is absolutely exploding, there’s no question there. And so, you know, I’m going to be actually doing some more video stuff. I’m hiring a videographer, but it’s never gonna be my sole focus. So there’s that. And then on the written side of things, of course, written is always going to be a thing, right? People are always going to read articles and they’re always going to read books.
And so it’s just the level of competition now – what you’re up against, you’re up against better content than you were five years ago. There are better books out there. I’ve seen this now. When I first published Bigger Leaner Stronger, there was no book like it at the time. Yeah I mean for anybody that reads it, there is no book like that. If you read it and you go, “oh you know how everything is explained and blah blah blah.”
Now there are a bunch of books just like it and a bunch of knockoff kind of “me too’s”, there’s a glut of Bigger Leaner Stronger wannabes that have gotten nowhere though. Because what a lot of people don’t understand about Amazon in particular is, Amazon is a whole world unto itself. Being good at Amazon marketing – you can be a good marketer and have no fucking chance on Amazon because it’s its own bazaar…
It’s actually a game. That’s how you have to think about it. Amazon is a game that has certain rules and you have to play the game, basically, I guess is the way to say it. And if you don’t know how to play the game, yeah, good luck. Unless you can write the next [00:56:08] Body for Life.
[00:56:09] You can write the next book that people freak out about. And the amount of momentum you gain overcomes the fact that you don’t know how to play the Amazon game. So yeah, I would say that, you know, from there, it’s really just going to go – I think we’re gonna see better and better-written content. Long-form is the thing. Obviously, and that’s not going to change.
So the better you can write long-form engaging content, the better you are going to do on Google and on the other search engines. And of course, if you’re going to play the content game, you’re going for organic. You really want millions of visits a month from Google. You don’t want to be paying for that.
And so that’s creating good content and then also knowing the SEO game, which is not super complicated, actually. If you have some money, you can do some interesting things, but you don’t even necessarily need money to get in there and start playing if you can create really good content.
Because ultimately, as we know, Google’s goal is to serve up, if we’re talking about content, serve up the best possible content to their searchers. When that person goes and says, “how do I lose stubborn fat?” They want, you know, the top result to be the absolute best possible result.
Ben : [00:57:21] Sure.
Mike : [00:57:21] So if you can go in that direction, not try to game your SEO and keywords stuff and get too lost in the weeds and focus on: how do you create an article so good that someone is going to, like, go send it to five of their friends? If you can do that, then you have what it takes to play the content game basically. And that’s my take on it.
Ben : [00:57:41] Right. Mike, Muscle For Life is one of your major brands, one of your major websites. Tell me about that, what is that?
Mike : [00:57:50] Yes. It’s the original website that was put up in 2013. So a part of me hates it because it’s ugly and needs to be redone, but it’s very popular. It gets about, right now, one and a half million visits a month or so from Google, it’s just all organic. And I publish articles regularly on it and I also have a couple other people that write with me who also publish and do a good job.
So it’s a very popular blog at the moment, essentially. But we are overhauling it and we’re putting a store, which it doesn’t have a store. I’m a good marketer. And so we’re putting a store in it. And I mean, the reason why we’ve neglected it is because we focus so much on the supplement company and now we’re coming back to Muscle For Life.
Anyways, so I’m putting a store and I’m also going to be launching a number of digital courses, which is something I just have none of right now. I’m excited for that just because, you know, I’m doing some of the courses myself and then I’m partnering with some people in other courses who I feel are more qualified, like I’m doing a supplementation course with Kurtis, for example.
So the courses are gonna be going up on Muscle For Life and so I’m excited to do that and I have a coaching service that’s a part of Muscle For Life as well. But yeah, essentially right now, as I say, Muscle For Life is like a glorified blog, basically. Like, I could tell people, “I’m a blogger. What do you do?” “I’m a blogger.”
Ben : [00:59:11] [Laughing] It’s funny, man. I’m actually doing a very similar thing too, with the courses. Because as you know, man, your knowledge is your knowledge and you can’t go outside of that knowledge base. And I feel like there’s people out there who are much better at certain things than I am.
So very similar to you, I’m doing a bunch of courses and bringing in some really brilliant people who I’m excited to learn from, and I’m sure my demographic is going to be excited to learn from. So I’m super excited to see what you’re doing and continue to learn from you. Where can people find more from Mike Matthews other than Body for life.
Mike : [00:59:39] I would just say [00:59:40] Muscle For Life, [00:59:40] muscleforlife.com spelled out muscleforlife.com is kind of the hub of all of my things. And if you want to check out the supplements, it’s legionathletics.com legionathletics.com.
Ben : [00:59:52] So you’ve thrown a bunch of book titles out there, Mike, and I’m going to ask you so specific to personal development, I’m going to go in three categories. I’m going to go personal development, business and fitness.
Mike : [01:00:04] Okay.
Ben : [01:00:05] Yeah and you can’t use your own.
Mike : [01:00:06] So for personal development. Let’s see … Flow. I really liked Flow by the name that I can’t pronounce.
Ben : [01:00:13] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Mike : [01:00:16] There you go. I liked that a lot. Really resonated with me. Mastery really resonated – by Robert Green, really resonated with me. Meditations which is cliche these days, I know, but whatever.
Ben : [01:00:29] No, it’s still a brilliant book. I actually have it by my bedside, I read a part of it every night before bed.
Mike : [01:00:33] Okay. So yes, that really resonated with me. Then it goes back to a lot of that, “yeah, just shut up and suffer until you’re where you want to be.” A lot of that kind of mentality. Those are old ideas. I also really like biographies from a personal development standpoint, just because I feel like that’s a great way to get raw information that you can do what you want with as opposed to somebody who’s predigested and also in many ways, you know, you have someone – they want to sell you on an idea and so they find supporting evidence to sell you on the idea.
Okay, maybe the idea’s good, maybe it’s not good. You can sell bad ideas very easily if you know what you’re doing. Look at the Communist Manifesto for communism. Terrible idea, easy to sell. But if you’re reading biographies, I just like that you get to see people who in some ways, did things that you would like to do yourself. And if it’s a good biography, you get to walk in their shoes for, you know, whatever, 500 to a thousand pages.
And you can extract the lessons that I think are probably most relevant to you where you’re at right now. You know, biographies I really liked, I guess ranged from more kind of pop biography. The Elon Musk biography by Ashlee Vance, right? It was good. You know, again, everybody has read it. Everybody says it’s good. It is, it’s good.
I also really liked Titan, which is about John Rockefeller and written by Ron Chernow. You like writing? Read Ron Chernow. He is by far – him and Will Durant are my two favorite writers just in terms of their ability to communicate with the English language. I mean, it’s a true art. I just enjoy reading them. I mean, especially Will Durant, because he’s also such a brilliant thinker, but it’s truly pleasurable just to read their stuff.
Ben : [01:02:32] Which book would you recommend by Will Durant?
Mike : [01:02:34] The Lessons of History, or The Story of Philosophy, either one of those are a great place to start. And yes, so biographies I’m big on. I’m reading The Da Vinci biography right now, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Da Vinci and it’s good. Da Vinci is just unlike a lot of the people I’ve been reading about. Before that I read about Ben Franklin and Da Vinci is a very different character.
So it’s pretty interesting to see how he lived his life and what that ultimately turned into. And so that’s what I’m doing right now. That’s a personal development, I guess, in a nutshell. I mean, I could keep going, but that’s a good start. And then and then for business, I think it really kind of depends on where you’re at, right?
So let’s say like someone like you, I would recommend probably Scaling Up would be a book that I recommend because you have businesses. You know, you don’t need to read Profit First, for example, which is a book I’d recommend to some … Yeah, exactly. If you’re starting out. Or The Lean Startup.
Ben : [01:03:30] I actually just read that. Just finished it.
Mike : [01:03:33] That’s funny. It’s funny.
Ben : [01:03:34] Yeah. Amazing.
Mike : [01:03:35] Yeah. This is funny that to everything you’re like, “oh yeah, that one. Oh yeah I know that one, yeah.” [Laughing] You read a lot of the same stuff so you know what I’m talking about. So yes, Scaling Up would be something that would be more relevant to you, but not necessarily to somebody who’s just starting out. It would be a bit overwhelming and not applicable, but Profit First for someone starting out The Lean Startup.
I would definitely recommend for anybody starting out. You know, I liked Tony Shayes also if you’re looking at starting a business, Delivering Happiness, I think was a good story. He had a good story and a good message. I liked Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table, particularly from the perspective of customer experience.
You could say customer service, but really customer experience and the level that you need to be able to go to really delight people and hug your haters has a similar message. Silly name, but actually a pretty good book. And I think that’s very important. I think it’s going to be a differentiating factor in businesses more and more is that people are becoming more and more willing to pay a premium to be treated well and to be valued as a customer and actually have their questions answered and be taken care of.
And I’ve seen that. That’s a huge thing with Legion the supplement business and it’s contributed greatly to our growth because, you know, it contributes to the customer lifetime value. It contributes to the average order size. It contributes to the – well lowers the churn, right? So it can contribute to the average number of orders.
It’s amazing how just doing little things and treating your customers just the way that you would like to be treated if you were a customer and going a little bit above and beyond, makes people go from, “this is my first order,” to, “I’m a customer for life now.”
Ben : [01:05:13] I’m never going away. Yeah, absolutely.
Mike : [01:05:16] And yeah, so I would say that. And also on business, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. I think if you want to get into business you have to become a good marketer or you have to have somebody who’s a good marketer because you can have the best thing, the best widget ever. But if you can’t sell it properly, it’s not going to go anywhere. So that’ll be a good place to start marketing.
Ben : [01:05:37] Any fitness books you like?
Mike : [01:05:39] I mean, this is an area where I think there aren’t very many good fitness books.
Ben : [01:05:44] Completely agree with you, man.
Mike : [01:05:45] I don’t know, man. Okay, Practical Programming, Starting Strength. Then you know, what is it? The Lean Muscle.
Ben : [01:05:53] And you have people who would argue that that’s an absolutely atrocious book as far as its ability to actually deliver good …
Mike : [01:06:00] Yes. No, I understand.
Ben : [01:06:03] I’ve had people recently tell me, “man, don’t ever go near that.” Not that I want to throw anybody under the bus, but apparently it’s just not good. So I don’t know.
Mike : [01:06:14] I’d be curious as to why they would be saying that, because I like, it’s very technical. It’s not easy to understand. It’s unfortunately not written in a way that the layman could just like …
Ben : [01:06:24] Well, I was told it’s because it’s marketing. It’s not written with science behind it. It’s written with speculation and marketing.
Mike : [01:06:32] I mean, I would say from a marketing perspective, it’s terrible.
Ben : [01:06:38] Sure.
Mike : [01:06:40] It’s ugly, has a good name, it has a brand behind it, but the writing itself – I mean, first and foremost, if you’re going to communicate, whether it’s writing, speaking, your first – you have to be able to be understood. If people can’t understand what it is that you’re going to say, don’t say it.
You’re actually inconveniencing people by wasting their fucking time. You know what I mean? So from a marketing perspective, that very much first and foremost means – and that’s my primary goal in my writing is to be clear. I’m not trying to show that I have a good vocabulary and not trying to show that I know technical terms or that I’m a genius.
I’m actually trying to explain things as simply as possible so a person can just understand it and do something with it. So from that perspective, Starting Strength and Practical Programming fall very short because they require a lot of knowledge. But, you know, The Lean Muscle Diet, Alan Aragon’s book, good information, obviously.
I think a little bit complex for the average person again when it comes down to doing it, but good information. And shit, man. I don’t know. Do you have any books? That’s why I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger. I was like, “dude, where is just a simple good book that’s going to give you some basics that get results.”
Ben : [01:07:53] I tend to go down the route of, “tell me what you want to know and I’ll tell you the book to read.” Meaning like, if you want to know about gut health, read this one. If you want to know better information, read that one. There’s not one that ties them all together.
Mike : [01:08:05] But that’s health stuff. Health is another thing. I think there are a lot of great health books. What about fitness per say? Like, fitness. Like, getting in shape.
Ben : [01:08:13] There’s not a lot of good ones. We’ll change that, Mike. We’ll work on that matter.
Mike : [01:08:17] We’re working on it.
Ben : [01:08:18] Yeah. Dude, I’m sure people should get out there and read, Bigger Leaner Stronger, because obviously you’ve got an idea of what you’re doing. You got some great information and tons of people have read it and that says volumes, man.
Mike : [01:08:29] Yeah. Thank you.
Ben : [01:08:29] So, dude. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure and we will definitely be linking all of this information in the show notes at benpakulski.com/podcasts. Thank you very much, Mike.
Mike : [01:08:39] Awesome. Yeah. Thank you.