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I’ve churned through over 100,000 emails, social media comments and messages, and blog comments in the last 6 years.
And that means I’ve fielded a ton of questions.
As you can imagine, some questions pop up more often than others, and I thought it might be helpful to take a little time every month to choose a few and record and share my answers.
So, in this round, I answer the following five questions:
- What do you do when resting between sets in the gym?
- Can I still gain muscle and strength while training for long-distance running and, if so, how should I set up my training?
- How much fat can you lose in the first 30 days of a cut if you’re doing everything right?
- Do you need to adjust your meal plan while losing fat, or can you stick to the same plan from start to finish?
- How many hours of sleep should you get to maximize muscle growth?
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, leave a comment below or if you want a faster response, send an email to [email protected]
Recommended reading for this episode:
How Long Should You Rest Between Sets to Gain Muscle and Strength?
Should You Do Cardio or Weightlifting First? What 20 Studies Say
The Easiest Cardio Workout You Can Do (That Actually Works)
The Definitive Guide to Why You’re Not Losing Weight
7 Proven Ways to Sleep Better Than Ever Before
[00:00:07] Hello, hello, I am Michael Matthews, and this is the Muscle For Life podcast. Welcome, welcome. This episode is a Q&A, so I have churned through well over 100,000 emails, social media comments and messages, and blog comments in the last six or seven years, and that means that I have fielded a ton of questions. And as you can imagine, some of them pop up more than others and so I thought it’d be helpful to take a little time every month and choose a few and then record and share my answers for everyone to enjoy.
[00:00:43] So in this round, I answer five questions. One: what do you do when resting between sets in the gym? Two: can I still gain muscle and strength while training for long-distance running? And if so, how should I set up my training? Three: how much fat can you lose in the first 30 days of a cut if you are doing everything right? Four: do you need to adjust your meal plan while losing fat or can you just stick to the same plan from start to finish? And five: how many hours of sleep should you get to maximize muscle growth? And so those are the questions.
[00:01:14] Now, if you have a question that you would like me to answer, feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected] or shoot me a D.M. on Instagram or drop it into the comments of one of my articles and I will get back to you, I will give you the answer. But if it is something that many other people are also asking, I may just choose it for the next Q&A.
[00:03:49] Hey, Mike Matthews here from Muscle For Life and Legion Athletics. Welcome to another video podcast. And this one is a Q&A. So that means that I have chosen some questions that people have asked me via email and Instagram D.M. mostly and I’m going to answer them here on the podcast.
[00:04:10] Now, of course, I have tried to choose questions that I think everybody can benefit from or at least many other people would find interesting. And so let’s get to the first one, which is: what do you do during the three minute rest period between sets?
[00:04:27] Now, if you are wondering why three minutes of rest in between sets, in here we’re talking about resistance training sets, in particularly hard sets, working sets, heavy muscle-building sets. And the reason for three minutes is that’s generally a sweet spot for getting fully ready for your next heavy set that allows your heart rate to come down, it allows your breathing to normalize, it allows your muscles to recover from the hard set that you just did, and it allows you to give maximum effort on your next heart set, which is really what we are going for in our resistance training workouts.
[00:05:08] Specifically, what I like to do personally, and this is based on research, this is based on what is in the scientific literature – and also having a lot of experience myself, training, and having worked with a lot of people over the years – is on my four to six rep or heavier work – so I sometimes, I do some two to three reps stuff as well – I am usually resting about three minutes, sometimes a bit longer, depending on how I’m feeling in between each heart set.
And if I’m doing some higher reps stuff – six to eight rep eight to ten or even 10 to 12 – I’ll rest somewhere closer to two minutes or two and a half minutes, because I find those sets are a bit easier to recover from and a bit easier to feel ready for the next set. And if you want to learn more about that and check out some of the research and what else I have to say on the matter, Google “Muscle For Life how long to rest” and you will find an article that I wrote on it.
So then to the question of what to do during those two, three, four-minute rest periods in between your hard sets – what you don’t want to do is: do some more exercise. You don’t want to be doing cardio or doing some higher rep, maybe pump work for another muscle group if you are doing, let’s say, some hard sets of squats or deadlifts or overhead presses or any exercise that you really need to progress on, you want to rest. You want your heart rate to come down. You want your breathing to normalize. You want to feel like you are recuperating and gathering the physical and even mental energy to really hit that next hard set of squats or deadlifts or whatever it is that you’re doing.
[00:06:58] And remember, our goal in our resistance training workouts is to get stronger. It is to get in our volume, to have high-quality workouts, high-quality sets, high-quality reps, but ultimately, it’s to get stronger. And that requires a lot of exertion. It requires a lot of effort to gain those extra reps, which in time turn into extra weight. And if you are spending your rest periods between your sets doing cardio or doing things that are otherwise physically demanding, it is going to slow down your progress on your weightlifting on your progression on those exercises.
[00:07:37] And so what I do personally these days is usually I’m just talking to the guy that I work out with, a friend of mine, or if there’s someone else in the gym who’s a friend of mine, or someone that I know from the gym who I’d just like to talk to and he happens to be around me, then sometimes I’ll be talking in between sets. I do keep an eye on my rest, though, to make sure that those rest periods don’t stretch out to five, six, seven minutes because that gets just counterproductive.
[00:08:03] If, however, the guy that I work out with if he is busy doing his set or sometimes our training gets out of sync. So I might be squatting on a day that he’s bench pressing, so we’re just kind of in different areas of the gym for most of our workouts – I will work on my German, so I am learning German and specifically, I’m using a flashcard system, an SRS spaced repetition system, SRS flashcard system – I might have gotten the acronym wrong – for learning vocabulary. So building my vocabulary, learning German words, and learning how the grammar works, learning the rules.
[00:08:39] And so I’ll just go through flashcards and by the end of a workout it could be 20 or 30 minutes or so of flashcards, which is good progress. And I’ve been doing that for some time now. And it’s a good way to multitask, so to speak, or what are the trendy, productivity people say? “Layering your tasks”, right? Or “layering your work”? So that’s what I do these days.
[00:09:01] In the past, when I was not doing flashcards, I would just read. I would pull up my Kindle app. So I’d just sit down, let’s say I’m benching, do my set, rack the weight, set up, and just sit on the bench and then pull up my Kindle app on my phone and just read.
And yeah it’s a little bit annoying because I’m only reading for two or three minutes, you’re not really getting into the flow, you’re not getting to the process, and then go back into your next set, but that way I did get through probably an average of maybe an additional 20 pages per day when I was doing it that way. And that was some time ago when I didn’t have anybody to work out with. And I wasn’t learning German, so I didn’t have any flashcards or anything else to do.
[00:09:44] What I avoid, though, is getting into email, getting into social media, especially D.M’s, where I can take time to respond to people because I don’t want to get my attention too much out of what I’m doing at the moment. Instead, I want to remain focused on my work out.
I don’t want to get into a response that’s going to take five minutes to write on my phone and have that then, you know, stretch my rest periods out too long, or just feel kind of annoyed because I’m half done responding and then I’m doing my set and jumping back. So I usually leave any sort of work-related thing or anything that might get me more involved mentally – I leave that for outside of the gym. I don’t do that in between sets.
[00:11:12] All right, the next question: can I still make gains if I enjoy long-distance running? What’s the best way to structure long-distance running around my workout routine? So the answer is yes. You absolutely can still progress in your resistance training when you are also doing long-distance running.
However, you should know that there is an interference effect that has been demonstrated in multiple studies. It is really an established fact at this point that the adaptations that occur in your body – really at a cellular level – when you do cardio, are very different than the ones that occur when you lift weights or train your muscles with resistance training.
And so the more cardio you do in general, the less you’re going to progress in your resistance training, you should know that. It doesn’t mean you can’t make progress, but there is that interference-effect. And there’s also just the fact of general fatigue. The more cardio you do in general, the more generally fatigued your body is going to be, which means the less energy you’re going to have to give to your resistance training workouts.
[00:12:14] So with that being out of the way, let’s now talk about how to best minimize the interference effect. So one is: limit your cardio to as much as you need to do. Try to do as little as possible, basically, that’s the first thing. The second thing is: it’s best if you do your cardio workouts separate to your resistance training workouts and that you separate those workouts by.
I would say at least four to five, maybe six hours, better would be even longer, really, the best would be on different days altogether. So let’s say you lifted weights three to four times per week and you ran, let’s say, two to three days per week or did your cardio two or three days per week. Ideally, those would be on the other days. So maybe it’s like four days of weightlifting and then you have two days off weightlifting, where you do your cardio, and then you have one rest day on the seventh day, that would be a good setup.
[00:13:16] Now if you can’t do that for whatever reason, if you can’t separate your cardio and weightlifting or resistant strain workouts by at least several hours, do your cardio after your resistance training, that is going to make for better progress in your resistance training workouts.
[00:13:29] Now, if you want to learn more about that in particular and why, Google “Muscle For Life cardio or weights first” and you should find an article that I wrote on it along with a podcast embedded in the article so you could listen to the podcast or read the article.
[00:13:45] Another tip is to avoid running if you can. If you’ll love running or you have to run, that’s fine. But if you are not married to running, do something else. Biking and rowing will probably be your best choices because research shows the interference effect is smaller, probably because they mimic weightlifting movements.
But swimming is another better than running choice and the best choice of all would be walking. So if you want to do cardio just for the purposes of burning more energy and reaping the health benefits, because it does probably give some cardiovascular benefits that we don’t necessarily get from weightlifting, even though we know weightlifting is good for heart health.
It is probably smart to include a little bit of cardiovascular work in our general routines. And if that’s why you’re doing it, just walk instead of anything else. That’s going to have the least interference-effect. And if you walk enough, you can still burn a fair amount of energy.
[00:14:42] And if you want to learn more about that, specifically, Google “Muscle For Life easiest cardio” and you’ll find an article I wrote on the easiest type of cardio you can do, which is walking, and why it is actually pretty beneficial.
[00:14:56] Okay, the next question: how much fat can you lose in the first 30 days of a cut if you are doing everything right? I.e. eating in a moderately aggressive calorie deficit, training fasted with yohimbine twice a day, taking Phoenix, etcetera. Good question. And this one depends on where you are at. More than anything else.
[00:15:18] So to keep it simple, if you have a lot of fat to lose – so if you’re a guy, let’s say over 20 percent body fat or a girl over 30 percent body fat. I would say two to three pounds of fat loss per week for the first little bit, maybe the first couple of weeks, is achievable for most people. And then it slows down from there.
And it’s probably possible to lose a bit more than that per week, at least for the first little bit. The first few weeks, if you are very, very overweight, obese and are maintaining a very large calorie deficit. But I would have to actually look in the literature to find some good examples of that. I feel very comfortable saying that for the average person who’s quite overweight, who has a lot of fat to lose, two to three pounds of fat loss per week, at least for the first several weeks, is achievable.
[00:16:11] Now, if you are starting out a bit leaner, if you’re a guy at 15 percent, let’s say, or your girl at 25 percent, you just got to bring that down a bit, somewhere between one and two. I would say skewed more toward two pounds of fat loss per week, at least for the first little bit, is reasonable. That’s a reasonable target to shoot for.
[00:16:34] And if you are starting out lean, wanting to get very lean – so if you’re a guy at, let’s say, 10 percent, or a girl at 20 percent, and now you’re going for the shredded look, then something closer to about one pound of fat loss per week is going to be more realistic. And it is going to go down from there.
[00:16:51] Now, remember, I’m talking about fat loss here, not weight loss. You can lose more weight in the beginning, especially first start cutting, because for most people, this means eating a lot less carbohydrate, which results in the body, flushing out water, flushing out glycogen. So you can see some pretty rapid weight loss in the beginning. You might be able to lose, let’s say you’re a guy at 10 percent, you might lose two or three pounds in your first week of cutting, but you didn’t lose two or three pounds of fat.
[00:17:19] Okay, the next question: do I have to keep adjusting my meal plan when I’m losing my body fat or do I keep it the same until I reach my goal? That’s a good question. And the answer is really simple: don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. Right?
[00:17:32] So when you start your cut, you have estimated your total daily energy expenditure, or at least your average TDEE, and you have worked out a calorie deficit that’s probably somewhere around 20 or 25 percent. You’ve worked out your macros get going. Things are rolling along nicely.
You are weighing yourself every day, taking an average every seven to 10 days. You are also measuring your waist at least a few times a week to keep an eye on that as well. And the weight, the average body weight in the waist measurements are going down – okay, great – don’t change anything until you get stuck.
[00:18:13] If your average body weight and your waist measurement has not changed in a couple of weeks, you are now stuck. And there are a number of different reasons why this can occur. But at bottom, what is going on here is you are no longer in a large enough calorie deficit to continue losing fat.
And so there are a number of things you need to look into and there are a number of strategies you can use to get the needle moving again. And I don’t want this video to turn into a marathon. So I’m going to defer to an article I wrote, so if you want to learn more about that, just Google “Muscle For Life not losing weight” and you’ll find a long, thorough article that I wrote on what to do when you are no longer losing weight.
[00:19:03] And I also just like to add that it is perfectly normal to get stuck when you are cutting for any period of time. If you’re just doing like a mini cut – so let’s say you’ve been lean bulking for a while and it’s been three or four months and you just want to drop a little bit of body fat, so you figure you’re going to a deficit for three, four weeks and get back to your lean bulk.
You probably won’t have to adjust anything. But if you are going to be cutting for an extended period of time – eight, 10, 12 plus weeks – eventually you are going to have to reduce the amount of food that you eat. It is almost inevitable for most people.
[00:19:40] And the reason being is you can only exercise so much. You only have so much time to do it. And even if you have unlimited time, you know, you only can do so much before it starts to cause significant issues with your body. And once you’ve max that out, which is again, the first thing I generally recommend and I talk about in the article that I just referenced, is: before you eat less food, can we exercise more?
That’s the first question. And if it’s no, okay, then we have to eat less food. And it’s normal to reach that point when you are cutting for a long period of time. It doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with your metabolism or wrong at all.
[00:20:18] So for me personally, I haven’t really gone through lean bulk and cutting phases in a while. I’ve pretty much just maintained 195, let’s say a range of 191 to 198, usually around 195. Somewhere around 10 percent body fat. I’ve cut for little periods to get maybe closer to eight or nine percent and maybe “let myself go” a little bit to get as high as eleven or twelve percent maybe. But generally for the last several years now, I’ve been about 195 pounds and about 10 percent body fat.
[00:20:51] However, the last time that I cut and got quite lean for photoshoots, it was a few years ago, got down to maybe seven percent or so, give or take. I started that cut around 2,500 or 2,600 calories because at the time my average daily energy expenditure was somewhere around 3,000 calories, because I was lifting weights five or six hours a week and doing about two hours of high-intensity interval training.
And so that intake of 2,500 or 2,600 hundred calories, if I remember correctly, kept me losing fat steadily for about four to five weeks. At which point I had to drop my intake, I dropped by about 100 to 150 calories, rode that out for another couple weeks, dropped it again, rode that out for a couple of weeks.
Believe I dropped it one final time, which really brought it to my BMR, somewhere around 2,100, 2,200 calories and rode that out. I might even get a little bit lower, 2,000, no lower than 1,900 and rode that out for a final week or two, and then called it quits. Was happy with how I looked, did the photo shoot.
[00:21:55] Okey dokey, the next question, the final question: how much sleep is sufficient to build muscle? 4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours, or 10 hours? Well, the simple answer here is getting enough sleep is hugely important for muscle growth and strength gain, and particularly for intermediate and advanced weightlifters whose bodies are not hyper-responsive to resistance training anymore and who can’t just use newbie gains to overpower dietary mistakes, sleep mistakes, and so forth.
And there are several reasons for that. One is a very obvious reason, acute performance. So if you sleep, let’s say four, five, six hours and you’re kind of dragging ass in the morning and you get into the gym and you’re going to do some heavy squats, you are going to get less work done in that workout than if you had slept what you needed to sleep.
Which for most is seven to nine hours, seven to eight hours, is kind of generally recommended amount of sleep for most people. And so, of course, less effective workouts make for less muscle and strength gain over time. So that’s a very obvious way that sleep is going to impact your ability to build muscle and gain strength.
[00:23:09] Another factor is hormones. So the more sleep deprived you are in general, the more catabolic your hormone profile is going to be. And this can actually get so bad that it can lead to muscle loss, that has been shown in scientific research. If you deprive yourself of enough sleep, I believe it was, I reviewed the study semi-recently, so the details are a little bit fuzzy, but I believe it was three to four hours of sleep for no more than a week. It was like five to seven days actually started to cause muscle loss. And so that is completely counterproductive, of course.
[00:23:48] And the reason why muscle loss occurred was not limited to just what happened hormonally. Which mostly just came down to lower levels of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone and higher levels of catabolic hormones like cortisol.
[00:24:03] Another reason, though, why these guys lost muscle was related to cellular signaling and other aspects of the body’s muscle-building machinery, so to speak. So that machinery just does not work well when the body is sleep-deprived. And so what happens then is your body’s ability to synthesize new muscle proteins just gets outpaced by the amount of muscle protein breakdown that is occurring.
[00:24:32] Now, I know that the sleep deprivation was rather extreme in this case. Again, I believe it was like three to four hours of sleep per night, several nights in a row. And most of us would not try to get into the gym after several nights of three to four hours of sleep. I could see one night, I probably, I’ve done that before, that’s for sure. But two, three, four, five nights – no way, I’m just skipping. But that doesn’t mean that the same types of negative effects in the body are simply not occurring at less severe levels of sleep deprivation or sleep restriction.
[00:25:07] So let’s say you need eight hours of sleep to feel good to have your body firing on all cylinders, to have a lot of energy in your workouts, to feel like you’re recovering from your workouts and so forth. And you are getting, on average, six hours of sleep per night. Now, that is going to be enough for you to get through your days, especially with caffeine and to get through your workouts, and maybe even make up some of that sleep on the weekends, which research shows you can accomplish.
You can make up lost sleep to some degree. And of course, then you’re going to feel even better on the weekends. But that situation is going to result in impaired muscle and strength gain. It is probably not going to be extreme enough to cause muscle loss and cause the body to just go to pieces, but you are going to gain muscle and strength slower.
[00:25:56] So my best advice is to really prioritize getting enough sleep. And that’s what it really comes down to for most people is prioritizing it. It means getting to bed early enough. And for most people, that is, being in bed eight hours. That’s a good place to start. Because most people need seven to eight hours of sleep to do well and to have no symptoms of sleep deprivation or sleep restriction.
[00:26:21] And, you know, this is something that I’ve experienced and had to accept and adjust for. Because years ago, I used to go to bed at 11:45 pm, I’d fall asleep very quickly, 5 or 10 minutes. I would not wake up at all, usually, to pee or anything else. I would just close my eyes and I’d be out and open my eyes and it would be 6:15 am or 6:20 am.
My alarm was 6:30am, sometimes it was 6:45 am, but I’d always wake up around 6:20 am to 6:30 am, sometimes as early as 6:15 am. And so on average, I was getting about 6.5 hours of sleep per night, but that was all I needed. I would again, I’d fall asleep immediately, I’d be out, and I would just wake up and I’d feel good to go, fully awake, refreshed.
I was able to progress in my training and I did this for years: progress in my training, work all day, work at night. At that time, I was working most nights up until the point of going to bed so I would leave the office at maybe five-thirty, walk home because it was close to where I lived, make myself some food, spent a little bit of time with my wife, be back on the computer to work.
I was also doing cardio, usually, most days I was doing some cardio, at least three or four days a week, which I would do around, I think 7:00 am to 7:30am or so, was cardio time. I would have Pulse before that as well and Forge. And then I would work probably from 8:00 pm until 11:30 pm, get ready for bed, fall asleep instantly, perfect sleep, wake up for my alarm, rinse and repeat – it was amazing.
And I was able to make good progress in my workouts and in my life. I made hay while the sun is shined for sure. Got a lot of work done. That was like really in the beginning when I was probably working on average 70 plus hour weeks, building up Muscle For Life and writing books and building up Legion and so forth.
And my life was easier than, though I had fewer responsibilities, I had less pressure, I had less stress. And things are different now. I have two kids now, for example, whereas back then I had no kids and then one kid. And although Lennox wasn’t my son, Lennox wasn’t a great sleeper. Sarah was sleeping with him and I was just sleeping on the couch and we were cool with that.
And she was cool with, you know, if Lennox kept her up or woke her up multiple times at night, she could always take a nap with him later because, again, she was just taking care of Lennox. And so I would get good sleep usually. Sometimes, because we’re living in a smaller condo at the time, sometimes if Lennox was crying and it’d wake me up, it wasn’t a big deal, go back to sleep.
[00:28:55] So now with two kids, Lennox is six turning seven this year, and he’s fine. But now we have a girl who’s one and three quarters and she’s just a bad sleeper. And Sara can only, I mean you can only get so many nights of bad sleep for your body just can’t take it. So now we alternate and the nights that I’m sleeping with Romi are usually not great. Usually I’m getting woken up. I mean, just the last time I slept with her a few days ago, I think I woke up like six times. I could barely get through a sleep cycle or two without getting woken up.
[00:29:34] And before that was even an issue, because there’s a period when Romi was sleeping well, there were just a lot of extra stress. There was work-related shit that was going on that was just weighing on me. Even though I didn’t let it impact my routine, I still just showed up every day, kept on putting in the work, but stressed is stress, right?
And other financial stresses, even just having, you know, a bigger everything. It’s bigger, the stakes are higher now. The payroll is bigger. There are more people that are counting on that money. There are more sales, but also that means that when there are problems, you’re losing more money, and blah, blah, blah.
[00:30:15] And don’t take any of that as complaining. I’m not complaining at all. And I have voluntarily taken all this on and I enjoy the game, but it is more stressful. And I do believe that that has impacted my sleep and that might not change ever. I don’t know. I mean, from what I know, from speaking with a lot of people, a lot of very successful people have built much larger companies than my companies. Yeah, that really doesn’t change. Everything is always on fire – is how it feels. And you’re always just picking the fires that need to be extinguished the most.
[00:31:00] Now, of course, you can mitigate that to some degree by building good systems and building companies that run on extraordinarily good systems that don’t require extraordinarily good people, which I’ve put a lot of work into, a lot of that type work into my businesses, and other people that work with me have done the same, but you never really get there.
What you want, what you see in your mind in terms of organizational efficiency, the things that should be getting done or should be getting done better – that never changes. And it comes with a cost. It has a psychic cost.
[00:31:35] And so anyways, I’m just rambling at this point. But my point is, whereas previously I was able to get less sleep and also just have really slim margins for error with my sleep – going to bed at 11:45 pm and having an alarm at 6:30am, for example, or even 6:45 am – you better not wake up, you better get plenty of deep sleep.
Which I also tracked using, I believe I use that Oura Ring at the time, and I was getting plenty of deep sleep. It was like, on average, I think it was three to four hours a night, on like 6.5 hours, max 7 hours in bed, which is very good. Now, however, I am in bed for 8 hours. So I go to bed at 10:00 pm on most days, sometimes a little bit earlier, and my alarm is 6:00 am. And I rarely deviate from that because I just had to accept reality that I need a bit more time in bed.
Ultimately, am I getting more sleep? It’s hard to say because I’m generally waking up one to – well, if I’m not with Romi and she’s not trolling me – I’m waking up one, two, maybe three times per night. And occasionally I’ll have a really bad night’s sleep for no good reason, where I’m waking up six times.
And so I have to plan for that, I have to account for that in my sleep. And it was annoying at first because I felt like I was losing close to two hours of every day. But it is what it is. And I tried to make things work on less sleep. I tried to make things work on five or six hours of sleep on average. And it just didn’t go well. It didn’t go well. That was, I think it was like, last winter when I was trying to make that work. And I got sick several times, my workouts sucked, it was just no fun. So I was like, “well, I’m going in the opposite direction.”
[00:33:30] And again, it’s a matter of priorities. And let’s also not forget that getting enough sleep makes everything better. Not just your workouts, not just your muscle building, those are really the least important things – everything in your body works better when you’re getting enough sleep. And there’s nothing you can do, unfortunately, to make up for chronic sleep deprivation. If you miss some sleep here and there, it’s not a big deal. But if you miss it too often, everything in your body is negatively impacted and really every aspect of your life is negatively impacted.
[00:34:08] And so it’s super important. Prioritize sleep. There’s the biggest health hack out there: get enough sleep. The biggest productivity hack out there, the best intelligence hack out there: consistently get enough sleep. Don’t deprive yourself during the week and then try to sleep binge on the weekends – that doesn’t work. Again, the research, at least the most recent research I read, shows that you can make up for some of what you are losing when you don’t get enough sleep by catching up. But not everything. It’s just not the same.