James Fitzgerald: Optimum Performance Training – #6
By: Dave Asprey
September 29, 2011
James Fitzgerald is considered one of the best personal trainers in the world. His program, Optimum Performance Training, uses the most advanced techniques to get the most out of his clients in the least amount of time. James has competed in the Crossfit games and runs one of the most successful gyms in the nation. His coaching modules are used by top experts to help their clients with lifestyle, nutrition, and fitness pursuits.
Whether you want to be an elite athlete or stay fit in a few minutes per week – you’ll want to know more about James Fitzgerald.
Did you know you can get a free PDF download of every transcript of every episode of Bulletproof Executive Radio by entering your email address in the box on the right side of this page? You also get a free copy of the Bulletproof Diet, the Bulletproof Shopping Guide, and much more.
What We Cover
- The unique, science based approach of Optimum Performance Training.
- The differences between OPT and other fitness programs.
- Why there is no such thing as a “One size fit’s all” program.
- The role of variety in training.
- The secret to prevent injuries.
- The role of recovery workouts (they’re not useless).
- Why testing is needed to make sure you’re progressing.
- Whether or not it’s possible to gain lean mass while training for an endurance event.
- How to control excess cortisol and prevent overtraining.
- What to expect from an OPT life coaching module.
- The principles you need to follow to design your own fitness program.
- What James is doing to prepare for an 800 meter foot race after years of weight training.
- The importance of mindset and how it affects for progress.
Links From The Show
Optimum Performance Training Blog (Previous Blog with workouts, motivation, advice, etc)
Food & Supplements
Books & Movies
Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World (a documentary about the dangers of artificial sweeteners)
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If you found this content interesting, please consider buying a product that will improve your life from UpgradedSelf.com
Dave: Today’s cool fact of the day is that 80% of adults on the US are deficient in vitamin D. This is based on the archives of internal medicine from the NIH. The only problem is, they use the 35 number as the lab test numbers. The anti agent people that I work with think between 70 and 90 is important. To use that metrics, something like 95% of us are deficient in vitamin D. Whether you are conservative or not, it doesn’t matter, you are probably deficient if you are not supplementing.
You are listening to episode 6, of upgraded [to self 00:00:37] radio. This is Dave from the bullet proof executive blog, talking about how you can upgrade your mind, body and life to levels you never thought possible. Today’s interview is more focused on the fitness side of things than just general health. We’ve got James Fitzgerald from optimum performance training to talk about best practices and all categories of fitness. James is one of the highest regarded personal trainers in the world. And he is considered a great coach by experts like Rob Wolf.
He focuses a lot on high intensity cross fit, like style work outs, but he also doesn’t limit himself to just that approach. Whether you want to be an elite athlete or just stay fit in a few minutes a week, you will want to know more about James Fitzgerald. A lot of the people who listen to this pod cast and go to the bullet proof executive blog, are interested in that. How do I get the most benefit in the smallest amount of time and we are going to cover that today. So lets get started.
Co-host: I’ve got James Fitzgerald from optimum performance training on the line. He is one of the absolute [performance 00:01:39] experts in fitness and nutrition in the country. So James, thanks so much for coming along.
James: Thank you for having me here.
Co-host: So what is optimum performance training?
James: Optimum performance training is the business that I run. It was started approximately I guess 15 years ago, without having that kind of name and just place and 10 years ago, incorporating that. It’s basically an educational center. It’s a place for individual conditioning, and it’s a certification process for coaching.
Co-host: What makes OPT different from something like cross fit or one of these other [methods 00:02:25]?
James: I guess the in thing is going to be that, we do individualized conditioning. It brings a little bit of a scientific approach to go a long with some of the similarities of cross fit into [black box 00:02:37] methodology. And, yeah we have … big beliefs in individualizing our conditioning, in individualizing our programs and not having a one trick pony for everyone I guess. I guess that’s what makes us different.
Co-host: So if somebody were coming into OPT and they wanted to get coached, and work on their fitness, were would you start? Like what would your first steps be? How do you analyze them? And create a training plan for them?
James: Well we have a conversation first. We’d want to talk about exactly, big picture with whats going on with in their life, whats the reason they showed up there. Why they need us and why can’t they do it themselves. And try to figure out what things are preventing them from improving stuff, and also what good things are happening that they can pony on, to help them going forward. So a little bit more [manikin 00:03:30] need here, would be to do a full assessment to figure out exactly where they are coming from. That includes a life style consultation as well as some nutritional analysis.
And if there are some testing that needs to be a little deeper than, like endocrinology work or any hematology testing, or things like that. We also have people in place that could do that for us so that we get a really good picture in terms of whats going on, before we make a prescription. In terms of exercise. So each person is treated that way, but most times initial thing is a [philosophical 00:04:03] chat with me. In terms of creating a direction as to were they want to go into fitness.
Co-host: So, I’d like to get into a little more detailed questions now. So what are some of the ways you would work to prevent injuries and accidents with your clients? Because I know that’s one of the big fears a lot of people have about weight training. So what are some of the ways you prevent this?
James: Well we teach people correctly how to do the movements, we don’t prescribe anything we don’t feel people should be doing, so we are not biased on our training, not everyone needs to power snatch and clean and [jerk 00:04:31] or snatch, a lot of people still do get that. Not a lot of people need to sprint and push a sled, and not a lot of people need to do bend sprinting. So the prescription goes into people correctly, so it keeps them from injury and that’s the style of a good training program.
If you could set people up for success, that doesn’t put the outside their limitations, that’s fine. In order to reach epic potential for an athlete or an elite person, you are going to get injured and you are sore a lot, so you have to face that realization, that people will get injured and it’s not your responsibility as a coach, its simply just trying fine tune what you are capable of.
So for people starting on a fitness, you actually should never get injured. And if you are, it’s either your own stupid mistake or it’s incorrect programing. And so what we do to basically make sure that doesn’t happen, is that we educate and assess people from the get go and then never prescribe things that are bias as to our thinking …
James: That are not going to be helping them improve.
Co-host: So, whats your opinion on variety in training? I know that’s kind of a [contentious 00:05:32] thing. A lot of people are very behind, like linear periodisation, a lot of people say you should just have random all the time. Whats your opinion on that?
James: I think its suitable for some people, you will find a lot of my answers coming back that way. But for some people, I think its very important to have variety. So let me give you an example; for somebody who wants to just have an active life style and maintain good fitness, variation in training program all the time is okay, because they can’t dig deep into the nervous system, which too much variety can cause some issues. So if someone has a very high neuro-muscular ability and component, they’ve been trained for quite a while, and they hammer variation all the time with different intensities.
That’s quite a load on the entire nervous system and the endocrine system as well as their gut, their muscles etc. So for some people variation could be quite good, my believe is that overtime you are going to start to see more research and design come out, because the people that are in the trenches are doing that. In which variation protocols but similar energy system training with in each is going to start to come to the forefront in sports performance, and not this, in the new years, improved in progression with the same kind of thing over and over. Non variation stuff is very simple to coach, and I think why there could be 50% of those cultures that are [contentious 00:06:52] about the variation is that they are lazy. They may not possibly want to create constant variation with in the program. Because it’s the flow and an [inaudible 00:07:03] that takes this magical of the culture.
Co-host: Right. So by training different energy systems, what do you mean by that, how can people work on that?
James: Well the energy system should only be trained, when you say to work on that in specific to what you want to do. So energy system training, just think of it as bringing it to a laymen approach so you can understand. Is something on a cyclical nature that gets your heart rate respiration, HPA act as thermo-regulatory system. It gets everything flowing at a really high intensity. So think of doing … so you could understand this, do a 100 meter IM in your swimming training, and do it at 95% effort.
Rest 4 minutes and then repeat it 6 times. So you are working on, just assuming you can do that around the [inaudible 00:07:53] either 10 seconds below or above, if you can do that in that period of time 95%, you are almost at your max but you are not at your max. So that’s called lactate power or lactate endurance training. That means that, that’s the energy system that we are trying to train, we’re trying to use that path way in terms of maximizing, so for each person they may not need to do that, but at certain times of a year, they may be a necessity for people to do that.
So energy system training for the laymen is pretty much [inaudible 00:08:23] based stuff of the high amount of work in a short period of time, and its done at lower percentage lower than the max, you create a recovery system and then you repeat that, so that over time it build your entire potential.
Co-host: So, what do you think of recovery workouts? I know those are another one of those kind of things, I remember I’ve heard Brian Mackenzie’s mother say that those are pointless, most … for all intensive purposes, that recovery is best just to rest and I know a lot of people say that its better to do short work outs, like a 20 to 40 minute, like easy walk or something like that. To help [inaudible 00:09:00] your legs.
James: I think recovery can be done multiple different ways. There is no one answer to that. I do believe in recovery work outs, I think we’ve seen it with mobility slash very easy cardiovascular work slash skill based exercise sessions. In which we’ve had people do, for example [inaudible 00:09:21] for a few minutes, really easy and then practice some muscle ups and wall balls, enhance that walking and then do some crawling on the ground, some gymnastic planks, things like that then back on the air dime, we’ve had people do that for 60 minutes a couple of times a week. And it’s actually improved [inaudible 00:09:39] and their ability to get into the lactate pathway.
Because we’ve measured that through our scientific methods. So, you can’t say that its … they are useless, unless you actually test it to show that it’s not important. I think that the scare that people have with saying that they are going to do a recovery work out, is that they are afraid people are going to go out and run for 30 to 60 minutes at a really easy tempo. But recovery can be dressed up in multiple different ways, and also saying that once [inaudible 00:10:11] I would look at what they are selling if they are afraid of recovery workout.
Co-host: So that kind of brings up a good question. When you are talking about testing. And what are some ways people can test their own fitness, how do you test their [inaudible 00:10:20], and why is it important to keep testing?
James: Testing is important relative to where you are on that fitness curve, kind of see the trends to whats going at the time. In case you need [inaudible 00:10:31] for an athlete, or if you want to see as a person is progressing over time, exactly where you are, so you can see the program is either useless or its effective, the reason why testing is not done with in a lot of fitness programs, is because people realize that the coaching as well as the person in the program are not improving. And so that’s why there issues with variation in program, is theres so much different shit all the time, and then after about a year and a half they see that there’s no improvement, so they just throw just a whole bunch of more different shit together and never really get to know whether they’re improving or not.
The kind of testing we do here can be as simple as getting someone to lunge, and then do a push-up, to walk up and down steps with measurements of heart-rate and perceived exertion. Two advanced methods of lactate, respiratory exchange ratio, heart-rate variability, sex-hormone balance testing, adrenal stress index panels, cortizal curves, you name it.
We can get very small, or very advanced based upon how important it is for the person to go through that. We don’t believe there’s one single test for each person. The re-testing for a beginner should be a little bit more frequent, because they’re going to see advancements and then create some motivational curves for them. Testing for an athlete over time should be very current as well, just to kind of make sure you’re on the right path … you walk that fine line between [inaudible 11:50], rehabilitation as well as lead performance.
So I believe it’s very important to test, and clients and fitness people should do that more often, because they get to see if the program is worth anything. If they’re truly on a progressive curve over time to improve things. I really like testing consistently, even if they don’t turn out to be that good because we get to see trends, meaning that a certain person could be in a certain phase of training which we’re trying to take things out of it … but it creates some insights and aha moments, which allows us to upgrade the prescription.
Co-host: So let’s say you’re trying to peak somebody for the crossfit games, or something like that. Whether there’s a lot of intensity, and a lot of workload that goes into it … how often would the person be testing in the weeks leading up to that, and what kind of testing would they be doing?
James: It depends on the person, but weeks leading up to it, I basically will probably only test the lactate endurance pathway, and probably the CP pathway. I wouldn’t test anything in really large aerobic capacity states, because I’d want to ensure that they’re going to be able to recover nervous system wise in order to lower that before they get into [inaudible 13:00].
But the short time demanding stuff, which is known within crossfit at a really high power, with lactate measures to ensure that the lactate score is quite high. I want it high because I want people being able to use that pathway and keep it in the blood so that when they get to the games, they still have it in their system so they can use it as a fuel.
I also want to make sure their nervous system is in a good place, so testing CP protocols to ensure that they max out on a clean jerk, or a back squat or something like that would be highly important because it allows their brain to remember that. So even if within 2 weeks they’ll remember exactly how to do it. The testing is a lot more observational within the sport of crossfit, and the reason being is that they don’t have a clue exactly what they’re training for.
So the balance of the testing has to be a little bit more observational. You have to look at people and watch them work out, that only the keen eye of a crossfit coach can see that. You have to watch them and go “okay, I can tell you’re fast and you’ve got that little pop in that step but we’re a little slow here, and your touch needs to be here. This is how we’re going to fix that technique.” That’s a little more observational, as opposed to a trialathelete a couple of weeks out we can simply do some measures of power. Simple protocols that are run, or a bike … and then figure out based upon those things exactly where they’re sitting. Because we know the distance, we know the route, we know the course, we know the heat, we know the fluid … all those kind of things.
Co-host: So how do you combine, let’s say, general strength, and something like an endurance for a triathlon. Also, how do you convince people that strength is important? I know a lot of my triathlon friends still don’t do any weight training. There’s folks on that aerobic pathway all the time, so how do you combine a strength program and an endurance program?
James: Well I don’t try to convince anyone first of all, but I do create some education in terms of performance. If I give them some protocols, and I say “just let me … just buy in with me for a couple of weeks and we’ll play with a few things, and you tell me after a 4 weeks …” because if we get to the end of 4 weeks and they feel worse, who am I to try and convince them to make more changes on it? Most times … I would say probably 80% with my endurance athletes, they buy in. They say “yeah, I’m recovering better. I’ve got more pop in my hamstrings uphill. I can feel that twerk on the bike.” Things like that.
So I don’t try to convince people of that, because that means that I’m just wasting my energy on trying to turn that over on them. But I’m a big believer in endurance training to ensure that nothing takes them away from the technical efficiencies that are needed for endurance training. So for endurance training, if we’re talking on an athletic front … I’m a big believer on the specificity of the sport. I’m not afraid of volume in the sport if it’s done appropriately. And I’m a big believer in terms of weight relative to power output.
I’m not looking to increase lean mass of an athlete if it’s not important. If you need to be [inaudible 16:05] runner and you’re 15 lbs overweight I’m going to tell you and I’m also not going to put you on a strength training program. If I don’t want you putting weight on and I know you need to be down 15 lbs in order to run 2 minutes faster on a 10k. I’m a believer that giving that person an individual program based on what they need to be good at that endurance sport.
Co-host: Do you think weight training helps the injuries in endurance sports? At least moderate weight training?
Co-host: Good. So is it possible … let’s say you have somebody else, because this is a question I’ve heard before. For people who are trying to stay pretty muscular and also compete in endurance sports … is it possible to gain lean mass while doing a lot of endurance training?
James: It’s possible. I can see if they jump into that pathway and there’s some nutritional things we need to take care of too, but if they jump into that intensity pathway enough, I think it might be possible, but, yeah. If the training is done appropriately for the sport, I can see people putting lean mass on, and specifically when I have tested it … because people may look leaner, and may look like they’re gaining lean mass, but they’re not gaining lean mass, they just look leaner so they look more big.
Co-host: Again, I think one of the things you mentioned before is how endocrine panels and endocrine testing … so what are some ways that you limit cortizal production to keep it from being in that over-trained state?
James: Number one would be to create a routine daily. I think this is a missing link in terms of balancing that circadian rhythm in cortizal curves. Correct training. Staying away from hyper and selenium throughout the day. Staying away from any processed foods, or cheap things that may put them off cycle if they’re going to be … if that’s one of the pathways. Divulging into some lifestyle consultations to get that shit out of the head that’s preventing them from moving forward, and tapping into those kind of emotional psychological barriers.
And then of course, I just mentioned it, but correct training has a big part to play with it. That’s where this unknown, unknowable, constant variation may not be a good thing that we’re seeing with a lot of people that we’re taking care of on the back end of it. It has put people down the wrong curves, in terms of endocrinology balance.
Co-host: How important is sleep in your training plans, and do you have any examples of someone who has been in a sleep deprived state, and then has started sleeping again and how their performance has improved?
James: Yeah. I can’t just give you names, but I’ll just say that there are hundreds of people who have said that they’ve tweaked some things in terms of sleep, and only they have had acute responses. I just read a person on a blog the other day who a couple of days ago was complaining of overreaching and now he’s written today saying he’s had some good quality [inaudible 19:05] and now everythings fine.
There’s acute stories like that. I’ve got hundreds of stories, and then of course there’s specific protocols that I help people in, and it’s life changing for a lot of folks. Some of the simple things around that is keeping all kinds of electricity wave kind of stuff out of your room. No alarm clocks, preferably get on a routine cycle so your body naturally wakes up so that you can leave yourself some time before having to be at work or having to give yourself certain protocols. Or if your kids are going to come in and wake you up, allow that to happen. Completely darkened out room. Don’t do stuff about an hour before you sleep. Don’t do any watching of movies, TV’s, computers, things like that.
Do a wind down time reading a book. A nice chat. Relaxations techniques. Stretching, long baths. Don’t eat any large amounts of food right before bed. Just based upon your liver possibly having to work a little bit when it’s detoxifying later on in the night. And of course clear your head. Write things down in a journal. Shut off your brain. Most times people why they can’t get to sleep at night is because they can’t shut the brain off. Don’t leave stuff till the end of the day. Get stuff done during the bulk of the day where you’re creative, and then let the evening time be a wind down state when we’re supposed to be recovering.
Co-host: What is your philosophy on diet and nutrition? Are you more into the paleo diet, or what?
James: The same thing as in program design. I vary it quite a bit based upon who I’m working with, so if a person is starting from … I’m not going to say a toxic area, but, you know, burgers and fries a few times a week, some processed foods that are prettied up as being healthy, some incorrect alcohol usage. An imbalance of food source that is lower in protein. I’m not going to send them across the desk with a paleo handout and tell them that this is going to be the next coming. I think I believe there’s phases of intervention as to how to change people over to that.
And I think that, you know, over time we need to do a little bit more investigation in terms of that evolutionary perspective on foods before we start knocking off the board. Grains are good, and soy. Dairy, many of the things that people want to abilify but there is more and more research showing that they could have some implications.
My theory is that you’ve got to look at the train of the individual. Where they come from, their ethnicity, their background, how they’re feeling, their current profile. Their genetics, which I think genetics is a big part to play within that now, and I think stress. I think the amount of stress that we’ve induced on ourselves for the past 30-40 years with the increase of technology, and the speed of life … I believe makes us weaker as humans and the inability to understand … even problems with a sprouted grain, you know? I think that’s an issue. The fact that we can’t handle that shit.
I don’t think that sprouted grain is the issue. I think that the fact that humans can’t adapt to that, or that even after 7 generations of variations within the wheat … our body can’t adapt to it. So that’s where I am on food. I don’t make it emotional, I don’t really make it dogma, or religion. And I’m open to understanding a bunch of things. I can tell you this … I’ve also investigated a load of athletes that don’t do paleolithic profiles, and they perform to extensively high levels.
So you also have to look a little bit at the current state in order to figure some things out before we can make statements that are based upon one or the other.
Co-host: So … again, in perfect segwey in some of your life coaching. I’ve heard a lot of people I think Rob Wolf has mentioned it on his pod-cast, speaking of paleo … about your life coaching seminars, and modules that you do as part of your … I think it’s your coaching certification program. Could you talk a little bit about what you do in this?
James: Yeah. The life coaching piece has been a part of my individual consultation, so if you sat down with me years ago that’s probably the first thing we’d do for the first little while because I’m a big believer in that it’s trying to figure out exactly … understanding one another, and also creating awarenesses. Over the weekend we teach coaches how to teach themselves first … how to notice, and then explain, and then prescribe, and then act. And we do that through multiple different ways.
You know, if you’ve ever studied fundamental systematics or quantum theory stuff … it’s kind of along those lines. Meaning that we try to teach people how to create awarenesses in themselves as to where things are, and then of course we can create a prescription based upon that with what we see in going forward. So I think, you know, creating what we call a triangle of trust … I think from right from the get go is very important with people.
If you create trust from the coach to the client, I think that programs and designs, and businesses can become very powerful, but that trust element is very important to build right away. We also teach different specifics in areas on how to coach in groups, and how to coach individuals. And also how to be coached. So it’s a lot about in level 1, teaching you about who you are first … and then level 2 and level 3 it’ll get more into the wisdom category, so that we can teach people how to spread the news to reach larger audiences.
Co-host: So what are some principles that people should follow if they were constructing their own workout program? If they didn’t hire coaches, and work with somebody like you, or OPT, and they wanted to be a self pitched athlete?
James: Yeah. I think do some reading, and then you know … play. Allow yourself to play a little bit. Figure out what resonates with you. I think that, you know, deep inside … being self coach you’re going to go after things that really sit well with you, and I’ve been very lucky to have coached a lot of really great athletes that have moved on away from me, and I’m happy that they do that because it just tells me that I’ve taught them something about themselves that their innate sense is saying “this is where they need to go.”
I think if you are self coached, truly stick to that. Meaning that you’re going to do the things that resonate for you. I’ll give you an example that could be close to home, I’m not sure what your history is in terms of running, but I was fascinated by this gentleman named Sebastian Co, and his dad, and their background. It motivated me so much that I want to compete in an 800 meter race in the world masters next year in Finland, just because of that as being one of my specific goals over the next year or so.
And the reason why I enjoyed that so much is that he loved his dad coaching him, because he said his dad never coached anyone else, and his dad knew nothing about coaching. So I find that fascinating that the athlete had no biases then within their training, because their dad never knew what a bias, or a control was. So they were still self coached in that the coach was self coaching, in that he just went by how he felt.
I think if you are self coaching, go by that. Do some little day to day, and weekly experiments for your recovery. Ensure that you’re progressing long term, and set some small and longer term goals to where you want to see yourself, and I think people can obtain some really high stuff when they do that.
Co-host: Changing differently for your race in Finland compared to, maybe, the crossfit games, or something like that?
James: Well mainly I needed to just learn how to run again. I used to run competitively in high school, I came second in the province which is kind of like state for Canada, for cross country running, and that was like 3-5k distances. And then I kind of went into the body building, strength conditioning route, and then when I came out to Calgary I won my age group and class in the 5P series … which is mountain running, which is basically 1 race every month for 5 months through the summertime. Racing in the rocky mountains. That was a sport course, which is kind of like 4-6k per distance.
I have done some distance road stuff, and then within crossfit I just used to do intervals of running, or some running when I first started crossfit because I was still preparing for the 5 peaks and I haven’t done none since. Since then I’ve basically been running all the time, and doing a whole bunch of it, and just learning about breathing, touching the ground, getting some volume in, getting that sense of where I need to be for speed development, and also just falling in love again with the sport.
So the big change is good, I’ve just been doing a crap load of running everyday. Either with my dog or by myself. It’s been an adjustment down here in Phoenix so I’ve had to run before 5am almost everyday because it’s like 90 degrees at that time of the day, and thermo-regulatory system makes my pulse about 15 beats higher per zone, or per intensity. I’ve basically just been running a whole lot, and I’ve still been doing every 2nd day some conditioning to basically keep my strength relative to my body weight.
I’ve lost about 10 or 12lbs because to be competitive for that distance, and based upon my power and my times that are needed I need to be around 160, and I was probably going at 175-178 all winter doing crossfit style stuff, and more conditioning based. But now I need to have my body weight down, so that’s the main change.
Co-host: So if somebody wanted to learn more about OPT where can they go, and do you have any freebies or anything on the website, or anything like that?
James: Yeah. Well on the website when they go onto OPTexperience.com you can look at … we keep your e-mail for all updates as soon as you get the free article on just getting stronger. You can look on the blog and take a look at our training program that we give for free everyday, and that’s based upon balanced fitness. There’s 3 different levels on there. If you wanted to ask a question just go to contact on our website, and we do question and answer for anyone who’s non-members, or just wants some information.
Or just e-mail me, you know? Or drop me a line. A phone call.
Co-host: Great, man. Thank you so much for coming on and talking. You are definitely one of the people I look up to for all this. Thank you so much, man.
James: No problem. I look forward to spreading this information. If there’s anything in the future that you need for me to help you out and go forward on the path that you’re looking to do, and who you’re trying to reach, and change you’re trying to make … don’t hesitate.
Co-host: Cool, see you man. Bye.
James: Okay, brother.
Dave: If you enjoyed our show today, you can help by leaving a positive ranking on Itunes, and to learn more about biohacking, make sure you follow us on Twitter on app exec, and check out our blog at bulletproofexec.com.