Elliott Hulse – Be The Strongest Version of Yourself

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Jonathan: Hey, everyone! Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. I’m smiling so broadly, it’s actually making my jaw hurt right now, based on today’s guest. He is just a beacon of truth and light and inspiration and he’s pretty doggone jacked, too, so that helps. He is just carpet-bombing the internet with truth and insight and inspiration. He is certainly living the message. He preaches. He’s being the change he wants to see in the world. He shows people how being strong in the weight room and being strong in life is just so critical to manifesting all the glory that we were all put here to do and to be and he is just an awesome coach and an awesome guy and an inspiration. Elliot Hulse, welcome to the show!

Elliott: Great. Thank you, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Well, Elliott, just to get started. You really are extremely passionate about what you do. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into what you do, what you do, and what makes you so passionate about it?

Elliott: Well, both of my parents are from Belize. I think most people know where Belize is now, but growing up, a lot of people had no clue that it was a tiny little country in Central America. They both came to the United States, literally, with bare feet. They grew up as natural as it gets. We’ve got all these fads and diets that try to bring us back to the primal foods that people ate and lifestyles. Well, I’m literally one generation away from people actually living that way. When my parents moved here, they came to Brooklyn, New York, where they had me and then my mom’s younger brother, my uncle, lived with us and after a few years, they moved us out to Long Island into a big house where my uncle would practice martial arts and gymnastics down in the basement.

Mind you, I’m about 4 years old and here’s this guy who grew up climbing trees to eat most of the food that he ate and he’s doing backflips and chopping bricks and climbing ropes and doing all these things in my home and teaching me and my younger brothers how to do it. So it had a tremendous impact on our psychology with regard to what is possible in health, in fitness, in strength. I really just grew up believing that people should be able to backflip and do push-ups, do all these ridiculous stunts. He was walking on his hands and things like that. So I went into elementary school knowing how to do push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups. I was far more athletic and stronger than a lot of the kids because of this and that’s how the love for health and fitness and athletics grew in my heart.

A few years after that, when I was in high school, my uncle took up bodybuilding and he taught me and my brothers how to lift weights for football and we got really good in sports and then won an athletic scholarship to play football at Division 1-AA schools and then studied exercise science in college, graduated, did internships, became a professional strongman – and this is a little bit where the story takes kind of a turn.

I was personally identified with growing stronger and strength and athleticism and sports – almost to the degree that most people take their businesses or take their careers. I just wanted to go bigger and bigger and more and more and I got to the point where I overdid it. I literally took it to such an imbalance that I injured myself pretty bad. I tore my bicep. At that point, I knew – I realized – almost instantly, that there was far more to developing your strength than merely the outward manifestation of the exercises that we engage in. We’re all very focused on what we look like or how much weight we can lift or how fast we can run, but really there’s a physiological and energetic component to developing your strength and becoming what I call ‘the strongest version of yourself’.

Today, I’m a coach – you can call me a strength and conditioning coach, because that’s the way the majority of people come to me, but we take a holistic approach and we focus, like I said, on physiology, energetic strength, and also what I call ‘presentable strength’ – all four which combine to be what I call the ‘four layers of strength’ and that’s how I approach my practice and that’s how I develop myself and my clients.

Jonathan: Elliott, I can’t wait to dig into those four layers of strength and what so resonates with me about your point is, there is so much in this world that may not be immediately within our control – there’s political things, there’s what other people are doing – but what we do in the gym, what we put into our body, these are all things we can control as close to completely as anyone ever could. Have you found that using fitness and using nutrition as a testing ground for building the strongest version of yourself pays huge dividends in other areas of your life?

Elliott: Well, it’s interesting. If we can’t be personally identified with the responsibility associated or the responsibility granted to us – given to us – that we need to embrace to produce good health, really we have no reason trying to take responsibility for anything else. It’s the one thing that you must do. It’s the one thing that every waking moment of your life, you’re having an opportunity to either impact positively or negatively from the way you breathe to the way you walk to the food you eat to the exercises you engage in to your relationships. These are all things that are contributing to the kind of person you’re becoming on a daily basis.

Jonathan: Elliott, why is it, do you think? I completely agree with you and I think anyone who has experienced poor health and then transitioned into robust health would agree this is the most foundational aspect of our lives. So often, we hear “I just don’t have time.” It seems like the opposite is true. How do we not have time for this?

Elliott: You’ve got to understand, too. This is the context through which you approach your entire life. Everything that you do comes from the sentiment from which it proceeds. You. You are the vehicle through which you approach life. If the vehicle is damaged, dysfunctional, depressed, it is not going to function at its optimal in any of the things you do. So if you’re not taking good care of your health, your mind, your body, then to say that ‘I’m too busy taking care of my children’ means that you are approaching that responsibility of caring for your children from a weak place because you are weak.

If you say that I’ve got a business to build or a career that I’m building, but yet I don’t sleep well, I’m on all types of medications for things that I could probably get off the medications for if I just decided to meditate or to eat the right foods or to properly hydrate – to do the basic things that the human body needs to perform at its optimal level – then you’re going to approach all those things from a weak place. Think of it this way. If you’re strong, all of your actions will be strong.

Jonathan: Elliott, when you say strong, what you really mean is when you are behaving at an optimum level, when your mind is firing in all cylinders, when you feel good about yourself emotionally, mentally, when your relationships are strong, and also when your physical body is strong, but certainly not limiting it just to the physical body?

Elliott: Well, no, not limiting it to the physical body, but then it begs the question of ‘where does the physical body end and where does the mind begin?’ Thinking is abstract. They’re symbols, they’re ideas, they’re intangible. But the way you think is directly impacted by the quality of foods you eat and the health of your nervous system. Really, everything that you do is impacted by the health of your body. The way you stand, the way you breathe, the way you sleep – these are all things that affect every other area of your life. We can’t get away from it.

Jonathan: Absolutely! That dualistic model of mind and body being separate has been disproven on many, many levels in many, many fields. As we talk about this more holistic view, Elliott, you used the term ‘four layers of strength’. Can we dig into that a bit?

Elliott: Well, the first and the most superficial layer, the one that most people are focused on because we can see it in the mirror, is what I call ‘neuromuscular strength’ and it is how the mind literally integrates into the tissue of our body – mainly, the muscular tissue of our body. Being a strength coach and a bodybuilder strongman – anybody who’s involved in fitness – they will agree that exercise is important, is going to focus on and bring you into the realm of fitness through movement. So, taking care of movement, taking care of your muscle, your tissue is very important.

One layer deeper than that, which impacts neuromuscular strength to a tremendous degree, is your physiological strength. So if your digestive system is dysfunctional because there are foods that you are intolerant to or you’ve got fungal and parasitic infections or you’re eating foods that are highly processed or your digestive system is damaged due to the high amount of antibiotics that you’ve taken, then I can – I will – guarantee you, it’s a fact, that your neuromuscular system will not function optimally. If there is visceral inflammation, it projects itself outwards towards the most superficial layer. If your hormones are imbalanced because you’re stressed out, you’re not sleeping well, this is going to impact your neuromuscular system also. You’ve got to consider that. So that’s all physiological strength – the digestive system, the hormonal system – and that has to be considered.

If we go one step even deeper to the third layer of strength, which I call energetic strength, it really is your psychological profile. How are you thinking? How are you perceiving the world? What is your attitude? You mentioned a blog post I wrote. What is your attitude about what’s going on? The stressors that you’re experiencing in your life. Or what type of defenses have you adopted and it doesn’t allow you to perform optimally in your life? So, really, you’ve got to consider the mind.

Finally, the fourth layer of strength is ‘What are you going to do with all of this?’ We spent all this time developing your strength, your physiology, your psychology. The real test of a person’s performance is how well he serves other people. I use this term ‘presentable strength’. There’s a play on words because it’s how well are you presenting your strength to the world as well as what type of present are you offering to the world? What kind of gift are you offering to the world?

Jonathan: I love it, I love it. So we empower others. That comes from a source of having that mind and spiritual strength, which then is preceded by the physiological strength, which is a level deeper beyond our neuromuscular strength. Elliott, what so resonates with me about your message and just your person in general, your presentable strength, as you call it, is so often in the mainstream media. When it comes to health and fitness, we live in a world of quick tips. These 7 tips… These 4 things you can do tomorrow…. In some ways your message and, I hope to some extent, my message is the antithesis of that. It might not be as popular, but it’s not about a quick tip. It’s about a dramatic and all-encompassing new way to look at yourself and new way to look at food and the world. If that’s accurate, if you think that’s fair, how do we bridge that gap?

Elliott: When you say ‘bridging the gap’, you’re saying bridging the gap between the massive amount of people who are still looking for quick fixes and bringing them this message of long-term holistic health?

Jonathan: Exactly. Or just even, we are constantly bombarded by the media with the message of quick tip just this, ‘give me five tips’, versus what you describe, which is a much more holistic, much more ‘you need to put your mind into this and in fact if you think five quick tips are the solution’, that in itself is a manifestation of a problem’.

Elliott: Yeah, it really is. I think the most important thing for us to do as experts is to live what we preach. I’ve got four children and I can attest to the fact that you can talk until you’re blue in the face and no one will hear you but when they’re watching you, you know that they’re absorbing the behaviors that they will then reproduce. It’s what we do. Monkey see, monkey do. It’s what we do as experts that matter far more than what we say. I almost get tired of talking. I almost get tired of saying the same things over and over again. I’m far more interested in showing people and then holding them accountable for doing as well.

We live in such an abstract world where ideas seem to have more value than action. People will read ten books, but do zero things. It’s almost like we’ve got this feeling of accomplishment by absorbing information, which absolutely is not true. Just because you read a book on diet doesn’t mean that you actually know how to eat well. Just because you watch the exercise channel or you watch YouTube videos of guys bodybuilding or running marathons does not make you healthy. It’s strange.

I don’t know where this disconnect happened but I’m far more interested in action rather than talk. So if someone’s talking about five tips, well, I’d like to see what that person looks like. If there’s a quick way to have that happen, well, show me. I’d like to see that happen. Nine times out of ten, it’s just marketing BS because that individual is looking for a way to entice other lazy individuals to purchase their product or to read their book when if you’re really looking to serve people, you are on the journey yourself and you’re merely offering your experiences and insights that you’ve gained along your journey.

Jonathan: Elliott, I love it. To do this, if our motivation is as shallow – and I don’t mean shallow in a derogatory sense, but I mean it’s really not inspirational to wake up in the morning and for your goal that day to be, let’s say, make the number on the scale go down, because that’s a goal for a lot of listeners – but if that’s your goal, if your goal is un-inspirational and not tapping your deepest self, then, to me, it makes sense how, “Yeah, I’m just going to look for five quick tips because I’m not really motivated.” When you talk about presentable strength; when you talk about being the change you want to see in the world; when you talk about living a life that inspires others to fully live their lives; to me, these are much more deeper motives. To me, these happen with a much more deeper and meaningful sense of us as people and because of that, they can inspire this deeper change. So how do we move away from trying to make the scale happy, “shallow”, and how do we move towards trying to make the world a better place? That’s really where it seems we might draw some more power.

Elliott: We’re conditioned to think small and to think in boxes. If you just look at the school systems, we’re taught at a very early age to sit down quietly in our little space and to fall in line and to give the right answers and to listen to the leader at the front. We’re very quickly taken from a very expansive creature, being, down to how quickly could we put this person into a box and put that box into a category. What that leaves, is a very depressed energetic level in a human being. Consider how many people are depressed. The system literally takes an expressive motile creature, especially psychologically and energetically, and crushes us down into these tiny little psychological prisons where they can now control us.

So, to take someone who, from a very early age, has been taught that they need to sit down, shut up, fall in line, and give the right answers, to then dream big, to then have high hopes and aspirations, or to even consider that they’re far more than they’ve been told; to consider that they can have more, be more, experience more, feel better than they’ve been conditioned to, is really going against generations of psychological imprisonment or conditioning. It’s a little strange for me because I’m one generation removed from people who climbed trees and threw spears and then coming to this country and being an offspring in that regard and being told I have attention deficit disorder and whatnot – I quickly rejected what the system was telling me I was able or unable to do.

So I have a bit of a rebellious attitude towards it, but I find so many really good, smart, talented, good-looking, capable people who live their lives in tiny prisons of their own fashioning. To take that person and expect them to want to live a life that is far more than the numbers they see on a scale or what they see in the mirror or the bank account that they have or the car that they drive is a really difficult task. It’s almost like you’ve got to recondition people’s minds about what they actually are.

Jonathan: Elliott, that is so profound and it is so…. The ‘shrinking down’ – I love that term because even if you look in the mainstream media about the definition of health, especially to a beautiful strong female population, it is characterized as one of shrinking oneself literally. Eat less – shrink. Get smaller – shrink. I mean, your whole message is “No. Get stronger. Grow yourself on all levels.” We have been told in our society to equate health with the opposite of what we are talking about here. To equate it with shrinking, rather than growing.

Elliott: Yeah, absolutely. We’re talking about health, but you’ll find that in all areas of people’s lives – I mean, even as it comes to abundance, or it comes to business, it comes to the relationships that you have, what you’re capable of as a human being – we’ve been really shrunken down. One of the most difficult things to get people to do is to think bigger, to realize – not even think – but to realize bigger: How much more immaculate you actually are.

Jonathan: What originally turned me on to fitness in my life is, I was experiencing some interpersonal struggles – and I think this is common for a lot of people – and you start to say, “Well, the one thing I can control is maybe going to the gym, maybe doing some exercises or maybe changing what I’m eating.” When you start to see those ‘small private victories’, as Stephen Covey would call them, these grander public victories seem infinitely more achievable. Has that been your experience?

Elliott: It’s always the tiny habits that I tell people to begin with. Especially if you’re coming in and you’re really far off-track – immensely overweight, sick, depressed – it’s usually very tiny little habits. You mentioned Stephen Covey and the health habits, if you will – those 7 health habits are pretty simple. It’s breathing properly – just getting oxygen in your body. More so than just the chemical reactions in your bodies that are associated with bringing in oxygen and the oxygen exchange, but the softening of the muscular system associated with breathing deeply will impact you psychologically, physiologically, neuromuscularly. Your entire life will change when you realize that deep breathing will impact the entire context of your life.

Then there are simple things like drinking water. I am always shocked at how many people just don’t drink water. They want to achieve all these health and fitness goals and you ask them, “Well, how much water do you drink a day?” “Well, I don’t like water.” “Well, what do you drink?” “Well, I drink milk and Gatorade.” “Well, you realize that your body is made up of mostly water and you’re not putting that back into your system. How could you expect to feel well? How could you expect not to be constipated four out of the seven days a week? How could you expect not to be tired in the middle of the day when you should just be getting going?”

Simple things like sleeping. I’m again shocked at how many people just don’t get enough sleep at night. They stay up way past midnight, they’re up super-early, and they think they’re performing well but they have no idea that they just missed out on huge anabolic windows for repair and growth. And then they wonder why they’re always catching colds or they’re wondering why they get these chronic heart and cancer diseases. Really, it’s like you said, it’s very simple things. I tell people just go for a walk every day and drink water. If you can’t do that, then I don’t want to talk to you about complex training ideas. I don’t want to talk to you about the 101 different diets that are being promoted. You’re not drinking water and you’re not sleeping. Forget it.

Jonathan: Elliott, I want to be really respectful of your time here. I could feel such a resonance with you, I could literally talk with you all day. There’s one other thing that I wanted to cover – and this is something that I know I’m going to have to hold myself back on a little bit – and I know you get passionate as well. You do such a great…what you just gave…there’s these basic things, and you do a really good job of saying if you can’t get these basic things right, like, stop worrying about other things and it might not be popular the way you present it, but you tell the truth. How do you react, Elliott? I know how you react because I’ve watched a lot of your videos, but more toned down in terms of our listenership here.

Folks, do check out Elliott’s wonderful resources. He’s got an amazing YouTube channel, hulsestrength.com. Check it out. It’s good stuff. What you’re talking about here, Elliott, eating well, sleeping well, taking care of yourself – people say, “That’s lame. It’s lame to do that. I just want to party and I want to have fun. Life is about enjoyment. Elliott and Jonathan, why are you being so lame?”

Elliott: Well, here’s the thing. I like to party. I love to enjoy. I mean, I love having barbecues every weekend. I know how to have fun with the best of them. But guess what? I’m having ten times more fun than the person who has a sick, sad, depressed body. Because 90% of the time – well, 100% – I sleep well every night, I drink tons of water every day, I exercise every single day, and guess what? If it’s a Friday night and I go out for a date with my wife or I go to a barbecue on Saturday, I’m full of piss and vinegar. I’m having a great time! I’m able to have great conversations with people. I’m able to do the things I want to do, say the things I want to say, feel the way I want to feel. So the people who are saying this is lame are usually the ones who they have a few drinks and they’re ready to pass out and they’re scratching themselves all over because they’ve got fungal infections, they’re complaining about the medications that they’re on. That’s not fun to me.

Jonathan: Yeah, it certainly seems that self-destruction isn’t sexy or cool and it just seems sad when it is portrayed that way and presented that way.

Elliott: Yeah, that catches up on you. There’s nothing wrong with having a good time but wouldn’t you want to….? It’s almost like if you like to drive fast. Well, what kind of vehicle are you going to drive fast in? You’ve got a buggy – it’s not a high-performance vehicle and you put cheap gas in it. Or you’ve got an Aston Martin. I’d much rather be an Aston Martin if I enjoy going fast because it’s a high-performance vehicle and you put high-performance oil in and gasoline in it.

Jonathan: When I think what people can see from your life, Elliott, and hopefully can experience for themselves is a lot of times, at least I’ve found that the reason we may partake in those self-destructive behaviors is because we are trying to feel a certain way and those behaviors may make us feel that way ephemerally, but when we grow strong, as you describe it, when we become the strongest version of ourselves, you can feel that way and ten times better all the time. Like, spending time with your children can make you feel that way; spending time with your family; serving your community; just doing great work can make you feel better constantly than you may feel ephemerally from these types of behaviors. Has that been your experience?

Elliott: Absolutely! You’ll feel better. You’ll look better. Health shows in your eyes. I think other people can feel your health. A sick, depressed individual who walks in a room doesn’t carry the vibrancy, doesn’t carry the vitality that someone who’s healthy and in-charge brings when they walk into a room. So you have a much better time and people are going to respond to you in a much more resourceful fashion if you’re healthier and stronger. All the things that you do – like, you mentioned contributing and playing with your children – are all going to be an outgrowth of your vitality and strength.

Jonathan: Folks, we’ve been talking with Elliott Hulse, obviously a brilliant man, a gentleman with so much passion. I would highly encourage you to check out his work. Note that he does speak his mind, so be sensitive to that. If he thinks it, he’s going to say it, and it’s wonderful, but just keep that in mind. You can learn much more about him at hulsestrength.com. Elliott, you are up to so much. What’s the big focus for you next?

Elliott: Well, that last layer of strength that I call ‘presentable strength’ is the one that I’m working on teaching people right now more than anything. It’s basically taking people who have a strong message to inspire others to the world through things, like what you’re doing, Jonathan – through video, through audio, through blogs, through social media and really impacting the world with their positive messages.

Jonathan: Well, it’s amazing, Elliott! I’m sure you feel this way, too, to live in an era in which individuals such as yourself, individuals such as myself, individuals who just feel this passion, have a platform on which we really can make a change in the world. I do thank you for all that you do. Folks, please support Elliott. He’s doing great work. Again, that’s Elliott Hulse at hulsestrength.com. H-U-L-S-E strength.com Elliott, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate it, brother.

Elliott: Thank you, Jonathan. This was fun.

Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s chat as much as I did and please, please remember – this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.