Sean Hyson – The 411 from the Group Training Director for Muscle & Fitness and Men’s Fitness

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Jonathan Bailor: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. I have a real treat for you today. I have a wonderful, super, super fitness enthusiast. He is the training director for both Muscle and Fitness and Men’s Fitness magazines. He’s probably got Woman’s Fitness on his radar too. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in the proprietor of fitness distilled.com as well as shawnhyson.com. As you can guess by that last URL, Shawn Hyson, welcome to the show!

Shawn Hyson: Thank you, Jonathan, that was a very nice introduction.

Jonathan Bailor: I appreciate you sharing your insight with us, because clearly you are plugged in to the fitness world. How did you rise through the ranks and become the training director both Muscle and Fitness Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine?

Shawn Hyson: Well, I’ve always been a fitness enthusiast. I got into lifting weights in college and martial arts after that. I’ve always valued health, eating well, and staying active. I was a writing major in college. I went to Ithaca college in upstate New York. I was interested in applying writing to something that I was interested in. I didn’t know what topic it would be or what form it would take, but I knew that I wanted to write. I was also interested in fitness. I was very fortunate in that my dad worked at a publishing company which had just acquired some fitness magazines and was re-doing the staff. I got to come on as an editorial assistant – at the bottom – and worked my way up from there. I became fitness editor 18 months later. I got into Muscle and Fitness around the same time, and I have been writing ever since.

Jonathan Bailor: Shawn, being in more of this formal role of authority, you must see a lot. What are the top trends in the fitness world that you like and the top trends that you wish would go away?

Shawn Hyson: Well, I like the movement toward green eating and eco-sustainable kinds of nutrition – experimenting with veganism or organic foods – I think that is a step backwards in time, which I believe is a step in the right direction in some ways. I know you and I are on the same page about getting away from processed foods. As far as stuff that isn’t so great, I think of the way that people apply some of these ideas. They think that they have to eat organic is such a regimented way. Little changes over time in the right direction are more sustainable. Trends saying that you have to be on a certain diet and follow that diet to the letter – that is where people run into problems and people handicap themselves. Those are the two differences there. It is good to have a macro view of something and not so much take the micro view.

Jonathan Bailor: Shawn, you mentioned a green/vegan way of eating. I know that when I was in the bodybuilding, commercial fitness world, I did not eat a single vegetable. I promise you, unless I went out to eat somewhere – no vegetables. I was all about carbs and protein and fats. What do you see as the role of vegetables and green foods in developing a world class physique?

Shawn Hyson: I think they are essential. I certainly understand where you were coming from – I was there at one time, too – If you look back in time at the old time strong men and early body builders, they were total health nuts. Those guys ate plenty of vegetables and fresh farm food. It was more available in those days. Vegetables are invaluable. They are a great detoxifier for your cells, they are are a great source of fiber, they are loaded with vitamins and minerals. You can’t go without them. You can for a little while, but that is just ignoring what is happening on the inside of your body. These guys who are ripped to shreds look great, but their skin doesn’t look so good. What is happening is that the skin is trying so hard to detoxify the body and get the nutrition that it needs, and you are denying it that. You can be ripped and not look healthy. There is a definite difference there. The people who lack vegetables in their diets are the people who look like that.
Jonathan Bailor: And Shawn, what are your thoughts – it seems like every five years or so, there is this oscillation between it being really trendy to exercise slowly and then it becomes really trendy to exercise explosively. It seems like a cycle of move slowly, train explosively, move slowly – is one better than the other? Are they both for different things? What are your thoughts?

Shawn Hyson: They are good for different things. To become more explosive, to be more athletic, you need to train explosively. You’ll never find a great sprinter or power strength athlete who counts the tempo of his reps. You have to train for what you want to be. On the other side, there are bodybuilders who slowed the tempo down and count the number of seconds that their sets take to complete. You do need both. The best program for someone who wants to be bigger and stronger would be to do explosive reps of exercises like squats and bench presses. You need to recruit a lot of motor units and get a lot of muscle fibers involved, and then you can slow it down and do longer sets of slower repetitions on isolation moves like curls, leg extensions, and stuff that could actually be dangerous to perform explosive. It lends itself better to being done more slowly.

Jonathan Bailor: Shawn, what do you see as the ratio – or is it even appropriate for there to be a ratio? I always hear people say and I, myself say “it is X percent diet and ask percent exercise”. You have an opinion there, or do you think that that is not a fair assessment to make in general?

Shawn Hyson: I think that it is difficult to say. It depends on the goal. There is no doubt about it, there are guys who are big and strong who don’t put much of an emphasis on diet other than just eating a lot of calories they can achieve their goal that way. You can get big and squat 1000 pounds without eating vegetable. That’s just not the way that I would recommend doing it. I think if you want to get really lean, diet is probably more important than exercise. That is the opposite side of the spectrum. In an ideal world, it would be 50/50 or 100/100. You would give emphasis to both diet and nutrition. If you really want to skew more toward weight loss, I think you really have to be careful about diet. If you are eating less, eating fewer calories, you’re going to lose weight. No question about it. If you want to gain a lot of muscle, you have to gain more calories. Where those calories come from is not super important if you are just looking at getting bigger in general.

Jonathan Bailor: Shawn, what do you do when people come to you and they say “I want to tone my arms.” What do you say to them?

Shawn Hyson: I say that if you really want to build muscle, then lose that. That throws them into more confusion. When you talk about toning, you are talking about building muscle and hopefully, in the process of building muscle, you’re going to lose some fat and then see the muscle come out better. That is the tone that you speak of. People just don’t understand that concept.

Jonathan Bailor: In fact, I’ve noticed that people almost run in the other direction. The very people who say “I want to tone” say “tone”, because the idea of building muscle terrifies them. But they should not be scared, I am gathering from your book.

Shawn Hyson: Yeah, it is almost arrogant to think that you can build muscle so easily. How many people do you know that have accidentally gotten so big and huge that they were repulsive to others? It is not that easy to do. I think some guys spend their whole lives eating themselves into oblivion and pounding the weights, and they never put on such an extreme amount of muscle that people are just odd by them when they walk down the street. Especially women. Women do not have the hormonal profile to build that kind of mass and to get super muscular. I’ve been around women whose goal was to gain size and they had a really hard time doing it for the most part. The women you see who are really muscular are on steroids or a lot of them are just genetically gifted and freakish in that way. They are absolute exceptions to the rule and not what most people can attain.

Jonathan Bailor: John, when it comes to toning are arm muscles, do you think that we are best served doing a bunch of arm exercises? Or is that just a component of a bigger picture? So often, we going to the gym and we see people doing curls and crunches and curls and crunches and curls and crunches. What do you think about that approach?

Shawn Hyson: Absolutely right. That is what you see. Most of those people, if that approach really works so well, you would see a lot more people with toned arms and toned abs. You have to earn the right to do those bodybuilding exercises and isolation moves. You earn that right through many years of compound lifts and going about it more slowly and focusing on big exercises that give you a lot of – I hate to say “bang for your buck”, but that is what they do. You have to do squats and deadlifts and bench presses and exercises that really cause a massive shock to your body and cause a lot of muscle growth to see those results. Once you’ve done that for a little while, then you can refine it and do the curls in the tricep extensions and push downs and so forth. Until you have really built an infrastructure of muscle mass, you are probably not going to see very good results with those isolation moves because you cannot lift enough weight on them yet to cause any kind of difference in your body. You need to tear a muscle down for it to grow. You need to shock the body a little bit. The way you do that is through compound movements and heavy lifts. Unless you are really genetically blessed. Then you can get into the more isolation stuff. It is just not going to be much use to you until you lay the groundwork first.

Jonathan Bailor: Shawn, I know for individuals like you and a lot of people that read your wonderful blog which folks can see at fitnessdistilled.com, exercising is a hobby. Because it is a hobby and because they like it, it is fun to geek out and to almost try to be perfect. There may be diminishing marginal returns, but it is fun and cool to do all of these more complicated approaches. Because you like that. When you want to geek out on something, it is fun. But when you say to everyone else? Joe or Jane Average – there have been these basic movements. Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, press – that is basically it. How much of the total benefits of weight training could someone get by keeping things so radically simple that it is almost boring?

Shawn Hyson: There is an enormous benefit. There are some guys who have done that for their whole lives – they never really strayed from it – and they kept making progress forever. I harken back to some of the old time weightlifters – guys like John Grimmett and Steve Reeves – you look at some of their workout programs, and they are extremely basic. Even in recent times. The Soviet Union dominated the Olympics for all these years – their Olympic workout team – those guys did workouts consisting of maybe five exercises throughout their entire careers. It has only been really since the advent of the Internet that people just don’t have the attention span anymore to stick with those exercises. They want to try everything under the sun. There is information overload and we are exposed to all these different ideas. A lot of them are great ideas and there is a time and a place for all of them, but it is really important – and this is something that it took me years to figure out for myself – to just give something time and work and when all else fails come back to the basics. They never stop working. You can make progress doing anything, but the most consistent progress will always come from basic exercises that you can pronounce and you can understand how they work.

Jonathan Bailor: That is always something that confused me, Shawn. I would like to get your insight on this. There is all this talk about “muscle confusion” and “shocking your muscles”. It seems like that is predicated and has its roots in good science. The good science is that you need to continuously challenge your muscles. If you are squatting 100 pounds and you just did 100 pounds for ever, that would not be optimal. You need to keep challenging your muscle. There seems to be some confusion in how you can challenge your muscle. For example, you could do a different exercise, but if you get a different exercise not using the proper level of resistance, that does not seem advantageous. If you just keep progressively adding resistance to the same exercises, isn’t that providing the needed progressive stimulation that a muscle needs?

Shawn Hyson: Sure. It totally is. You can rearrange the wraps, add or subtract sets, fiddle around with the rest periods – if you want to really avoid boredom and you think adding more exercises is the way to do that, that is okay. I would just rotate a couple of different exercises that focus on the same goal. You could do a squat one week and then do squat with a different kind of bar the following week and then do a front squat after that or a box squat. Just stay within the three or four lifts. You are always going to be squatting, you are just doing it differently every time. You will feel it in your body. You will get sore in a different way. The whole experience will make it seem like it is a fresher exercise. And it is. You will be doing different moves, but still accomplishing and the same goal and you will be able to strengthen your main squats. When you go back to them, those numbers will be up. That’s how you can make progress all without going crazy from boredom.

Jonathan Bailor: Certainly, do not go crazy from boredom – or anything else for that matter. Shawn, the thing that initially attracted me to your work and got me to bring you on the show here was that I like the title of your site – fitnessdistilled.com. So much of this, if you just distill it down… If you Google “how do I burn fat” or “how do I become healthy” is so confusing. Most people that I talk to that seem to be in this for the right reasons can distill it down and say “if you do these five things, you will get 95 percent of the benefit”. What have you seen as the distillation in your years of experience in this arena?

Shawn Hyson: Well, I think that a lot of the same things that you’ve been talking about in your videos and on your show in the past. You have to eat whole, natural foods, get enough rest, basic compound movements, keeping it simple, believing in the programming no matter how half cocked it might seem – people start to doubt themselves when they don’t see results immediately and they get off the track. You have to believe in whatever you are doing. It is always going to be flawed. It will never be a perfect program. There is no such thing. You have to stick with it long enough and believe that it will work or else it has no chance. It is always coming back to the basic principles. All of the information that you need for a lifetime might be in one blog, one book, one magazine, or even one article. If you just stuck with that and figured out all of the nuances within that one concept from that one source, you would probably be better served than cruising the Internet for days or weeks or months or years collecting all of this different information and never really applying anyone thought to the nth degree.

Jonathan Bailor: I love how you boil it down there, Shawn. Why do you think it is so hard for us to just do that? That is very simple. It is so easy to be like “oh, this supplement” or “oh, this pill” or “this new crazy three letter acronym workout technique”. It is human nature just to overcomplicate things? What do you think?

Shawn Hyson: I think that it is human nature to always look for shortcuts and want to believe in fairytales and that things can be simple or than they really are or magical than they are. That there is some salvation around the corner if we just buy this product or take this drug or try this one thing or call us one person. It has been over complicated by the fact that we are living in the age of information. There is just so much out there. There are so many blogs and so many websites. It is very difficult to focus on anyone. I am not criticizing these sources. Everybody has their part to play and offer something interesting. You would be better served to just stick with one for a long, long time and milk that for all that it is worth and then move on to something else.

Jonathan Bailor: It makes me smile, Shawn, because you mentioned something there where we have this natural tendency towards a magic pill. I think when we decouple simple from easy, there is actually a pretty cool distinction here, which is that what we just talked about is actually radically simple. We live in a complicated world. There are plenty of complicated things. If you want to become a millionaire legally, that is complicated. It is hard and it is complex. If you want to be fit and healthy and robust, it is hard but it is simple. It is almost like you get half of a magic pill. It is not easy, but it is simple. What you think?

Shawn Hyson: The effort is hard, but the how-to material is often not very complicated. I interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger last year, and I asked him “what is the biggest problem that people have achieving their goals?” He said just a lack of vision. People do not have a clear vision in their minds of how they want to look or how they want to feel and what they want their bodies to look like. When you don’t have that, it is so much harder to actually make it happen. You have to have some kind of a thought of what the end goal is going to look like and represent. That’s it. Once you have that in place, getting there is a lot easier than it seems. Now you know exactly where you want to go and you just have to find a ride to get there.

Jonathan Bailor: I think it is so encouraging too. In an ideal world, everything would be both simple and easy, but there are very few things in life that are both simple and easy. When the issue is “it is hard, but his simple”. To me, that is very empowering. When something is complex, it is like until you get that knowledge – until you get your real estate license, until you get your medical degree, until you learn how to speak a foreign language – it doesn’t really matter how much effort that you apply. It is not going to happen because you are missing the information. When we have something like this, it is like the ball is in our court. “All” we need to do is put in the effort. There aren’t actually a lot of things in life where there are no politics. It is not that complicated. You just have to do it. To me, that is exciting.

Shawn Hyson: When you put in those terms, it is actually kind of a relief. You’re telling me that if I just focus on one thing and be consistent with it, I will get there. And you ultimately will.

Jonathan Bailor: The only way that you will get off-track is if you stop receiving it simply. If you allow it to become complex, it will not work. It is not sustainable unless this is your job. Maybe that is a rule that we all need to apply. If what we are doing – assuming that this is in our hobby or something we are doing for fun – that is not simple, it is probably not going to work long-term because you’re not going to keep it up long term.

Shawn Hyson: Sure. Look at it from the perspective of diet. If you want to diet for a bodybuilding show and get on stage in exactly 12 weeks and weigh this exact amount, that is complicated. That can be tough. That is going to require crunching some numbers and weighing out your food and really sticking to a schedule. If you want to lose 20 pounds or just fit into a pair of jeans or if you want to gain weight and fill out your shorts, that is not hard. We are talking about a very different scale of achievement here. So many people read these things about diets and they feel like they have to hit this number of macros for it and have this percentage of their diabetes kind of food. That is well and good, but that is so far down the line for most people. They don’t have to make anywhere near that complicated. That is later on. Once you have made from great initial strides and you can, you don’t have to count anything or worry about anything at all. Just eating normal food that comes from the land in portions that you feel your body can tolerate. You, in normal conditions, will be just fine.

Jonathan Bailor: I love it, Shawn. What is next for you in the fitness arena?

Shawn Hyson: Well, I am working on a book for Men’s Fitness now. I don’t know how much I can talk about it. It will be out this fall. I am also doing an e-book that should also be out this fall on better, healthier methods for bodybuilding. I am excited to have those come out. There is more information on my site.

Jonathan Bailor: I love it. Folks, Shawn has all kinds of great content out there. He has a bunch of videos on YouTube, all of the social media rocking and rolling. If you want to learn more from him, please check them out at fitnessdistilled.com. Also, shawnhyson.com. Shawn, thank you so much for joining us today.

Shawn Hyson: Thank you, Jonathan, I appreciate it very much.

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