43 Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

InForm Fitness Podcast


Adam Zickerman and Mike Rogers of Inform Fitness are joined by Luke Carlson of Discover Strength to discuss a book authored by Greg Mckeown titled Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The principles described in this book directly apply to the slow motion,

The principles described in this book directly apply to the slow motion, high-intensity, strength training protocol practiced at all 7 InForm Fitness locations across the country and the 3 Discover Strength location in and near Minneapolis, Minnesota of which Luke is the founder and CEO.

Adam Zickerman – Power of 10: The Once-A-Week Slow Motion Fitness Revolution http://bit.ly/ThePowerofTen

Greg McKeown – Essentialism -The Disciplined Pursuit of Less



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Luke:   We are in an exercise and fitness climate, where 98% of what people are doing is not essential. Before you could even contemplate anything fitness related, you have to have that filter going into it; less but better. How can I focus on what’s truly essential and then eliminate everything else, so I can pour myself in to what’s actually essential.

Tim:     InForm Nation, thanks for being with us for episode 43 of the InForm Fitness Podcast with New York Times’ bestselling author, Adam Zickerman and friends. I’m Tim Edwards with the InBound Podcasting Network and a client of InForm Fitness in Toluca Lake, here in Southern California. Today’s guest on the podcast is Luke Carlson. Luke is an American College of Sports Medicine, certified exercise physiologist, a cancer exercise specialist, and has a B.S. and M.S in kinesiology from the University of Minnesota. The reason Luke will be with us in this episode is to discuss a book authored by Greg McKeown, titled, Essentialism; The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. And how the principles in the book directly apply to the slow motion, high intensity strength training protocol practiced at all seven InForm Fitness locations across the country. And the three Discover Strength locations, in and near Minneapolis, Minnesota, of which Luke is the founder and CEO.

Adam: So Luke, welcome to the program. Thank you for coming in.

Luke:   Hey, it’s my pleasure. It’s an honor to be here, thanks for having me.

Adam:  So Luke is actually in our office; he’s not calling remotely from his home base in Minnesota. He’s actually here visiting New York; he actually has some clients in the New York City Marathon, and here he is, rooting them on. And he’s still lingering in New York for a little while.

Luke :  And I had to make the visit to InForm Fitness, it’s always at the top of my New York list. Everybody else wants to see the Empire State Building and I want to see InForm Fitness in New York. That’s the truth.

Tim:     That tour bus comes right by your facility there, right, Adam?

Adam: When the tour busses — yeah, the double decker tour busses? They always point out, there’s InForm Fitness over there. Everybody wants to know what that line is outside. So Luke is multitalented. Not only does he run high intensity fitness facilities, but he’s a motivator, a corporate motivator and an incredible entrepreneur. I heard him giving a talk on a book written by Greg McKeown called Essentialism; it’s a New York Times bestseller. I read it this weekend, after hearing Luke talk about it and it’s a great book on basically paring down what’s important in your life and learning to say no.  It’s a big skill, and easier said than done, it turns out. And we all want to be everything to everybody. When we’re running a business, we don’t want to ever turn a customer down, even though that customer might not be for us. We never want to say no to our kids, our employees, our friends, and we end up overextending ourselves. And we basically lose sight of what’s important to ourselves, our own individual wants and goals. And, of course, part of that process, and why it’s relevant to high intensity exercise is, people tend to feel the need to exercise a lot, and more is better. And this book is really the opposite of that. It’s do — what’s the expression?

Luke:   The mantra, over and over throughout the book is, “less but better” and in every area of your lives. If you think about that, my goodness, it applies to how we work, all of our family interactions. But then you think about workouts, before you could even contemplate anything fitness related, you have to have that filter going into it, less but better. How can I focus on what’s truly essential and then eliminate everything else, so I can pour myself in to what’s actually essential. And Adam, I know you live this every day, you guys live this every day, but we are in an exercise and fitness climate, where 98% of what people are doing is not essential. People don’t have a clue and they haven’t asked, what is essential?

Adam:             And that’s what this whole podcast is kind of about, really kind of bringing it down to, what do we truly need for exercise and what don’t we? What’s the least amount we can do to get the most out of our exercise program, right?

Luke:   It’s unbelievable. When I read the book, I read it about a year ago, a little over a year ago and I actually heard the author speak and I thought, I need to read this book. Son of a gun, I’ve been practicing this type of exercise for the better part of 17 to 18 years, and now, he writes this book and he really provides the perfect framework or filter, for which to look at exercise. So he is really saying, without talking about exercise, he is really saying all of the same things that we have been saying for so many years.

Adam: There’s a quote in the book — or he’s quoting Victor Hugo, actually, in the book and we all know and love Victor Hugo, the French dramatist. He says here, “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose idea has come.” And Luke, just before we started recording, you had said to me, when you read this book, Adam, weren’t you relating everything to exercise? And I was like, yeah, and this quote in particular. When I read that I was like, hopefully, this high intensity, less is more — hopefully our time has come. I know Dr. McGuff talks about that; that the work we’ve been all doing over the last 20 years, finally, maybe, our time has come. Do you kind of feel that?

Luke:   Sure, yeah. I would say yes but I also think that if we could somehow have every customer, every potential customer in our businesses or in the fitness world, in general. If they read this book right before they walked into our facilities, it would be like the primer and every one of them would become a client. But I think we lose track of this essentialist approach and I don’t think the consumer has that lens, when they’re thinking about whatever those fitness decisions are going to be. So I think it’s a book that on your fitness journey, it’s the right place to start, is to understand this essentialist approach, first and foremost.

Adam: So relate the essentialist approach to exercise and how we practice exercise. In other words, repeat a little bit of what I heard on your lecture.

Luke:   What I would say is first of all, you have to understand, what is your objective? So what is the desired outcome from working out and here is the key question in simplest terms. Is your goal to hang out in a gym? Is your goal to hang out in a workout facility? Is your goal to stimulate improvements and changes to your physiology? And that is such a basic, simple question. But as soon as you ask that question, or as you answer that question, you can start moving towards this essentialist approach. So I think our goal is really two-fold. Our goal is, number one, to improve our health. So health is defined as the absence of chronic disease, or chronic disease risk factors. And I think  broadly, the second goal is performance. So that might mean running a 5K faster, hitting a golf ball further. Chasing our grandkids as we age, or what I like to talk about, our performance in our work environments. If we are compensated based on our mental firepower. If we’re, what Peter Drucker would call a knowledge worker, then, my goodness, how we exercise has a massive impact on how we perform in the workplace. So if we’re trying to achieve goals that are, improve our health and enhance performance, then we apply this filter of essentialism and we start to realize pretty quickly, what do we not need to do any more? What can we just cut and then what do we double down on, what do we triple down on? What is the type of exercise that is actually an effective stimulus to produce these desired outcomes? And then, after that, it becomes pretty simple. It becomes pretty simple to realize, what do I need to eliminate, what can I avoid, or what can I just do less of, as a whole.

Adam: I know we’re preaching to the choir a little bit here, but using essentialism, what does the essence of exercise come down to? I know we’ve covered this a million times in other episodes, but let me hear it from your mouth.

Luke:   Well, I would say this. It comes down to working against meaningful resistance, to the point of muscle failure or muscle fatigue, covering all of the major muscle structures. And I’m telling you, ten years ago, we thought that was important from a strength training — or building strength, a hypertrophy, so muscle size. And from a bone building standpoint. Now, we know that it is so much more robust than that. Whether it is cognitive function and prevention of mild cognitive impairment, or moving in that direction. Or cardiovascular fitness, we just have so much more evidence now to say that, if you strength train and you strength train right, all of those benefits are going to come from that strength training stimulus.

Adam: So keeping essentialism in mind, what doesn’t it entail?

Luke:   Well, another way to approach this. Another way to articulate essentialism is, maybe thinking about, how do we pareto principle our workouts. What’s the 20% of what everybody is doing right now, that actually produces 80% of the benefit? And if you look at that 20%, it’s the muscular tension and it’s the muscular tension at the point of failure or fatigue and cut out everything else. So we would say, cut out anything that’s really low level of intensity, aerobic exercise. Cut out anything that is unloading the musculature. We found an interesting way, that the way most people exercise right now, we found a way to engineer out, the three, four, or five most valuable components of really what exercise is. We’ve engineered out, muscle tension. We’ve engineered out eccentric work. We’ve engineered out fiber recruitment, and all of those things are what exercise is. Exercise, by definition, is not being in a health club with sweat dripping off your nose, while you’re wearing Lululemon. It is actually placing tension on muscle and getting to the point of fatigue. So it’s a focus on that and less on some of the things right now that we really should quantify as sport, if we’re thinking about things that are really popular right now. Some of the bootcamp formats and the classes that are so popular right now are competition based, rather than what I would call stimulus focused or stimulus based. So there’s a lot to cut out, Adam, a lot to cut out.

Mike:   I think the problem is — it’s not in what you’re saying, the problem is in what people believe out there. I think people’s belief in what is essential is a lot more than what we’re talking about. And there is still a lot of the resistance, in the medical community and in the fitness community, and this is just one piece of the puzzle. When you’re just trying to intellectualize the science and trying to convey these simple things to them. People still have this belief about cardio and the AHA still has their literature and their prescriptions on exactly what we should be doing. And that’s where we have a barrier. Going back, you think about, who are the people that you really don’t have to convince to come in here? Like what percentage of your clients, of your gyms, are referrals?

Luke:   Yeah, really everyone is a referral.

Mike:   Almost everybody is because their friend is like, oh my God, you wouldn’t believe it, I have this great workout. The results are showing, blah blah, I’m able to lose weight. They’re actually able to get all of the results they’re talking about, in this time, but they usually don’t do it until their friend does it. When we were — way back when we had some big media coverage, because Barbara Walters said it and Leslie Stahl said it on TV, all of a sudden, people were like, wow. There’s probably something here.

Adam: See, people had a great desire to look like Barbara Walters, I think.

Mike:   Call it whatever, she’s an influencer; people who influence you are your friends or somebody you may be looking up to.

Adam:             It just reminds me. I was at a party and somebody said, there’s Adam Zickerman, his client is Barbara Walters. You should try this workout and they were like, oh, just what I want, to look like Barbara freaking Walters.

Tim:     But look how old Barbara Walters is and she’s still functioning and still moving. It’s not a matter of her looking like that, it’s how she’s functioning and moving through life. So there’s your testament.

Adam: I’m sorry Luke, go ahead.

Luke:   When you combine these two things — these are just recent observations. So number one, the number one reason, the number one barrier to why people don’t do anything fitness related is time. They say they don’t have the time. And what is so incredibly interesting and coincidental and ironic, is that the right prescription for them actually involves very, very little time. So we actually have the answer for the number one barrier, as to why people don’t engage in exercise. Now, the other thing that I lose touch with, and I know you guys have to be in the same boat. I rarely go into health clubs. Well, I visited two different health clubs in New York City over the past two days. And I walk around a health club and I am reminded about how much time and effort is wasted, when someone visits a health club. I think what we do is the right thing. I think we provide good value to our customer, and I am only reminded of that when I walk into a health club and I think, my goodness. That person was here for an hour and 20 minutes and they did nothing. Or maybe five minutes of what they did was actually beneficial for them. So I think it’s worst; I think we are less essentialist in our approach to exercise than ever. If you look at the broad fitness consumer and the fitness business as a whole, we’re moving away from essentialism in the industry.

Adam: I was just thinking — I was having this conversation with somebody about how I thought maybe the trend is finally changing. As Victor Hugo said, maybe this idea’s time has come; you’re saying the opposite. I think even with the popularity of CrossFit, which is a very high intense exercise, I’m kind of thinking that maybe people are realizing that intensity is the key, less  is more. Even though they’re doing CrossFit, at least they’re understanding intensity at this point. But I guess you’re disagreeing with me.

Luke : Well, I agree with that observation. The best thing CrossFit has done is to tell the population that hey, it’s okay to work at a high level of intensity. So I think we’ve heard that message, I just think there’s so much that’s superfluous in addition to it.

Mike:   And they don’t consider the safety.

Luke:   Oh, absolutely; that’s a totally different conversation. If you look at — so I want to do some higher level of intensity cardiovascular work. If someone wants to do that and they really want to be smart about it, they can do it in a 15-18 minute workout, absolutely. But I feel like, if I’m going to go to the gym for just 15-18 minutes, that can’t be enough. So we find a way to include so many other facets, that are just not evidence based, they’re not essentialist in their approach, and I was just utterly shocked. Being in a health club yesterday and just looking around, like wanting to call everyone in and huddle them up around me and say, you guys have got to rethink this. You’re paying the money, you bought the Lululemon. You’re here, but you’re stopping right at the point where all of this becomes valuable.

Adam: Well, you know what, The Essentialist talks about this. You’re paying for a membership, so you have to get your money’s worth, and you feel compelled to actually use it because you’re paying for it. And that’s a non-essentialist’s view and the essentialist is trying to say, that’s illogical thinking. There’s a bias, they called it a certain kind of bias that I can’t remember off the top of my head. But it’s illogical, whatever the bias.

Mike:   Here, you’re paying to have your time back.

Adam:             People always say, wow, that’s a lot of money for a half an hour workout. And I’m like, listen, don’t you pay more for faster cars, faster computers, faster express trains?

Luke:   I always say this, when I talk about the visit to the dentist. If the dentist could do everything they normally do in ½ the time, would I pay the same amount of money or more? And the answer is, absolutely, yes. I’m not thinking, hey, let me sit here for another hour because I want to be here longer.

Adam: Give me a discount; give that root canal slower and give me 20% off.

Mike:   Exactly. I think the — i’m trying to figure out the exercise culture and barriers. With all of the information that we have now, that is right there in front of us. And listening to the people, we still have clients who do this, they love it, but they still have got to do CrossFit classes. Or they still have got to do — they feel like they have to run five times a week or something like that. We’re still having those conversations, that we don’t want to get in the way of what motivates them, and maybe there’s something external, like they need for their heads to be…

Luke:   Sure, and if that’s the case, and I can honor and recognize that. Then they have to understand intellectually, that there still maybe a pyramid of how they should look at their exercise.  And that essential exercise is still their one to two, really brief, intense resistance training workouts per week. Build everything else on top of that, but just don’t forget what’s essential.

Mike:   The foundation.

Luke:   Exactly. Right now, I think the problem is, people are saying, well, I don’t do that because I do this. Well, you cannot swap them out. If you’re adding those other things, they have to be in addition to, not replacing. I think we’re in a culture where people have replaced the meaningful stimulus, the meaningful exercise.

Mike:   Our clients, they stay forever. Most people, they don’t stay with other programs; they stay with us because this is the thing they can stick to. It’s something they get results from. We have had people, like remember Hence Orme. He walked out the door, he loved his results here, but I think he thought he needed more and then he realized what was essential.

Adam: By the way, that was the episode called, Return of the Prodigal Client, if you want to listen to that. It was a great interview. You know, I want to wrap this up but I do want to bring up a point when we were talking about the intense stimulus and why it’s important, and people lost sight of that. And if they only knew that for 20 minutes, once a week, that intense stimulus will give them all they need. But The Essentialist also, the essentialism book, it talks also about — now, this is a management book and it’s about how to run a company and how to run your relationships, so it’s not about exercise. But they do talk about having fun, that it’s important to have fun. In your business — like on my desk right now, I’ve got a slinky, I have guitars around the office. I mean, we know how to let off some steam around here for that reason. But I also think it’s important in our exercise program. When we talk about the intense workouts, it’s not saying, don’t have fun outside of that. But don’t call it exercise, call it for what it is, fun. Recreational pursuits is about enjoyment and stop mixing up your fun with your exercise.

Luke:   And in fact, by doing the right exercise, you’re going to better prepare yourself for all of that fun. That recreation, the sport, the other activities that you’re involved. So I couldn’t agree with you more; perfectly stated.

Adam:             So Luke, pleasure having you here, even though it was brief, it was great. Thanks for stopping by. Why don’t you tell our audience where they can find you, contact you, what you’re doing, where you are, all of that stuff.

Luke:   Yeah, so we’re in Minnesota and we have three locations. We’re building a fourth location right now. So we have one location in downtown Minneapolis, one in Plymouth, which is a suburb of Minneapolis, another location in Chanhassen and we’re under construction right now on a Woodbury location. So we’ve been very much inspired by InForm Fitness and Adam’s original book. And if you are in the Minneapolis area, we’d love to have you drop in and experience a workout with us.

Tim:     Thanks again to Luke Carlson, the founder and CEO of Discover Strength; based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And if you have to be listening in the Minneapolis area, jump on over to discoverstrength.com to set up your own strength training session. We’ll include links to Discover Strength in the show notes and links to Amazon and Audible, to pick up the book discussed here today by Greg McKeown entitled, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less. And as always, links to Adam Zickerman’s book, Power of 10: The Once a Week, Slow Motion, Fitness Revolution. Now, for those of you that reside near Manhattan, Port Washington, Denville, Burbank, Boulder, Leesburg and Reston, we’ve got great news for you.

At the time of this recording, which is November of 2017, there’s a free session waiting for you at informfitness.com. Click the button “try us free” right there on the homepage, fill out the form, pick your location, and enjoy a slow motion, high intensity, full body workout in just 20 minutes. Remember, strength care is the new healthcare. Get on board and join InForm Nation; what have you got to lose, except perhaps for maybe a few lbs. Thanks again for listening to the InForm Fitness Podcast. For Adam, Mike and Sheila, I’m Tim Edwards with the InBound Podcasting Network.