The Questions You Ask

“Don’t like the results you’re getting…ask better questions.”  I first heard this when I attended Tony Robbins’ ‘Unleash the Power Within’ back in 2004 and it stuck with me till this very day, and will forever.  Up until that point I never really gave much thought about the questions I asked myself, or more importantly, the questions I was not asking.  It was after the event that the impact of this ‘question asking concept’ really showed it strength.

As part of my UPW entry fee I received a thirty-minute coaching session with a Tony Robbins Certified Life Coach, which literally changed my life.  Thirty minutes is all it took to realize something I had dreamed of doing since I was kid; which was to write a book.

It all happened because of the questions the coach asked and the honest answers I had to give.  Here they are in succession:

Coach:  What is something that you’ve wanted to achieve, or have been working on, but haven’t yet accomplished?

Me: Write a book.

Coach:  Why haven’t you done it already?

Me:  Uh, what?

Coach:  If you really wanted to write this book then why haven’t you?  What have you been doing?

Me:  Well I’ve written some of it.  I’ve got the first two chapters just about done.

Coach:  That’s good but you didn’t answer my question, why hasn’t this book been written?  What do you think is hold you back?

Me:  I’m busy and don’t have as much of time to work on it as I’d like.

Coach: How many hour do you sleep each night?

Me: About 7 or 8.

Coach: If you got up an hour earlier each day or went to bed an hour later that would give you 7 extra hours a week to work your book. At that rate do you would be able to finish at least a chapter a week and have the book completed in a few weeks?

Me: Definitely.

Coach: Great, but let’s face it, unless you really want to write this book you’re not going to schedule the time needed to work on it.  So why do you want to write this book?  What will it do for you?  Howe will it change your life? What will your life look like when it’s done? How will it affect others?

I answered all of the coach’s questions; it was hard to accept that I was not the driven, achiever I thought myself to be.  I wasn’t doing everything I could do, I wasn’t living up to my potential.  All this time I was kidding myself. It was a humbling realization.

The coach left me with a list of resources that would help me get the book done quickly but she made it very clear that it was up to me to take action.  And I did…immediately.

I wound up hiring Tony Robbins’ creative assistant, flying her out from California, putting her up in a nearby hotel for three days, and paying her to help me gather and organize the book.  All with money I didn’t have.

After I completed the manuscript I moved onto the next resource my coach gave me, which was a self-publishing company that would design, format, and help distribute the book to, B&N, and other retailers.  Once again spending money I didn’t have. (The book was picked up by Price World Publishing in 2010)

Pure Physique coverWhen all was said and done I had spent close to $9K to make a dream a reality and I don’t regret a single penny spent.  The fact is, you can always make more money or spend less somewhere else, but you don’t get to write your first book every day.

The point of this story is not to boast about my accomplishment but demonstrate the importance of asking the right kinds of questions.  Too often we ask ourselves self-limiting questions and wonder why we have so much trouble getting ahead; Why does this always happen to me? Why can’t I ever do this? Why does it have to be so hard? Isn’t there an easier way?  Will this ever get better? When will it happen for me? When will I have the time?  When will I have the money?

Change the questions you ask and you can change any situation. Self empowering questions move you towards your dreams, desires and the accomplishment of your goals.  What are some self empowering questions?  Well, asking that is a self empowering question!!!  But I digress.  The types of questions you need to ask are: What can I do today to improve my circumstances?  What do I need to work on in order to grow as a person?  Who can help me grow?  Who can help me reach my goal?  Who or what is taking away from time and ability to achieve? What can I do to improve the lives of others?  Why is accomplishing ‘x’ so important to me?  How will my life be better by accomplishing ‘x’?  What do I want my life look like 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years from now?  

There is no end to the list of self empowering questions we can ask ourselves and the more you ask the more you will receive.

7 Lessons Learned from the Bodybuilding Stage


When I started my career as a personal trainer at the ripe young age of twenty-two (I really can’t believe I’ll be thirty-six this month.  Look ma’ I made it! J) one of the very first actions I took was to enter myself into a natural bodybuilding contest.  I had wanted to bodybuild ever since I watched Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk in the mid-eighties television series.  Then of course there were the professional wrestlers in the WWF like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior who became another source of motivation before I started “investing” what little money I earned at thirteen years old on muscle magazines. But I digress.

My reasoning for entering the contest was two-fold.  First, I always wanted to look like a bodybuilder so it only made sense to do what bodybuilders do…compete.  Second, and the stronger of the two reasons, was to gain experience and knowledge.  I reasoned that if people were going to come to me with the expectation of achieving six-pack abs, defined muscles, or to simply get lean and muscular, then I better know and understand all that goes into the process.

After 14 years of competing it is impossible for me to place a value on the lessons I’ve learned from getting up on stage. What I have gained through those experiences cannot be learned in a book or in a classroom. The lessons can be categorized two ways; physique development and self-development.  While my initial interest was regarding physique development I quickly learned that self-development works in tandem with physique development—sometime preceding it, sometimes resulting from it, and sometimes working side by side with it.

Here are my top 7 lessons learned from the bodybuilding stage:

  1. Fat loss takes time but needs to be approached with a sense of urgency While losing weight slowly is necessary for maintaining a healthy metabolism and ensuring that the weight you shed is fat and not muscle, don’t use this as a reason to get complacent or justify poor decisions about eating or exercise. With few exceptions the metabolism is very slow to get started, often taking 4 or more weeks just to build enough momentum result in consistent weekly fat loss. And that’s if you’re doing everything right!
  2. Track everything.  As the old adage goes, you can’t know where  you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.  While keeping a food log and keeping track of your calories, carbs, protein and fats might seem like a royal pain in the ass, it is the only way to figure out exactly how much you can or can’t eat without disrupting your fat loss efforts.  Don’t try to guess…it doesn’t work.Journal
  3. Until you change your mind you cannot change your body.  The body has a funny way of following what your subconscious believes to be true which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of developing self-belief and having a positive self-image.  I have never had a competition season in which I didn’t improve upon my condition from the previous season.  I attribute this to first seeing myself better than I once was the previous season and then taking actions on achieving it.
  4. Have a strong “why” It’s easy to stay the course and do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal when you have a clear-cut reason for doing so.  Getting up in front of a bunch of strangers with less fabric covering you than what you would wear to the beach was, and continues to be, a very big reason “why” I’m so intent on not screwing up my diet or missing workouts.  Just wanting to “look better” or “get a little leaner” is not incentive, it’s a wish.  Attach it to something bigger that will keep you doing the not so fun stuff and now you have a why.
  5. This s#%t is hard!  Make no mistake about it, you have to work your butt off and be disciplined to make even minimal gains.  Showing up is not half the battle it’s about 1/10th of it.  You need to constantly outwork yourself in order to make forward progress. Accepting this reality will help minimize frustration when you’re not achieving results at the rate you think you should.
  6. You are always IN-season.  One of the most common traits amongst top competitors is that they focus just as hard on their diet and training in the off-season as they do 3 months before stepping on stage.  By living the lifestyle year round it makes getting into competition shape much easier and faster and makes the damage done by an occasional night out on the town or going out to eat almost World's 2012 (125)non-existent.
  7. Support systems are a necessity.  As stated in lesson #5 this stuff is hard, but it can made much easier, and your likelihood of success is greatly increased by having one or more people working towards similar goals alongside you.  Conversely nothing can thwart your efforts faster than resistance or ridicule from family members or friends.  Be sure that the people surrounding you understand how important your fitness goals are to you and to respect your decisions about the way you eat and how you spend your time.

Fit to Lead

I’ve heard countless definitions of leadership and descriptions of what makes a good leader and most of them, in some way shape or form refer to influencing, motivating and inspiring others to realize their full potential, accomplish a task, or work towards a common goal.  We find leaders in all areas of our lives.  They occupy the boardroom, work place, classroom, home, church, synagogue, and every other place we look for guidance or direction.

However one of the most overlooked aspects of being a great leader and the part which pertains to all of us is that great leaders demonstrate the ability to lead themselves.  They set an example as well as the standard.  The results you achieve through exercise and nutrition and your ability to remain disciplined about your fitness is a good measure of your ability to lead yourself.

Certainly there are many ways and other arenas in which you can demonstrate leadership but few have as big an impact on your personal well-being and those around you like fitness.  When people see you living a higher standard it inspires them to do the same.  If you’re a parent you know exactly what I mean.  Kids don’t listen they observe.  And whatever it is they see you doing is what they will adopt as their own behavior.

Whether you realize it or not–to some degree–you have the same type of influence on those around you; be it co-workers, friends, or family.  Show that you are fit to lead by leading yourself to be fit.

Competition Shape…Minus the Competition (Lisa’s Journey) – Entry 11

Lisa had texted this pic to me with following, “I’m wearing Melissa’s coat (her youngest daughter). Please note, it’s buttoned”.

[Lisa] Hello December.  The holidays are upon us.  I will start this entry by saying, “Yes Virginia, you can lose weight during the holidays.”  Five months down and 21 lbs. gone.  I lost 3.8 lbs. in November.  I did enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner that included stuffing, pumpkin ale and a piece of apple pie for desert.  However, I woke up the next day and realized Thanksgiving was over, time to get back to my food plan.  I also need to mention that, although I did have the aforementioned treats on Thanksgiving, I had small portions and still recorded everything in my food log.  Last year I continued eating like it was still Thanksgiving straight through until Christmas when I transitioned into eating like it was Christmas through the New Year.  The tears set in on January 2 right after I stepped on the scale.  I am determined NOT to start 2013 the same way.  Mike is doing his part, adding new methods of torture; I mean training so I am never bored!  I am enjoying being able to wear mediums instead of large size clothing.  My daughter Melissa recently told me that she does not care how much weight I lose she will not allow me to wear a bikini.  Hmmmm, sounds like Mom has a new goal.   Might be just what one needs to stay focused.

[Mike] I think it’s easy to see that 2013 will not start off for Lisa the same way 2012 did.  It can’t!  And that’s because Lisa finally has the two things going for her that everyone needs to be successful at transforming their body…and I am not talking diet and exercise.  It is a goal and a plan for completing it.

Just look at the difference this has made between last year and this year.  Last year: no goal, no plan and Thanksgiving turned into a six week free-for-all and an inevitable backslide forcing her to have start all over in January.  Depressing.  Yet this is how it will be for an unfortunate majority of people.  This year: a goal and a plan for navigating through the holidays without depriving herself and a New Year in which she’ll start around 25 lbs. lighter than she was this past July.

Oh and to address the “add on” goal of getting into a bikini…I love it.  What better goal than to make your children uncomfortable about what you will wear in your 50’s that you couldn’t wear while they were growing up.

Competition Shape…Minus the Competion (Lisa’s journey) – Entry 7


[Lisa]  This past week many either went back to school or have children who went back to school.  In my case I added teaching 3 college courses to my schedule.  As I sat at my computer, all day last Sunday, preparing lessons I felt the familiar tug of sweets calling my name.  I was not hungry, but eating has always been the way I have dealt with the stress of a deadline or the stress of anything for that matter.  The blog saved me once again.  I admit, even knowing I was going to be writing an entry for the blog, I was still tempted.  Two months in and 9 lbs. down I worry that I won’t be able to stay motivated for the long haul.  Years ago I lost 50 lbs. in a little less than a year.  I remember the excitement as the numbers went down.  I was able to stay focused and get to my goal.  Since then I have attempted to lose the weight I had gradually let creep back on numerous times.  I would last a few weeks maybe a month or so and then it was over.  I’m thinking I need some additional ideas.  Mike, I know competing is the motivator for you but is there anything else that keeps you on track?

[Mike]  It’s not important what motivates me, what’s important is discovering what motivates you.  In my book, PURE PHYSIQUE: How to Maximize Fat-loss & Muscular Development I wrote about this topic at length.  In short, everything we do—everything—is to achieve pleasure or avoid pain.

Nothing is more gratifying than looking in the mirror and knowing your present condition is a result of your own doing.  Conversely nothing can make you feel worse than looking in the mirror and admitting your present condition is your own doing.  You see there comes a point when external motivators (like fitting into a certain dress or winning a contest) are not enough and it is your values and standards that move you towards your goal or keep you from slipping backwards.

If you’ve been accepting sub-standards for yourself then it becomes easy to justify eating things you know you shouldn’t or when you shouldn’t, as well as skipping workouts or avoiding activities that are critical to your success.  Raising your standards and holding yourself to them is the key to staving off temptation.  If the thought of not achieving your goal does not elicit negative feelings that you would do anything to avoid rather than harbor inside then it might be time to assess what you value most.  Similarly, if achieving your goal does not elicit excitement and make you want to take proper action then it might be time to assess your values.  Namely your value of self.

Competition Shape…Minus the Competition (Lisa’s Journey) – Entry 4

[Lisa] The sun has set on July and I, therefore, have completed one full month of my journey through hell, I mean to health, towards competition shape.  Although I am convinced my scale snickers as I walk by, I decided to step on board, with my eyes open for a change, and see if I could smack the smugness out of my digital friendHmmm, down 5.2 lbs.  Not the 50 I had hoped for but progress nonetheless.  Further, I did wear apair of jeans that prompted the following text message to Mike:

“For the blog!!!!! Just zipped a pair of jeans that I bought months ago with the intention of fitting into them.  Understand I could not pull them up when purchased.  I still hate u but I kinda love you too.”

One must remember to make sure Mike knows he is still causing pain during and after workouts, hence the hate.  If you let on that your workouts are not challenging you will suffer the wrath.  Besides, you would not get away with faking it anyway.

Looking back on July, I have incorporated some positive changes into my eating and exercise program.  While I did eat out about 5 or 6 times, I had grilled chicken or Tuna and stayed away from the bread.  I continue to workout at PURE PHYSIQUE 2-3 times per week.  I have, for the most part, kept my fat and carbohydrate intake to “prescribed by Mike” levels.

My concern is that a little over 5 lbs. just does not seem like very much.  How do I lose at least that much this month?  What do you plan on doing about this Mike?

[Mike]  It’s true, if I feel (or any trainer at PURE PHYSIQUE feels) that your workouts are not challenging then you will feel the wrath.  But contrary to popular belief it is not because we’re sadists.  We simply recognize that the level of effort most people put into their workout is not enough to improve their fitness no matter how long they exercise for or how many days a week they exercise.  Effort is the single most important factor for productive exercise and if you are not being challenged you are not changing.

A loss of 5 lbs. in a month might not seem like much but it is, especially if it is 5 lbs. of body-fat.  Considering that a pound of fat is slightly larger than a can of soup dropping five of them is no small accomplishment and is the reason why in just one month Lisa could fit into pants she could not fit into previously.

When the objective is fat-loss it is best to aim for a loss of 1-2 lbs. per week.  Attempting to lose more than this—unless you are morbidly obese—can result in the loss of muscle tissue which will negatively impact your strength, muscle tone, functional ability, and your metabolism to small degree.  This is the reason why people who lose weight very quickly tend to regain it twice as fast.

If Lisa is able to lose another 5-8 lbs. in the next month and the month after that and continue at this pace then she will undoubtedly reach her goal.  It will not be easy and will require that she continue to make good choices when eating out as well as tightening the screws on her diet by eliminating another 50-100 calories per day.  We will also look to address her activity level by adding 10-20 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise on 1-2 non-training days.

Competition Shape…Minus the Competition (Lisa’s Journey) – Entry 3


[Lisa]  I will be having five ounces of steak tonight as part of my dinner.  It has 12.7 grams of fat.  This is more than half of what Mike has allotted me daily for fat intake.   Nevertheless, I want it and am going to have it.  I have planned for it and logged it in my food diary.  Why is it I have to keep a food diary in order for me to lose weight?  I watch naturally thin people go about their lives without writing down what they eat or what they plan on eating.  Yet, they remain at an ideal body weight.  Whether I am seriously focusing on losing weight or not I am very much aware of the caloric make-up of foods that I eat.  Further, I also know and/or look up how many calories are burned for any exercise I do.  For example, a half gallon of plain vanilla ice cream (one serving in my world, I mean my OLD world) is 1200 calories.  This translates to jogging for 2 hours at about 5 mph.  Not gonna happen!  I guarantee you my naturally thin husband has no idea how many calories he eats and burns in a day, week, month EVER!  This is not fair and I demand to know why this is.  Mike?

[Mike]  Why keep a food diary?  Why have limits on your food/caloric intake? Why worry about what others can eat and you can’t?

Here’s the deal, by definition a calorie is a measure of energy expenditure.  You require food for one reason and one reason only and that is to supply your body with the energy (calories) it needs to sustain proper function and support your daily activity. Whether you like it or not or, think it’s unfair, there are limits to how many calories you can consume regardless of how “healthy” you eat.  Because your body only needs so many calories to do its job as soon as those needs are met any additional calories, whether from ice cream or Cream of Wheat, get stored as fat.

The only time fat gets used for energy is when your body is in a caloric deficit.  Meaning you are not taking enough calories to support your energy requirements so now your body goes scrounging for them.

The reason why keeping a food journal and tracking your calories–as well as your carbs, proteins, and fats–is necessary is so you know precisely how much you can eat instead of taking a guess or being erratic. It’s a scorecard.  Just like in golf the way you win the fat-loss gam is by shooting under par.

If your baseline requirement is 1200 calories a day, then you need to take in less than that in order to start using the calories stored as fat to fill the gap.  If you haven’t read it yet check out my blog on how to figure out your caloric needs for fat-loss at:

Now regarding your husband and other naturally thin people who don’t have to track their food intake, who can eat whatever they want, who have metabolisms like race cars…GET OVER IT.  Sometimes life just isn’t fair, boo-hoo.  Why don’t we just throw a pity party because others seem to have it easier in one small area of life than the rest of us.

The fact is some people inherently have fast metabolisms—it’s genetic.  You can blame your parents (and they are the ones to blame) or you can make the necessary adjustments to your diet and do proper weight training to increase your metabolic rate.  Just stop whining about it, whining does not have a positive effect on your metabolism.

Competition Shape…Minus the Competition (Lisa’s Journey) – Entry 2

[Lisa] The numbers, they don’t lie or do they?  Maybe you are like me; you begin a fitness/diet program and expect because you weigh xxx (fill in your own number) the weight should come flying off in the beginning.  You prepare for your first weigh-in; it should go without saying that you only get on the scale, naked, first-thing-in the morning, having shaved, removed all jewelry and having trimmed your nails.  You certainly don’t want any of those things weighing you down.  You gingerly step on the scale, if you see a number you are happy with, “Woo-Hoo,” if not – throw scale out the window, buy a new one and repeat weigh-in steps in seven days.   Losing weight has never been easy for me.  No matter what I do, it comes off painfully slow.  The scale, for many of us, is the measure of success.  Are there other things that even matter?

[Mike]  There are certainly many ways aside from the scale to measure your success.  I’ll get to that in moment but before I do I want to share the following text message I received from Lisa the other night just before going to bed (yes, I do field messages from clients at all times of the day because like a doctor, I’m always on call).

If I weren’t doing this f***ing blog I so would have had ice cream right now.

That’s what I call leverage!  Having something hanging over your head—a consequence—that forces you to stay on track.  I cannot stress the importance of having leverage which is why I dedicated a huge section to it in my book.

Back to the scale…or backing off if you can’t handle the truth.  What we’re talking about here is measuring progress. You need an objective means of determining whether or not the the actions you are taking are moving you towards your goals. There are numerous ways to measure progress.  You can go by how your clothes fit, a tape measure, pictures, the mirror, skin fold calipers or a body composition (bioimpedence) testing machine.  You don’t necessarily need to use the scale but it is a quick and easy way to track your progress.

What you need to know about stepping on the scale is that your weight can fluctuate day to day even if your caloric intake is the same due to changes in your total body water.  These changes in water weight are influenced by your sodium, carb and water intake.  With that in mind, take your daily weight changes with a grain of salt and use your average weekly weight to track to your progress.

Competition Shape…Minus the Copmetion (Lisa’s Journey entry 1)

[Lisa] I did something this past January that caused a lot of people to call me the “F” word, I turned fifty.  As you know, they say it is harder to lose weight after you turn fifty.  While that may or may not be the case I decided to add it to the litany of reasons why I can’t shed the pounds.  I have been working out with Mike at Pure Physique for a few years.  I have lost some weight and I am down a size.  In addition, I am lifting, pulling and pushing much higher weights then when I started.  (Mike can fill you in on my “impressive” numbers, ha!)  But, I constantly bemoan my inability to make that darn scale register lower numbers.  Mike insists it is my diet.  My four basic food groups are: ice cream, pasta, bread and Starbucks.  I don’t see a problem.  Apparently Mr. Lipowski does.

I am, for the most part, a driven person.  However, I just can’t seem to find the motivation to make serious changes to my diet.   I am hoping “going public” will help.  Maybe it will help some of you as well.  I told Mike a few months ago, “I don’t want to compete in a body building contest.  I just want to look like I could”.  Is that even possible?

[Mike]  Lisa’s situation is not at all uncommon.  In fact I would go so far as to say that it’s pretty much falls in line with what I’ve seen from 75-80% of those I’ve trained over the past 13 years.  The story goes something like this (from the clients perspective):

I realize I’m out of shape and since I really don’t know what to do I’ll hire a trainer.  The trainer tells me how he can help, explaining that it will take a combination of proper    exercise and a healthy diet. Since I know I need someone to push me and help me be    accountable, I’m in.

I start my training and within one to months I’m feeling better and I’ve even lost a little bit of weight and my clothes are fitting better, and I really haven’t even changed my diet that much.  A few more months go by and DAMN am I getting strong.  I’m lifting weights in the gym that I never imagined being able to lift!  Unfortunately the weight on my scale doesn’t seem to be moving anymore.  I know I should be eating better but I love my (insert ice cream, pizza, burgers, alcohol, sweets, breads, etc).  Besides I have to have a life. …At least I have my trainer to complain to about this and he’ll come up with a workout to do the trick.

Lisa touched on good point before when she said she: “can’t seem to find the motivation to make serious changes…” The problem however is not just motivation it’s leverage.  You not only need a reason to be excited about getting in shape but you need a reason to be fearful if you don’t.  Taking her goal “public” is certainly a move in the right direction since there is now a consequence to not staying on track—everyone will know and I won’t hesitate to put it out there.  I also won’t hesitate to publicly congratulate her should she meet her objective of looking like she could compete.

No trainer or fitness instructor is capable of creating a workout to make up for a person’s overindulgence nor can we follow you around and make sure you’re adhering to the plan we set forth. If we could, believe me we would.  There’s certainly a wee bit of personal accountability necessary to get one’s self into “competition shape” and the real work takes place outside of the gym.

DFAC PURE PHYSIQUE Natural New York Championships

Last Saturday (May 26) PURE PHYSIQUE hosted it’s first natural bodybuilding and figure competition and it was a huge success.  Am I relieved its over…yes.  Was it worth every minute that was poured into it and all the stress…ABSOLUTELY! The physiques on display were a true testament to what can be achieved through hard training, dieting and committing one’s self to a goal and seeing it through to the end.

If you think age played a factor you’d be dead wrong.  There were competitors as young as seventeen and as old as fifty-six and everyone of them looked great.

Could YOU do it?  Sure.  You just need to take that step no matter how far-fetched it may seem.  Now I know many of you will sit there and say, “I don’t want to step on stage” but the truth of the matter is that you are always on stage.  Whether it’s putting on a dress for a formal event, putting on a suit for a board meeting, or jumping into a bathing suit before heading out to the beach you always want to look your best.

Regardless of the degree you are willing or wanting to take your physique there is a certain amount of commitment and sacrifice that’s necessary. I know you’ve probably heard me say this a thousand times but if it takes 2,001 times for it sink in and take the necessary action then I in no way mind continuing to repeat myself.  Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you!