What We’re Reading Lately, Episode 3 – 1% Better

Here at CompPT, we stress increasing performance across all domains. We strive to provide you the tools to get 1% better at something you do, whether that is physical, nutritional, or psychological performance. But we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t walk the walk! This week’s post on what we’ve been reading lately discusses a book actually read a few months ago already, though gives a great backstory on the culture CompPT wants to create and maintain.


This week’s book is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who recently released his latest entry into his “Incerto” series, a collection of four books about probability, uncertainty and randomness. Many of Taleb’s prior books struck a chord with us at CompPT (Anti-Fragile immediately comes to mind) and reading “Skin in the Game: HIdden Asymmetries in Daily Life” was no exception.


The core takeaway from Skin in the Game that CompPT works to embed in our culture and mission is that “one shouldn’t take advice from those without skin in the game”; in other words, what people do (their actions) far outweigh their thoughts. From Taleb, “Beware of the person who gives advice, telling you that a certain action on your part is good for you, while it is also good for him, while the harm to you doesn’t directly affect him”. The world of training is inherently filled with individuals willing to dispense advice for a fee, but there are few willing to put the time in to prove that their advice is safe and effective. “Those who talk should do and only those who do should talk” as Taleb espouses. If unwilling to prove your worth, it’s best to keep your talk to yourself.


Skin in the game in Taleb’s mind requires personal risk, and if one takes risk one should also have the potential to be ruined by it. Transfer of that risk, so that one may benefit but someone else would take the fall, would be heresy in Taleb’s eyes. He uses those who were at fault for the economic crisis of 2008 as a recurring example; many bankers took huge bonuses yearly leading up to the bust,,not realizing the massive risk of ruin that eventually came about when Wall Street crashed. Instead, that burden was placed on the taxpayers through government bailout. Hence, the ones at fault did not pay the penalty. No skin in the game.


Although Taleb doesn’t spend much time discussing physical pursuits, the concept of having skin in the game is the theme that resonates deeply in the field of strength and conditioning, and something CompPT works to achieve. Talk (“tawk” as Taleb so loves to put it) is cheap; actions reveal true nature. Those who “do” in the world of physical training come down to two separate but necessary domains. Those who are willing to attain proper certification are one. The ability and willingness to earn, maintain and consistently improve the physical qualities they deem important is the other. It is the combination of these attributes, and solely both, that is a requirement for true skin in the game.


To have one and not the other is a defect that inhibits credibility. There are those who have the degree, the baseline certification to show that they have the ability to study and pass tests. However, they don’t walk the walk; they advise their students to strive for health and performance, but don’t follow their own advice. These are the trainers who say they value certain qualities, but when push comes to shove are unable to themselves represent those qualities they think others should have (the trainer who thinks safe lifting is important, but has no idea how to do or teach a deadlift). The trainers who tell people to get thirty minutes a day of exercise, but walk solely from the kitchen table to the couch themselves. No skin in the game.


The opposing defect would be one who has had modest success in training themself and believes that that is enough to train others.  If one truly wants to train others, prove it. Show the willingness to learn to understand baseline concepts and health conditions, get properly certified. Remember that being accepted by the governing body is only a baseline; however, it is the foundation upon which a good trainer is built. Show a willingness to do the minimum and to keep improving. Spend your own money to learn from the best. For good training requires both domains; you have to know how to train oneself, but have enough knowledge and training to safely train others. Get baseline credentials, continually learn, determine the qualities you deem beneficial and most importantly live your creed. Refusing to put your skin in the game denies the willingness to walk the walk.


Reading this book synthesized into words what I believed was important in training practices, but had never written about prior. You the student have entrusted me to have the knowledge to help you reach your goals, and that is something that I accept with responsibility. If I never keep learning, how am I going to help you improve? Skin in the game is required for best practice. I strive to never write a program that I wouldn’t write for myself or my mother if either of us were in the same situation as my student. All else being equal, does this program represent the best practice that I know for the stated goal of my student? It has to.


At CompPT, our creed is to reduce injury risk and improve performance by focusing on creating robust foundations of physical literacy and movement skills to add minimum levels strength, power and skill upon. So we walk the walk; from Taleb, “If your private life conflicts with your intellectual opinion, it cancels your intellectual ideas, not your private life”. We are certified, not only by Canada’s governing body CSEP for the minimum required knowledge and testing, but by adding certifications through the top organizations worldwide. Putting those letters behind the name implies buy in; it implies that besides the talk, we need to walk as well. I believe in minimum standards of quality movement patterns for health and performance, so I routinely screen myself in the FMS system to ensure I am up to minimum standards. I believe health and performance are accentuated by baseline levels of strength and power, so I work own it above and beyond the minimum necessary (more coming on that next post).


So, what does this mean for my students?


This means that in order to provide the best possible service, I’ve invested the time doing it myself. I’ve field tested different methods. If I deem a physical quality is important enough to train, you better believe I’m going to own it myself. Giving advice that I personally wouldn’t follow is a disservice to you, and is not in my ethical framework. I believe in movement quality; I’m certified in the FMS system and demonstrate those abilities. I believe in strength as a foundation for all athletic qualities? I’m certified as a StrongFirst SFB and currently working my way through their other courses.


So know and understand there will be no bullshit with me. There will be no wondering what the “why” is. There will be no random acts of exercises with no goal. There will be simple, progressive training; methodologies that have stood the test of time. Programs that have my ethics, programs that will help you get from point A to point B, whatever you and I determine those points to me. Taleb again – “If you do not take risks for your opinion, you are nothing”; because my skin is in your game, you will get the best of me. Without results, I will fail. If I can’t get 1% better, I can’t expect you to. All I ask from you is hard work and to trust the process.


I named this company Comprehensive Performance Training because I value performance. If I value it, I’m going to own it. Through myself, I am a walking advertisement of my beliefs and my method. I work to improve my deficits and keep getting better. This is my skin in the game.

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