JC Deen: Why It’s Easy to Get Fed Up With Fitness

JC Deen was one of the first online fitness writers and trainers to build his name for a no-BS approach. He joins us to talk about beating fitness frustration, turning to “Doggcrapp Training,” and how machine learning & AI might change the industry moving forward. 

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, guest JC Deen and host David Thomas Tao discuss:

  • JC’s “standard” athletic background (2:07)
  • Finding structure in the gym and building a community through college fitness (4:20)
  • The early online fitness community and where JC turned for advice (5:30)
  • Building a voice through fitness content (8:00)
  • The impact of early fitness writing and what that means for us today (12:00)
  • If JC could go back in time, what advice would he give to himself? (14:08)
  • Why JC thought that “if you aren’t using certain movements, you’re failing” (16:30)
  • Getting caught up in the “doing it all” trap (20:10)
  • What is “Doggcrapp Training?” (22:10)
  • JC’s thoughts on HRV and WHOOP’s tracker (29:43)
  • How AI and machine learning may impact athletic recovery (30:49)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

JC DeenJC Deen

…just looking at it from an objective standpoint, it’s like, “Wow. Why would I do this to myself, if I wouldn’t put someone else through this, despite my experience, despite my ability to understand what’s happening in my body?”

No one’s perfect. Jumping back to that program, the Doggcrapp Training, it was the best thing I could have done.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

Today I’m talking to fitness writer and trainer JC Deen. In the world of online fitness content, JC is about as old school as they come. He was writing the good stuff, long before the age of Instagram influencers, and that no BS approach continues to this very day.

JC and I dive into the worst things in fitness content, and why something called Doggcrapp Training — yeah, Doggcrapp Training — could be the best strength program you’ve never tried. If you haven’t heard of that before, you aren’t alone. There’s a fun section when JC goes in-depth on the Doggcrapp protocol. I promise it’s a real thing.

I also want to say, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.

JC Deen, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. It’s been a while since we last connected. For those at home listening who might not have an idea of what you do and your background in the fitness industry, give us a little insight into how you first discovered the fitness industry, your athletic background, and how that brings you to where you are today.

JC DeenJC Deen

Sure. It’s glad to chat. It’s good to connect again and thanks for having me. My athletic background, it’s standard I would say for anyone that was involved in athletics growing up. By the time I was eight or nine, I started to get interested in playing sports in general, and I was also a pretty chubby kid growing up. That was an incentive for me to be more active.

I got started with basketball and baseball when I was growing up around that age, eight or nine. As I got older and progressed, I started trying other sports, trying out basically track and football. I really stuck with basketball and football. Those are my favorites.

As I got to junior high and high school, I really started to focus on football primarily as a main sport. This is what really got me interested, particularly in strength training.

I started training, I guess, around 14 or 15 and just fell in love with the weight room and realized that it was something that I could easily measure in terms of how much I was improving and how I was getting better over time. I also liked that it translated to my performance on the field.

I realized the more time I spent focusing on getting stronger and faster and better, the better chances I would have of performing well and doing well at the sport. The way that I really found out that this was something I was passionate about was during the senior year of high school after the very last game that we had of football. That was it. It was over.

My athletic career at that point was done. I had no intentions of trying to walk on and play at the collegiate level. I realized after that first game that I was like, “Wow, I’m really actually relieved that all this athletic stuff and all this athletic pressure is over.” All I wanted to do that next day was just go to the weight room.

I still wanted to train. I still wanted to live. I still wanted to improve my bench and squat and dead lift, even though I had no real athletic reason to do so.

That’s what made me realize I was really interested in this particular aspect of being athletic, just the strength sport and the strength training and eventually bodybuilding type of stuff. That was essentially my background and how I got interested in it.

When I got into college, I continued training. I met a group of guys at the University of Arkansas where I started in college. They were all into lifting, so we all trained after class pretty much every day. I built up a really solid clique of guys. I maintained that habit. As I went through college, I started to get interested in the online space.

Mostly I was getting my information from the Internet, and I was reading message boards and talking to people on social media and connecting.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you remember the names of any of those early sources and message boards you were on? I was talking to someone about this the other day. We were referencing the old Go Heavy forums and things like that.

JC DeenJC Deen

Yeah, it’s funny because most of all these places are still alive and well to this day. It’s just a handful. Lyle McDonald, his forum was one of my first experiences with the online community, and then T Nation, the Ellington Darden, High-Intensity Board, and then bodybuilding.com.

Those were the main ones I frequented, and that’s where I started gaining knowledge in nutrition, and training, and trying to do this sensibly.

From there, social media really took off, and then that’s how eventually I came to connect with people like Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, Alan Aragon, John Romaniello, Nia Shanks, and just all these other people that are in the space today.

That’s essentially how I got started. I had a conversation with Alan Aragon in 2010. We were on the phone. I told him, I was like, “Hey, I’m in school, and I’m getting ready to quit a job that I have. I can actually apply and get another job, or I can really take this fitness thing seriously, and start training people, and getting clients.”

He basically said, “Well, I think you’re good at this. You’ve been writing, you’ve been putting out articles, you’ve been building a name for yourself, so I think you should jump in and do it.” That was…

 

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m sorry to interrupt. What do you think your fitness journey, as someone who works in this industry and as a trainer, would be like if you hadn’t been producing content?

When I first came across you, it was I think around 2011, 2012. I came across you as a content producer, as someone who’s putting out programs, and articles, and things like that. What impact do you think that ultimately had on your evolution in the fitness space?

JC DeenJC Deen

It was everything, honestly. The ability to publish content and reach an audience that’s way outside of your radius, where you’re living, that’s why I have a career. I started training people. I got certified, and I started training at a local gym. That was cool. I was training clients there.

The fact that I could have a voice outside of those four walls, and talk to people that I’ve never met, never seen, probably will never meet and never see, that was amazing. You know this just as well as I do. That was the time when blogging was starting to gain traction, and that was even a thing.

Blogging is super old. I guess it’s one of those things that’s been around for a long time, but it wasn’t really taking off until around that time period. I would say that was the best thing that I could have lucked into, in terms of pushing my career.

David TaoDavid Tao

What were the topics that you were writing on at the time? In that growth of blogging era, especially in the fitness industry, how did you start determining which topics to write about, what people wanted to hear from you?

JC DeenJC Deen

At the time that I had started writing, I had no clue what I was doing. All I was trying to do at that point was, I needed an outlet to put my thoughts together and figure out what I knew and what I didn’t know. I would just open a Word document, and I would just write about a topic.

At the time, it might have been training to jump higher, because I was really into athletics, or it could have been training in a way to improve your one-rep max on the squat, or it could have been how to manage your training volume, and load, and recover. I was just coming up with these ideas.

I would see people ask questions on forums, and then I would write a response, and then I would realize, “Hey, I can actually talk about this a lot more.” I would take an idea, and I would just turn it into an article.

That’s what I did for the first two or three years. I would just come up with ideas, I would look at forums, I would look at topics, and then I would just write about them. At the time, I would just publish it on my site, and then post a link wherever someone had the question.

David TaoDavid Tao

Did you have someone who’s writing you were trying to emulate or you were maybe looking up to them as a writer? You mentioned some names. People you connected with in the industry, but is there anyone who at the time, you were reading their stuff and just thinking, “Man, if I could write like them”?

JC DeenJC Deen

Yeah. It’s funny how all this stuff works out in hindsight. I was reading Alan Aragon. I was reading Eric Cressey. I was reading Tony Gentilcore, reading John Romaniello. I saw a lot of them.

Some of these guys were posting on T-Nation a lot. That website is very much male-centric, very much a hardcore type of vibe. They were a little different, especially Romaniello. He would write in a way that…

I don’t know. He’s just really good at what he does. I remember thinking like, “Wow, this is something I need to get better at, something I need to keep doing. I want to figure out what they’re doing and emulate them.” At the time, I was also reading a lot of Lyle McDonald. He’s super specific and science-oriented. He gets really in depth.

That inspired me to take a step back and really think like, “OK, what don’t I know? How can I understand this better? How can I learn how to read research better?” I just kept practicing over time. Those are the guys I would say that really inspired me and impressed upon me the desire to at least be a better writer and a better communicator.

David TaoDavid Tao

You mentioned Nia Shanks earlier in this conversation. She’s someone who I was connecting with around the time. Her writing and the content she was putting out really made a big impact on me. I could talk for an hour, probably, about how exactly that was the case. You still see Nia producing really, really good content today and being actively involved in the fitness community today.

What impact, ultimately, do you think this crop of writer’s in the space at that time had on the fitness industry as we know it online, especially today?

JC DeenJC Deen

I think it was a huge impact. It’s hard to say how much it had because the Internet’s so big and people are getting their information from so many different places, but in general I would say this group of people that was writing, they were in the…

They were a little bit different. They were a little bit different than a traditional magazine writer. The two issues that a magazine writer has is they have a limited amount of space and they typically can’t go as in depth as they want and cite sources and really get science-y about because most of the gen pop maybe not super interested in that. Again, it was the space thing.

With blogs and articles, you could write as long…Online, you could write as much as you wanted. These people, I think, had a huge impact because they were coming at this from a different perspective. You can call them evidence-based writers or evidence-based coaches, whatever you want to say. They would break things down and get really nitty-gritty with it.

They would cite sources and look at papers and say, “Well, I think this is the best protocol based on these three papers on protein synthesis. I think this is the protocol we should follow based on this,” instead of just saying, “Well, for 20 years, bodybuilders have been eating this much protein, so we know this is what we need to do. That’s our recommendation.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all, but they did something different. They took a more evidence-based approach. I think that set the tone. Actually, I know that set the tone for what we have now in the space, which evidence-based fitness is really popular, and it’s all because of these people that decided, “Hey, I’m going to have a voice and write about this.”

David TaoDavid Tao

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice, writing-wise and call it the fitness content realm, to a younger JC Deen, what do you think they be?

JC DeenJC Deen

Two things would be, one is read a lot more. Read way more. Not just fitness science-y stuff, but just more in general. Just to be able to improve my ability to write much quicker.

The other one is much more technical. That would be to go 100 percent all in on the idea of SCO, and be really, really adamant about blending the process of writing for the search engine to get traffic.

Also, making it very personable and something that the end user wants to read, someone in the audience. I get pretty much all my traffic from SCO at this point. Like I said, my only regret is not taking it way more serious back when I first started writing because my site might be getting four times as much traffic as it gets now. That’s the advice I’d give myself.

David TaoDavid Tao

How does your knowledge base and mindset when it comes to fitness compared now relative to what it was, say, 10 years ago when you were just starting to write online?

JC DeenJC Deen

It’s interesting to look at this stuff in hindsight because when you don’t know what you don’t know, you think you know more. I can go back and look at my old writing and see that I was really narrow-minded in some aspects and had certain ideas that were just one-sided.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you have any specific examples of those?

JC DeenJC Deen

Sure. Let’s just take training, for instance. I used to be really, really rigid and think that training had to fall under a certain style and a certain set of rules. If you’re not training the body part, at least two times a week, you’re failing. If you’re not going to the gym four days a week so you have the maximum amount of the right frequency, you’re failing.

If you’re not using certain movement, you’re failing. This really got me into a lot of trouble earlier on as I was training on my own because I was using the flat straight bar, flat standard bench press. I hurt my shoulders a bunch.

I could have avoided all that if I realized I don’t need to use a straight bar because I’m not competing in power lifting.

I don’t need it to build muscle because I can load using other tools — dumbbells, machines, whatever else. There’s a whole bunch of other tools you can use. That’s an example that I look back and I realize I could have saved myself a lot of pain and frustration if I had more of an open mind. I feel like a lot of that stuff you can only get through experience.

There’s nothing that anyone could have told me at the time that would say, “Hey. This is going to screw you up. This is going set you back.” I just had to figure it out.

David TaoDavid Tao

Tell me a little bit more about doing too much syndrome. It’s a term that you use in a lot of content you produce. It’s all over your website. What is doing too much syndrome and how does a trainer or someone in the fitness space diagnose it?

JC DeenJC Deen

I think it’s an easy concept to understand. I think it’s hard to see yourself with this problem. I can give you an example.

Someone will come to me, they’ll say, “Hey JC, I’ve been working out for X amount of time, I’ve been watching my diet, and I’m just not getting the results I want.”

Usually, this person, they want some help, they want some coaching. They want someone to lay it all out for them and to tell them what to do. Within 20, 30 minutes of chatting, I can basically lay out what this person is doing, and why it’s not serving them.

An easy example is they typically want to get a certain result. Instead of working back to the fundamentals and realizing, “Hey, I need to exercise three or four times a week. I need to eat a diet that is in line with my goals. I need to give this time,” that person is typically exercising too much or trying to exercising too much and failing because they bit off more than they could chew.

They’re down on these rabbit holes when it comes to certain diets and certain protocols with eating. This person, if you look over their history of trying all these different things, they’re doing something every two weeks.

They’re like, “Oh, I tried keto, but it really sucked because I had insomnia and I craved carbs, so I just gave in. Now, I’m trying a high-carb approach. Now, I’m trying paleo.” They just jump back and forth.

You look at over a 12-week time period, and you’re like, “Wow you’ve done all these things and you’re not really getting results because you’re moving the goalposts and changing the way that you’re going about this too much.” What I typically do is I try to just scale everything back.

I’m like, “Look. Let’s forget the fancy dietary protocol. Let’s forget the fancy eating window. Let’s scrap this six-day training program. Let’s go down to three days.” When I can get someone on board, and they really take that to heart and do it, they just get way better results.

I think, especially in the western world, and how we’ve been brought up that more is better, and if you’re not hustling and doing all this stuff all the time, you’re a failure, I think we get caught up in this trap of feeling like there’s something better. There’s something more, and then we just try to do it all.

In reality, if you look at anyone that’s accomplished, we’ll just take strength athletes, or athletes in general, what are they masters at? They’re masters at the fundamentals.

They’re doing the basic stuff on a daily basis, and they’re doing it really well. Most people that are struggling, most people that are not hitting their goals, they learn the fundamentals at one point, but then they feel like, “Oh, the fundamentals are too easy, so I’m going to move on and try to do something more advanced.” That’s where I find they get in trouble.

David TaoDavid Tao

Can you think of an example where you yourself fell victim to doing too much syndrome? Maybe in recent memory as well.

JC DeenJC Deen

Oh, yeah. Sure. We’ll just take a training example. I’ve gone down these rabbit holes before of just trying to overdo the volume and thinking that because I’ve been training for 10 years, I can handle this, I can do this. Four or five weeks go by, and I’m just feeling really terrible, can’t sleep, and I’m just run down.

I look at my training, and then I’m like, “Wow. What I started with on week one is I’m at double on week six.” I would not put someone else through this. I wouldn’t make someone do this. This is actually very recent within the last three months. I was struggling. My joints were aching. I was not sleeping well. Just having a hard time.

I realized, I was like, “I got to take break. I got to completely reduce the loads.” What I did is I scrapped everything, and I picked a very simple…You’ve probably heard of Doggcrapp Training. It’s a very low volume, higher intensity type of training modality. In terms of work sets, you’re not getting more than 15 to 20 actual reps for each movement that you do. You’re not overloading the volume at all.

I scrapped it and I went down to that. Within a couple weeks, I just felt so much better. I still had to manage the intensity obviously because it’s a high intensity type of program, but just looking at it from an objective standpoint, it’s like, “Wow, why would I do this to myself if I wouldn’t put someone else through this?”

Despite my experience, despite my ability to understand what’s happening in my body. No one’s perfect, right? Jumping back to that program, that Doggcrapp Training, it was the best thing I could have done. That’s it.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve never heard of Doggcrapp Training before. You have to enlighten me a little bit here.

JC DeenJC Deen

There’s a guy named Dante Trudel. He’s really famous underground in the bodybuilding space.

His name on a forum was Doggcrapp, and he would write out these training programs. That’s why they started calling it Doggcrapp Training. It’s silly, but it’s stuck, and it’s really famous in the bodybuilding space.

It’s actually really simple. You have two training days, and you just alternate those every other day. You pick five or six movements total, and you hit the main body parts. You pick a rest-pause set for each body part.

One day you may do chest, biceps, shoulders, and calves, and you’ll do a set for all those in a rest-pause fashion, and then you’re done.

The next day you train quads, and hamstrings, and glutes, maybe upper back, something like that, and then you’re done. It’s a complete opposite end of the spectrum from a high volume approach.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Doggcrapp Training, I’m going to have to look that up. Having been in the fitness content space for a while myself, I’m always a little surprised when I hear about a protocol and the name doesn’t immediately stick out to me. I’ve been frequenting the wrong forums if I haven’t heard of Doggcrapp Training. Apparently, it’s the hotness.

JC DeenJC Deen

You’re in the string sports world. I’m sure they’re not utilizing that type of training. It’s probably not as effective for them. This would be for bodybuilders.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

I like to think that actually everyone’s just been hiding Doggcrapp Training from me. When I walk into a room of other people in the fitness industry, they’re like, “Ssh, David’s coming. Don’t talk about the secret Doggcrapp protocol.”

JC DeenJC Deen

 “Don’t tell him.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Maybe they’re just calling it Doggcrapp so I won’t be interested in it, and this is actually the secret I’ve been looking for over the past 12 years. This is what’s going to take me to the next level, and they’re just like, “Keep it away from him. Name it something he’ll hate, like Doggcrapp.”

If there’s one thing you could magically change about the fitness industry, funny names for training protocols aside, what would it be?

JC DeenJC Deen

I try not to be too much of a moralist on this, but I’m just going to say I would make it harder to enter the space. I don’t mean you need to get a fancy degree, or you need to get a masters, or a PhD, or anything like that, but I would make it harder to enter the space as a trainer, just in general, because the fact that it’s so easy to enter, it does two things.

It makes it incredibly saturated for anyone that’s working in this space. It also makes it hard for the consumer and the person that’s trying to get help to find someone that can truly help them. It makes it hard for everyone in general.

Especially now with the way Instagram has really blown up in the last four or five years, anyone that diets for 12 weeks and gets a set of six-pack abs can post a bunch of photos, get a huge following, and then start writing programs for people and doing coaching.

You know as well as I do that coaching is not just giving someone a macro plan and giving them a training program and say, “OK, do this.” It’s way more in-depth. The end consumer doesn’t truly understand this stuff the way we do, so it’s hard for them to…there’s so many things they don’t know they don’t know.

They see someone online, they’re like, “He seems like a nice person. He’s in good shape. He promises me he can do all this for me. This is what I’m going to do.” They buy a program, they don’t get the support they need, they get frustrated, they start to feel bad and down about themselves because they can’t get this to work. The reality is that person wasn’t qualified.

David TaoDavid Tao

Who do you think in the space today is putting out good content, good advice? Who do you look to in the space today and you think, “They are doing good stuff right now and I would actively recommend the content they’re producing to anyone who’s interested in learning more about health and fitness”?

JC DeenJC Deen

These are some just off the cuff ideas. [inaudible 27:35] , she is really good with movement in general. She’s one of my favorites when it comes to moving and basically getting your body to do what you want it to do, mobility, that type of thing. She’s really good with that stuff.

Another group is Gold Metal Bodies. They have a handful of people that run the company, but they do a lot of bodyweight stuff and a lot of movement stuff in general, and they’re doing really good things.

Tony Gentilcore is always putting out good stuff. Lee Boyce puts out some great stuff about movement. I could keep going, but those are the people I really like and I tend to follow, that I think are doing good stuff.

The guy, Jay, from A Workout Routine, he’s constantly putting out amazing stuff as well. There’s a whole bunch, but that’s who come to mind.

David TaoDavid Tao

Love it. What is the next frontier when it comes to fitness and recovery? I don’t mean fads. I don’t mean the next fad diet, or the next Doggcrapp Training protocol. I’m kidding about that one, by the way. What is the next big thing in strength and wellness that you think is actually going to catch on in a lasting capacity?

JC DeenJC Deen

This is really interesting. I think about this stuff quite a bit. Two things that come to mind for me is…Are you familiar with a company called WHOOP, the fitness band?

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah. We do a good bit of work with WHOOP at Power Band. Full disclosure, we’ve done some sponsored content with them. They sponsored some sections of our site, and I actually recorded a podcast with WHOOP’s CEO, Will, a few months ago.

JC DeenJC Deen

Nice. That’s cool. I’ll just say it, I’ve never used the band. I don’t. I’ve only listened to the podcast and read about the technology. I’ve used other fitness bands like Fitbit and some other stuff like that, but one thing I find interesting about WHOOP is they’re trying to take as much of the biofeedback stuff and put it in a format that we can actually use.

The thing I think is interesting about them is they’re working with athletes and also gen pop people who are interested in fitness.

They’re building this technology that essentially allows you to monitor your own biofeedback on your own and look at your app and look at what’s going on and be like, “I didn’t sleep very well last night. I should actually make today a recovery day and not push myself because I’ve got a hard workout coming out two days from now and I got to make sure I’m ready for that.”

They do some HRV stuff, which I think is interesting. Heart rate variability is one of those things that’s been around for a while but I don’t think anyone’s been able to crack the code on it and figure out how it truly applies. I know there’s a lot of ideas and people have some concrete stuff on it, but it’s just going to get better, and better, and better the more we use it.

That is one thing from a recovery standpoint. I think the use of technology is going to skyrocket in terms of what we know, especially with AI, and machine learning, and how these things are coming together. The other thing, and I could be totally wrong on this, but I think something that’s going to happen is if we look at the waves, everything comes and goes.

Before the advent of Internet and online training, people were going to gyms and getting personal trainers. A part of that whole thing was either you go to a commercial gym and you get a personal trainer, or you go to a boutique gym and you get high-end level service that you pay a lot more for but you get a good, qualified trainer, and that person coaches you one-one-one.

It started to move into online coaching, and then now everybody’s looking at this like, “I don’t need to pay X amount of money to go to the gym. I already know how to train. I just need someone to give me a program and give me coaching from afar.”

The next thing that is probably going to spin-off of this is people may actually end up getting frustrated with how much there is in the online space and how hard it is to find someone that can help you. People may actually start going back to the local and looking for someone local personally that can help them.

I feel like the boutique gyms may actually see a bump in enrollment and people going there to seek out help. Once the online stuff gets so saturated, like, “I’ve got all these online trainers that I’ve have struggled with, and I’ve not found anything good. I’m going to go back to someone in person.” That’s something I think may end up happening.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Got you. Where is the best place for folks to keep up to date with the content you’re pushing out and for them to follow you on social media?

JC DeenJC Deen

Just my website jcdfitness.com, is where all my writing goes. You can follow me on twitter @JCDFitness. I’m on Instagram, which is @jcdeen, that’s D-E-E-N. Those are the places that I hang out the most.

David TaoDavid Tao

Awesome. JC, thanks so much for taking the time and joining us today. Always great to catch up and to talk to someone I consider to be a member of the old guard in the fitness content community, but also doing great things today. Really appreciate your time.

JC DeenJC Deen

Thanks for having me. It was great.

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