About Scotty Butcher Ph.D. and Mindful Strength Training

Dr. Scotty Butcher is an Associate Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science at the University of Saskatchewan and co-founder of Strength Rebels. He holds a BSc PT and MSc Kin from the University of Saskatchewan and a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology and Experimental Medicine from the University of Alberta. He is certified as a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-RCEP), is a CrossFit Level 1 trainer (CF-L1), and is formerly certified as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS); the latter of which he has formally relinquished. Most recently, Scotty has been certified as a Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher, incorporates mindfulness into his research, and has a daily personal practice.

Scotty teaches exercise physiology, prescription, and rehabilitation to physical therapy students and has published several peer-reviewed articles and two book chapters related to exercise testing and prescription. Currently training as a powerlifter, he has a passion for strength training and translates this to promoting quality exercise training and rehabilitation practices for clinicians and students. His focus in research, teaching, and clinical work is on the hybrid rehabilitation/strength training approach, and shares his views through blogging and vlogging.

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Show Notes

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Mindful Strength Training

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About This Episode

Scotty and Kathryn talk about strength training, rehab, adaptation, and the benefits of a mindful strength training practice. Scotty talks about the benefits of heavy loads and the differences between full-body exercises and lighter isolation exercises commonly practiced in rehab settings. They talk about asymmetrical weakness and the ways in which people define strength. They also talk about rep ranges and using a 6-8 rep range to really build strength.

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Podcast Transcription

Kathryn: 00:03:19

ll right, Scotty. Welcome to the podcast.

Scotty Butcher: Thank you. I’m super excited to be on.

Kathryn: For the people who don’t know about you or the type of work that you do, do you want to take a few minutes and tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and what your work is, and maybe a bit about how you got into it?

Scotty Butcher: Yeah, yeah. So I’m a physical therapist by background. So that’s my initial training. But I have a master’s and a PhD in sort of the strength and conditioning world, as well as– I’ve done some work in pulmonary rehab, but really trained as a physical therapist and a physiologist, primarily.

I am an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. For those in the States that– gee, I don’t know if you have States listeners or mostly Canadian listeners. But if you’re from the States–

Kathryn: 00:04:06

Many international listeners.

Scotty Butcher: Yeah. If you sort of know hockey, it’s sort of between the Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets. So we’re kind of halfway between there, if you don’t know where Saskatchewan is. But anyway. So I teach in the Rehabilitation Science program, which is our physical therapy program, and I’ve been doing that for about 13 years now.

And I teach the exercise physiology and exercise prescription content and do research on strength training in a multitude of ways: some testing-related research, some mechanics and biomechanics-related research, as well as integrating high-intensity interval training with strength training.

But I have a particular interest in strength training in older adults and some of the outcomes that can happen with strength training, and most recently have gotten into doing some research on the impact of mindfulness and self-compassion and self-efficacy on the resilience that can be gained with strength training. And so that’s kind of the cool aspect of stuff that I’m doing now.

Scotty Butcher: 00:05:10

Where I got here? I mean, it’s the traditional professor model, but I’ve spent a lot of time doing a ton of different things. When I first got out of physio school, it was in private practice and doing that kind of work, did my master’s in– it was actually in core stability training through a kinesiology program, and worked in sports medicine for a short while.
I then took a leap of faith and moved into pulmonary rehab and practiced that as a clinician for a few years, and then went and did my Ph.D. on respiratory physiology and strength and conditioning, and then I got the faculty position. But the evolution, in terms of my research, has really come from my personal experience.

So as that’s evolved, as has my research, which is kind of nice to integrate my personal issues or personal concerns and things that I like with my professional ones. and hopefully that’s it.

Kathryn: 00:06:01

Yeah, that’s amazing. I made a few little notes of things to ask you more about, but I’m wondering how you personally got into strength training.

Scotty Butcher: Yeah. I’ve been involved with sports that have needed strength training as their training background ever since high school. So I’ve been doing varying forms of strength training ever since then. But back in high school, and then my early university days, it was– really, the information that was out there for the general public was all about Arnold’s encyclopedia, right?

And so all of the bodybuilding-type training, which had gone out of favor for a very long time since then, and it’s kind of coming back in style now with things. But anyway, I started training with that, and on and off, through some of the sports. And I played rugby for the vast majority of my life, and so I was doing some strength training through that.

And then when I got on the professor gig and started teaching and doing research, it sort of fell off, and I got kind of a little bit disenfranchised with sort of our profession in terms of our ability to prescribe exercise.

Scotty Butcher: 00:07:05

As a physical therapist, I was seeing a lot of what is so-called the weeny sort of therapeutic exercise-type things like TheraBands and the isolation exercises and things like that. And so I was trying to do a little bit of a change there, and one of my students, actually, at the time – this would have been about nine years ago now – introduced me, based on some of the things that I was saying, saying, “Hey, you know what? You really need to meet this guy.”

And this guy was a CrossFit coach, and he has a CrossFit facility here in Saskatoon. And I started with CrossFit, and I soon realized that I loved training whole-body and that sort of thing. But I really just wanted to focus on getting stronger, so I did need CrossFit. Although I have done some research in CrossFit since. I’ve left, personally, CrossFit as a modality, and I turned to powerlifting.

And so I’ve spent the last six years, on and off, training as a powerlifter. Not an elite powerlifter. I’m not super strong and I didn’t win any medals or anything. But it’s something I enjoy, and it’s something that’s gonna keep me off of the nursing home when I’m 80, hopefully. So yeah, it’s mostly training as a powerlifter now, trying to avoid injuries.

Kathryn: 00:08:13

Very cool. Very cool. When I first got into strength training, I had been doing yoga practice, like asana practice, for a number of years, and then I was starting to have some aches and pains. And then I somehow got into a CrossFit gym, and that type of training was really interesting to me. But after about a year or so, I decided to not practice too much CrossFit anymore.

And I also moved into powerlifting, and for a few years there, I trained very consistently as a competitive powerlifter. And I feel like it really, really changed my relationship to strength training and to just what I thought the human body was capable of, and adaptation, and really just opened my mind to the world of heavy lifting, which I got a little bit of in CrossFit, but it’s really, really not the same. So very interesting to hear about your story.

I’m wondering. So you mentioned that at some point in your journey, you were noticing the typical physiotherapy exercises, like the light bands, the isolation exercises, and you felt like there needed to be a shift, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that.

Scotty Butcher: 00:09:24

Absolutely. So I guess if you look at the history of physical therapy, right, from even 100 years ago at the inception, a lot of the therapeutic exercise came from trying to figure out how to deal with post-polio survivors who had these very specific weaknesses that needed very specific exercise to deal with. And so the profession sort of evolved from there.

But what it’s done, by focusing so much on these individual weaknesses, it sort of neglected, as a whole, in many facets, in many situations, particularly the musculoskeletal. And also in the early work that I’ve done with COPD patients in pulmonary rehab, the level of stress that goes through the entire body is completely different when you do something that involves, say, a squat or a lifting maneuver like a deadlift or a pressing maneuver like a bench press or an overhead press. The level of stress is significantly greater than what you’d get when you do an isolation exercise.

Scotty Butcher: 00:10:34

And so it’s not to say that the isolation-type exercises are wrong or that you shouldn’t do them. But what we know– and I like what you said about adaptation and noticing the differences in how your body responds to powerlifting-type training or strength training as a whole body.

It’s massively different because you need to apply a significant amount of stress to get the adaptation that we’re looking for. So if we’re trying to look for bodies that get better at doing things– not just bodies that are trying to return to normal life, whatever that normal life is, but trying to say, “Well, how do we actually improve our abilities?” What I found in, not only the work that I’ve been doing on the side, sort of clinical work but also working with students and my own personal-type training– that it just wasn’t happening with isolation-based exercising.

And it just really sort of started to bug me that– you’ve seen these exercise programs where it’s 3 sets of 10 for everybody, for everything, and it’s isolation– everybody with a shoulder gets banded rotations, external, internal rotations, and rotator cuff stuff. Everybody with knee issues gets isolated quads, and particularly, range quads.

And if they’re thinking and trying to work things out, they might turn the hip externally rotated to try and get the vastus medialis obliquus, which only exists in 30% of the population. So the VMO exercise.

Scotty Butcher: 00:12:04

So it’s starting to see that these sort of things aren’t effective for adaptation, and then noticing, not only myself but the people that I was working with and the research participants, that once you start doing this, once you start doing this whole-body-type training, that it improves your overall abilities.

You start noticing things like little aches and pains. They don’t bother you as much because you can cope with them, and you can do more with them. And climbing a flight of stairs that maybe hurt your knee and was a little winding before is all of a sudden, “Wow, my knee doesn’t actually really hurt anymore because I’m so much stronger to support the weight of what I’m doing or the weight of my body while I’m doing the exercise.”

So it was sort of that as a transition point. And I’ve certainly seen that in my ups and downs with my training, is that when I’m training consistently and really focusing on what I’m doing, bringing awareness to my training and the way that I’m moving, that my aches and pains that – a 46-year-old body that has played rugby for 30 years – we typically have, when I’m training consistently, they go away.

But when I have a period of layoff for whatever reason – stress, pandemic, any aspect of why I might cut my training down for varying reasons – then I start noticing, these aches and pains start coming back. And it’s a very funny thing that we don’t get taught that in school, and most people don’t think of it that way.

They think, “If I hurt, I probably shouldn’t lift heavy because that’s dangerous.” It’s actually the complete opposite of that. So anyway, hopefully, that tells that bit of a story.

Kathryn: 00:13:38

Yeah. I think what you just said at the end is kind of like the key. Because when you first started talking about the isolation and the light-banded exercise, and saying the word stress and you have to put stress on the body, I think that people right now are really evaluating the way they see the word stress.

And I’m wondering, do you think that there is a time and a place for isolation training, maybe, when people are in really acute stages of injury or after surgery, or are you a proponent for, “Let’s come back into this with full-body training from the beginning”?

Scotty Butcher: 00:14:12

Yeah. It’s both. I honestly think that you can’t ignore one– so let’s say you have the fortune of being someone who doesn’t have any symmetrical weaknesses or asymmetrical weaknesses. You don’t have any major issues. You’re pretty balanced. Your right is as strong as your left and vice versa. You can really get away with doing whole-body training, and that would take up the most of what you need, in my opinion.

Having said that, there are a few things that are– yes, if you just focus on, say, the powerlifting style where it’s bilateral symmetrical, you’re standing straight and doing that type of exercise, if you’re not adding in things like lunges and split squats, and maybe some alternate upper body work and that kind of thing.

So I think it helps round out a program, in general. And certainly, if you’re an athlete, your program should be very much tailored to the movements and the muscles and the activities, energy systems that are involved in that particular activity.

Scotty Butcher: 00:15:13

But if you’re a rehab client, usually, you’re coming there because there is something that isn’t quite right. And often, we find problems that we see. And so maybe you can do whole-body training for the lower body.

When I say that– I mean, a squat is a whole-body exercise, but maybe you have a shoulder issue. You can still do a squat with a shoulder issue with doing some modifications. And you’re still training whole-body, but what you’re doing is you’re not necessarily focusing on the shoulder where the pain actually is. So you may not be able to do upper-body, full-body exercise.

So things like pressing and pulling. So rowing-type movements, the bench press, and the overhead press that I mentioned earlier. So you may not be able to do those because of whatever’s going on in your shoulder.

In those cases, I think that if you can gradually progress to doing these sort of whole-body exercises like pressing and pulling, but then supplement with doing some specific, targeted exercises that are more isolation, I think that’s the best way to go.

Scotty Butcher: 00:16:16

I don’t think that it should be a linear process from, “Okay, I’m going to leave all of my pressing and pulling behind because my shoulder’s sore and all I’m going to do is the isolation stuff.” Because eventually, the idea is that you want to progress to these, what we call, more functional things, or things that involve both arms and lifting a little bit heavier.

But the problem is, is most people in a therapeutic setting don’t ever get there. They start with the therapeutic and the isolation-banding type stuff, and they never really progress. Because we don’t really understand– and it’s very different, individual to individual, how quickly it progresses.

Little road marks that they can follow to say, “Well, absolutely.” By the time they’re ready to be done therapy, then they should be at this level of strength, and they should have moved onto pressing and pulling and that kind of thing. There’s nothing set there.

Scotty Butcher: 00:17:06

So my take, and what I always teach my students, is to look at function first. So look at how the whole body moves. And if there’s a problem with someone with shoulder– again, using the shoulder example, with shoulder pain where lifting up over their head is sore, for example, well, you might not do that.

But what you might do is, you might lower the weights down, and you might change the angle and do– so instead of an overhead press, you might do something that’s more like a bench press or a horizontal press within a range of motion that’s comfortable with a load that’s less, and start there rather than just saying, “Okay. Well, I have to just do the rotator cuff banded, turning the shoulder in and out for rotations.”

But then you can still do that, right? And then the progression is, once you get better and better and better, then you’re still doing the movement patterns for these strength exercises that will allow better adaptation over the long term, but you’re starting them sooner. So does that make sense?

Kathryn: 00:18:01

Yeah, yeah. Totally. And I think sometimes, people assume that if they have shoulder pain with an overhead press, that they should just not lift weights at all, because something must be wrong with their shoulder and it will make it worse.

I totally agree with what you’re saying about like, “Let’s change the load. Let’s change the movement a little bit and see if you can find a version where someone can do it, and then progress from there.”

Scotty Butcher: Absolutely.

Kathryn: 00:18:25

Okay. So you mentioned asymmetrical weakness. I feel like people ask me this all the time. I never quite know exactly what to say. So do you think that our body should have symmetrical strength on both sides? And if something is quite asymmetrical, do you think that’s a problem, and how can people work with that?

Scotty Butcher: Yeah, good question. It’s so individual. Inherently, our bodies are asymmetrical, and I think this is why you’re asking the question. It’s just, we do know that you’re never going to be perfectly symmetrical, and we shouldn’t ever really strive for that.

That’s not something that I think is a reasonable expectation. I mean, there could be a multitude of reasons that asymmetry exists, and a lot of them are anatomical. Right? A lot of them are because this is just the way one side moves compared to the other side. Where it becomes more relevant is in the case of an injury where there is documented weakness that you can assume, as a therapist, that it’s from that injury, or maybe they’re very imbalanced in terms of their distribution of what they do.

Let’s say they are manual handling a job that they just use, let’s say, right arm to do something, and they don’t use their left. And the left is a lot weaker, but then you’re starting to develop some pain or issues on the left. Situations like that, I might look at saying, “Okay. Well, maybe let’s try and get the left side a bit stronger to kind of get closer to the right.”

But in between those two extremes, where you don’t worry about symmetry and you do worry about symmetry, is kind of where most people are, and it’s– how relevant is it? And as an individual physical therapist, they have to make that decision, “Well, is it relevant? Is it not?”

Scotty Butcher: 00:20:06

I don’t think it’s something that we inherently should push for. And the problem with that, again, is that– and those asymmetries do exist. But you’re healthy. You can move well. You can lift weights. But if you look closely enough, you will find something wrong. And when I say wrong, I don’t mean that “Oh wow, they should stop training,” but that’s the message they get.

It’s wrong as in, “Oh, there is an asymmetry,” or, “Here is a little bit of a rotation.” And we can really do a good job of being nocebic and telling people that, “Ooh, maybe we shouldn’t move because it’s going to hurt us.” And that is, to me, one of the biggest problems in the physical therapy profession right now, is that we are trying to fix people to make them these perfect robots that are symmetrical, and it just doesn’t work that way.

So there are times and there are places where– this individual stuff where you’re trying to really focus on, the asymmetries that you see are important, but I try and discourage people from really looking for that. If it’s relevant in the case, then you can start talking about it.

But you shouldn’t ever be limited and say, “Well, man, I’m not ever going to do any overhead pressing because my left side is 15 to 20 percent weaker than my right side. I better get that left side up to snuff before I start doing some overhead pressing.”

That is, in my opinion, the wrong approach. So again, as anything, it’s not black and white. It’s a bit of the gray.

Kathryn: 00:21:34

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All right, everyone, back to the show. Mindful Strength Membership. And to join us, go to mindfulstrength.ca and click Membership. All right, everyone, back to the show. [music]

Kathryn: Yeah. Ooh, so good. I feel like people are really going to appreciate this interview. So when we say the words strength training, how would you describe what you mean when you say strength training?

Scotty Butcher: 00:22:34

Awesome. Great, great question. Strength is one of these words that has multiple definitions depending on who you’re talking to, who you’re talking with, and the context behind it. I mean, by true, strict definition, strength, when we’re talking about a human and the strength of their muscles, is really like– people would describe a bicep curl and say, “Well, it is, how much weight can I lift one time with my biceps during elbow flexion?” Right?

That’s sort of the typical definition. I don’t think of strength training as purely muscle strength. It’s not about building strength in the biceps or the quads or any particular individual muscle. The way I describe strength training is much more the way a powerlifter would describe strength. It’s, how much weight can you move with enough focus on technique that you’re not going to be severely inefficient with your movement patterns?

And it’s sort of, how well can you move that weight? So it’s kind of more of an integrated approach using the neuromuscular system as well as the muscles, but it’s not purely based on the muscle. So I would say, if someone were to ask me how strong you are– if they were asking me, I might say, “I’m super strong because I can tolerate training squats and deadlifts and pressing with form that’s good enough for good efficiency, and I don’t seem to hurt myself very much.”

So it’s kind of a roundabout way of looking at that too, but it definitely is more about the movement than it is about, necessarily, the individual muscles.

Kathryn: 00:24:16

I know different people have different opinions about this, but I tend to work with folks who are using, what I would consider, a light dumbbell, like a 10-, 15-, 20-pound dumbbell, or maybe a kettlebell that’s 30 pounds at the most, probably, and some resistance bands.

And for the average person who doesn’t have an acute thing that they’re working with, I would usually consider those weights as a little bit more on the light side. And sometimes when I start talking about heavy lifting, people start to get kind of freaked out like, “Oh my goodness, that seems so heavy,” even talking about 100 pounds.

And I know that it’s relative, and it depends on what you’re used to, and all of those things. But what do you consider heavy?

Scotty Butcher: 00:25:00

Yeah, great question. So to me, the adaptations around training come from the effort that you put into it. And so heavy is– if you’re thinking about– and let’s just use it on an actual number. And again, it doesn’t always work this way because there’s lots of subjectivity here.

But if you were to say on a scale from 0 to 10 in terms of how much exertion and effort you’re putting into your training session or your particular set that you’re doing, if you get to the point where it’s an 8 or a 9 or a 10 out of 10, you’re probably lifting heavy.

Now, what does that mean? Well, as you said, it’s very context-specific, and we do need to look at the intent that’s going into each of them. So we sort of talk about, as you say, the lighter kettlebells and the bands as being light resistance. But for someone who’s severely deconditioned, if they do, let’s say, six repetitions, and they’re sitting at 9 or 10 out of 10 when they’re finished doing their leg extensions, I mean, that’s fairly heavy. Right?

Scotty Butcher: 00:26:03

Or another example – probably the best one that I usually use – is, how about an 80-year-old who is struggling to get off the chair, not because of, necessarily, range of motion limitations, but they just simply don’t have the strength and power to be able to get off the chair? Well, how is that any different than you or I or any client doing the squat or a powerlifter doing the squat, and they’re trying to lift a maximum amount of weight one time?

That’s a 10 out of 10 effort. Do you think that’s a 10 out of 10 effort for the 80-year-old trying to get off a chair and can’t? Yeah. Absolutely, it is. So their body weight could be heavy, right? So it is individual-specific, but it does come down to the amount of effort that you’re putting into it. So I might be lifting a deadlift at 225, and someone else might go, “Wow, is that ever heavy?” But for me, I do 8 to 10 reps with that, and I might come out of it with 5 or a 6 out of 10 in terms of exertion. That’s not heavy for me.

So I think that’s one of the key things that is missing in our therapeutic exercise prescription, is not just the focus of movements over muscles, but it’s the focus on effort. I think heavy is more relative to the effort that you’re putting in than it is the weight itself.

Kathryn: 00:27:21

Okay. So what if someone’s doing 30 reps of something with a 10-pound dumbbell, and then at the end of it, they’re like, “That was my max effort”?

Scotty Butcher: Right. Good question. So you could make the argument that that was heavy for the task that you asked them to do. Right? Because if they were to do a 5-pound dumbbell for 30 reps, they might come out with a 5 or 6 out of 10. Right?

So it really does depend on the task that you’re asking them to do. Now traditionally, there’s the rep-loading continuum where we say that, usually, anything in the 1 to maybe 12-ish repetition range could be considered more on the strength side of things versus anything higher than that.

As you say, 30 reps or so – might be considered, from a physiological perspective, more of a muscle endurance type of training. Those boundaries are definitely changing, and they’re very fluid based on a lot of the research that’s coming out.

Scotty Butcher: 00:28:18

Typically, when we say strength – in other words, if we stick back to that definition of trying to lift something that’s relatively heavy with the best technique that you can – it’s usually over a short number of repetitions. Some people will argue, it has to be one repetition. So it’s always your one-repetition max. I don’t think that that’s necessarily true. I think you can go up to 80-ish repetitions and really legitimately still call that strength for many individuals. Not an elite powerlifter, but for many of our general population – people that we might be working with – up to 8 reps is still going to be strength. You get a bit higher than that, and you’re probably looking a little bit more on the endurance side.

Kathryn: 00:28:58

Yeah, I totally agree. So oftentimes, I get questions from people online who are maybe in my membership or doing our classes or something like that. A lot of people who are very– kind of general population who I don’t really know at all, and they’re like, “How much weight should I be lifting? What’s too much?” I’m like, “Well, how many reps are you doing? And can you get yourself to a point where you’re lifting a weight for 8 repetitions?” and like, “Not 10 or 12 or 15. Eight.

So through the 8th rep, you’re kind of done for that set, and I think that is the way that you should be using.” And I think it’s just such a more simplified way for people to think about it, and for them to experiment with weights and movements themselves and start to figure things out.

Because I think that, at least the type of people who I work with who are very new to any type of strength practice, there is always this tendency to go with the really light weights and to just do reps for minutes and minutes. And that’s also a great way to do movement, but probably not like strength training.

Scotty Butcher: 00:30:03

Yeah, totally. And I agree with your approach. That’s the approach that I use too. One of my biggest pet peeves in terms of this world– I’m trying to figure out how to set resistances, and you look at pretty much every guideline that’s out there for, “How do you do training for X population, and what type of resistance should you be using?”

It is almost entirely based on knowing a one-repetition maximum and taking a percentage of that. Having said that, in the clinic or in the gym or in the studio or wherever you are, how many times do we actually do these one-repetition maximums? We don’t. Even training as a powerlifter, the only time I’m doing the real 1RM is on the platform. It’s when I’m competing.

Everything else is usually, some degree, a little bit submaximal from that. Not far off, but still up there. So what I don’t get is why we don’t prescribe exercise based on something else and prescribe the intensities. Because we do know that there is a good correlation between the number of reps we do, the weight that we lift in terms of percentage of our maximum capacity, the number of reps, and the effort that we put into it.

Scotty Butcher: 00:31:16

So if we don’t measure the one-repetition maximum, which we don’t have to, yeah, set your goal repetition and say, “Okay. it’s 6 repetitions,” or, “It’s 8 repetitions.” And how well did you do this for a set, what I’m teaching you? Well, hopefully, it was easy. Because when you’re teaching movement, you don’t want fatigue. When you’re learning a new motor skill, you want non-fatiguing exercise.

So this is where you’re going to go light. You’re going to practice a ton of reps. But you can’t call that strength until you start saying, “Okay. Well, I’ve been doing my sets of 8, and this time, I did 10 sets of 8 with a 20-second break in between each set.” Right? But I just did it with a broomstick. Right? And then I start progressing.

Say I’m still saying my sets of 8, but then I start getting heavier. So rather than having a rate of perceived exertion of 2, I start saying, “Okay. Well, when do we start actually getting to a 6 or a 7?” Because that’s the point in time where we’re starting to push into that zone where we’re actually going to get tissue and mechanical adaptation. So the progressions, I think, can be fairly quick.

But yeah, we got to base it on the amount of exertion that we’re doing for the amount of reps that we do. So yeah, I think we’re absolutely on the same page there.

Kathryn: 00:32:29

Awesome. So I’m wondering how you got into mindfulness practice and when you started to do this research and this integration of mindfulness in strength training.

Scotty Butcher: Yeah. It’s a new research area for me. I’ve certainly been practicing mindfulness for a couple of years formally. I’ve done some meditation in the past, but nothing really formal and nothing consistent until a couple of years ago.

A lot of it started from my own mental health, and I have published on my blog about some of the struggles that I’ve had with my own mental health and anxiety and things like that. And so I have taken MBSR – probably everybody listening would know what it is – mindfulness-based stress reduction, which is a formal eight-week course from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s sort of work and his development there, and it was mind-blowing.

A bad pun there, but it really, honestly was mind-opening and mind-blowing to me about everything in terms of my symptoms and the way of dealing with things in life and stresses, and how my procrastinations have led to– and just for me, from a psychological perspective, from a therapeutic, clinical perspective, it was just incredibly intriguing.

Scotty Butcher: 00:33:46

So that’s where it sort of started. But then after that, I started developing some ideas around how this works. And certainly, I know that integration of mindfulness into movement is not a new thing. This is what, probably, most of your listeners are familiar with in terms of yoga and those types of movements.

But thinking about how that relates to where my passion in strength training lies, and how to do, say, non-yoga, asana formal work that you would do, but to do it in such a way that supports the strength training. And so that’s sort of where the integration started.

And so I’ve done a ton of reading, tons of research articles, tons of books. I actually went through a mindfulness and meditation teacher training course – I just got my certificate a couple of weeks ago – and sort of really immersed myself into the world of mindfulness and meditation.

Scotty Butcher: 00:34:37

And it’s just so interesting about how much research there is now– not 10, 20 years ago, but now, how much research there is on these really defined anatomical and physiological effects that have a huge impact on behavior. And it’s that that really intrigued me. Because if you were to tell me, “Okay. Well, what about something else, like snake oil?” right, it’s not.

I used to say stuff like that– if you were to ask me 30 years ago when I was getting out of physio school – or not quite 30 years, but close – would there be an effect on stress and recovery and, potentially, the way that you deal and interact with your pain and your injuries based on things like meditation, I would have laughed, and I would have said, “There’s no way I’m doing that.”

Right? My young self would have laughed at me now saying, “Oh, you’re crazy.” But I’m not because there’s so much out there.

Scotty Butcher: 00:35:31

So I’ve read the research. We’ve got a research team that involves a clinical psychologist. We’ve got a mindfulness expert who’s done a tone of mindfulness training, Anita Chakravarti. She’s done quite a bit of work up here in Saskatoon, and a former anesthesiologist. So she’s on the team, plus other people doing some qualitative work, and it’s really just sort of blossomed from there.

And the main thing that I’m really trying to get out of it, and the reason that I’ve been able to tie this together, and why my interest have come here is that with strength training, what I see time and time and time again with my quantitative research study– so the ones that measure, “Hey, you just started a training program, and you started at a 100-kilogram squat, and now you’re at 175 after 12 weeks of training.”

Right? Typical findings. But the things that I wasn’t capturing, and what I was hearing, were all the stories that went behind what people can do better.

Scotty Butcher: 00:36:26

One example. “I can get the pots out of the bottom cupboard by squatting down, and I can grab my pots – I’m strong enough to grab my pots – hang onto them, and stand back up again and put them on the counter.

And what I used to have to do is kind of half-bend down, hang onto the counter so I wouldn’t fall or not be able to get back up again, kind of pull the pot out, and then kind of do a bit of a lift from the floor from that.”

And it’s this whole big struggle that they would have, and then all of a sudden, they can do it after some training. But this is the type of thing that, you don’t ask people about it. It’s the story that they bring to you that they say, “Wow, this is amazing. I didn’t expect this.”

And so my research now is trying to examine that. So it’s trying to examine these stories that people are saying and how they build resilience. And so how they build the ability to have higher capacity, but also to be able to say, “Well, you know what? Maybe I’m not going to fall as much,” or, “Maybe I’m not going to let this little knee pain bother me as much.”

Scotty Butcher: 00:37:26

And looking at the impact of– in the research of mindfulness and resilience and how they sort of interplay, there are things like self-efficacy and self-compassion and a few other things, even the term grit from Angela Duckworth’s work.

They kind of play all into this. But what I’m doing right now is a couple of qualitative or mixed-method studies on strength training and varying aspects of that where I’m doing interviews to say, “Well, what is it that you can do better, and why is that?” And so we’re measuring resilience, and we’re measuring self-efficacy, and we’re measuring quality of life and these things.

And so what I’m really hoping to hear are the stories of how strength training gets people better in terms of other things. Not just the obvious ones, but also then, how it builds this resilience and how that relates to your mindset as well as mindfulness. So that was sort of long-winded, but did that make sense to you?

Kathryn: 00:38:22

100%. So what you said about the stories of teaching someone some strengthening exercises, and then they do those, but then they come back and they have this whole story about all this new stuff that they can do, I completely relate to this.

Because I feel like this happens in my work all the time – I work with lots of people online – but more so in the people who I work with in person. Because when you teach a class and people come, and there are 15 minutes before and after the class, you start chatting with people, and I find, personally, that that’s when they start telling me about all the things that feel different in their lives.

I typically work with women who are over the age of 60 who have never considered the idea of strengthening exercise before. And I remember when we were first starting in that first two-year period, people would start coming in before class and tell me things like, “I just vacuumed my whole house. I haven’t done that in such a long time,” and these stories and the confidence that they build to do movements and to just– even just feel a bit more robust.

Kathryn: 00:39:27

I remember one time, for a short period of time, I taught classes out of my home. And so someone was leaving the property and walking to her car, and she tripped on the curb, and she fell down on the ground.

And she told me that she just bounced back up and kept on going and didn’t worry about it all, and she felt that her body was more robust from doing this type of training. And that’s always so interesting to me. And when I started to work with this demographic, I really started to consider the other benefits of strength training.

And it’s not just about muscle mass and weights on the bar or body composition or all of those things. There’s so much more here that strength training can help people with.

Scotty Butcher: 00:40:10

Yeah. Well, it is a massive thing. Right? Some of the people that say, “Well, if there’s really no correlation between changes in strength and, say, pain levels or something like that–” and that’s true. On a scale of where we’re looking at means or medians or modes and standard deviations or variants, when you have a group of people that you’re trying to do statistics with, there’s probably not a big difference.

But there is a big difference individually, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the getting stronger and the fact that you can lift more that actually has a difference in how you feel.

But it might just be the process of training that’s more important, the fact that we’re putting load on and we’re progressing that load, and as you said, building confidence, plus all of these other potentially psychological concerns and changes that can happen, which a lot of it is unknown right now, I think.

This is where, hopefully, this type of research is going to start to shed some light as to why we get these big, big changes that don’t happen with other types of exercise.

Kathryn: 00:41:16

Yeah, so great. Well, I’m so interested to see where your research takes you over the next few years, and I’d love to stay in touch. I’d love to do this again. I feel like we have so much to talk about. For people who want to check out your website or follow you on social media, where should they go to do that?

Scotty Butcher: Yeah. So my social media is all under The Strength Jedi. I’m a huge Star Wars fan and, obviously, a strength fan, and it’s so awesome, the closeness with mindfulness and the force. And I don’t know if you’re a Star Wars person, Kathryn.

But to me, it’s just the perfect blend on why it’s called thestrengthjedi.com. And then my handle on Instagram, Twitter are both TheStrengthJedi, or you could just search it up on Facebook as well.

Kathryn: Amazing. So we’ll put those links in our show notes, and people can go check you out and follow you and–

Scotty Butcher: That would be awesome.

Kathryn: 00:42:07

Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Scotty Butcher: I would love to come on again. I think we barely scratched the surface here in terms of some of the stuff that we could be talking about in thinking about the ways that we’re integrating mindfulness in with some of the movements we’re doing. I’d love to do that again. So yeah, I’d love to come back on.

Kathryn: Yeah. Amazing. Well, I would definitely be in touch.

Scotty Butcher: Okay. Well, thank you very much for having me on.

Kathryn: My pleasure.