Wits & Weights | Nutrition, Lifting, Muscle, Metabolism, & Fat Loss

Ep 45: Q&A - Strength for Women 40+, Safe Lifting, 3 vs. 4 Day Splits, Workout Nutrition

February 10, 2023 Philip Pape Episode 45
Wits & Weights | Nutrition, Lifting, Muscle, Metabolism, & Fat Loss
Ep 45: Q&A - Strength for Women 40+, Safe Lifting, 3 vs. 4 Day Splits, Workout Nutrition
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Show Notes Transcript

This is the first Q&A episode ever for Wits & Weights!

I'm covering four training-related questions from followers of our Facebook group (Wits & Weights) and plan to do more episodes like this to answer your questions there and on Instagram (follow me at @witsandweights), with a shoutout to you (if you want)!

And if you like this Q&A type of episode, let me know and I'll do more of them to release on Fridays between my other episodes. Just email me (philip@witsandweights.com) or direct message me on Instagram.


  1. What would a solid strength training protocol for women over 40 look like?

  2. Another woman over 40 here. I have been lifting with progressive overload for a year and I have not been able to progress as much as I would like. It’s not that I don’t want to go heavier; I just don’t feel safe in doing one rep, let alone 4-6. What are my options?

  3. Does research show a difference between a 3-day full-body strength training schedule vs. breaking it up into a 4- or 5-day split such as Push/Core, Pull/Calves, Legs/Core, Full Body?

  4. What are your recommended pre- and post-workout nutrition strategies?

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Philip Pape:

Welcome to the Wits& Weights podcast, where we discuss getting strong and healthy with strength training and sustainable nutrition. I'm your host, Philip Pape. And in each episode, we examine strategies to help you achieve physical self mastery through a healthy skepticism of the fitness industry, and a commitment to consistent nutrition and training for sustainable results. Welcome to another episode of Wits & Weights. This is the first ever q&a episode for the show. And if you find it helpful, the best thing you could do for me is to let others know and submit a rating and review on Apple or Spotify. So people can more easily find it. That's the way to do it. Spread the word spread the love, I really appreciate it. And I'm grateful for that. If you don't know me, my name is Philip Pape. And I help high achievers use their wits to build their best body reclaim their time and become their most capable, confident selves in the gym, and in life, so they can show up and make an impact. Today I'm answering for training related questions from followers of our Facebook group, and plan to answer more in the future from that group as well as on Instagram. You can find the group linked in the show notes or just search for Wits & Weights, and you can find me on IG at Wits & Weights. Alright, let's jump into today's four questions. Question. One is from Christina M. She asks, What would a solid strength training protocol for women over 40 look like? Alright, I'm going to spend the most time on this question today. And then the remaining questions are also training related. What I want to start with is just the basic principles of strength training that apply to everyone. And then add on the considerations for women over 40. So the most important thing about training is that you get the right balance of intensity, volume and frequency. So intensity, what we mean by that is the weight on the bar, the load on the bar, not how much your you know, heart rate is going and how hard the workout feels. But really the weight on the bar, we also want to have progressive overload. And that is simply increasing your volume over time, usually in the form of increasing your weight on the bar over time or your intensity. But you could of course, increase it through other means, such as volume, and sets and reps. The next thing which is critical, so critical is good form. I've seen people jump into a training program and start to progressively overload, but they're using poor form. And on one hand, it leads to a chance of injury. But on the other hand, it also prevents you from properly and efficiently lifting the weight, and then actually getting the benefits of progressive overload. And before long, you're at too heavy of a weight. It doesn't feel safe, it doesn't feel effective, because you never dialed in form from the beginning. And then finally, I'm just going to mention this right up front. If you are unsure about a lot of this, even if you go the DIY method, and you've done everything you can to read and listen and watch videos, and you're still uncomfortable with it. Please get a coach get a trainer. Okay, not just me. I'm not even a personal trainer. I'm a nutrition coach. But I provide oversight and form checks and I refer people to trainers, but just find any trainer you can who seems to know what they're talking about when it comes to the big movements like squats and deadlifts. So that's that's the basics. Now, what is our goal? Our goal when we strength train, at least for me and my clients is strength, first and foremost, as a beginner, and size. So building muscle. And for women, this may be expressed in terms of getting lean getting tone, you're definitely not going to get bulky. I think we know that we've put that myth to bed a while ago. building muscles the only way to improve your body composition and get lean we know that and if you want to hear me go on and on about that check out some of my other more recent episodes. But if our goal is strength and size, we basically need to apply a few principles to our muscles when we're working out and then pick our program and protocol accordingly. The first is mechanical tension. So simply the load that we place on our muscles from lifting heavy weights, is going to put tension on the muscle to stimulate it to grow. Somewhat related to that is activating the most amount of muscle fibers as possible. The more muscle fibers we activate not only muscle groups, but actually the different size fibers within a single muscle. Muscle belly we call it is going to maximize your growth Okay, and we get that from big movements generally Big full body movements or compound movement. the next principle is progressive overload, which I already mentioned before. But now we understand the reason we use progressive overload is to increase that mechanical tension over time. Because every time you do that, you then stress the muscles, you take the time to recover, and then your muscles adapt, and now you're able to lift a heavier weight. And so you don't want to keep lifting the same weight because that will not further stress your muscles and they just won't grow anymore. You've probably heard like muscles grow, when you're recovering or muscles grow while you're asleep, they don't grow in the gym, that's where that comes from. Okay, as far as movements to accomplish this, we can simplify it into three general categories, pushing, pulling, and squatting. So for pushing, we have the benchpress and the overhead press. So bench presses laying flat on your back, and pressing and then the overhead press is standing. The pulling movements would be deadlift, and rows. So the deadlift is just picking something off the ground, and rows are going to be bent, usually bent over and pulling something back in a rowing movement to work you're back. And by the way, beginners don't really have to use rose, in my opinion, you can incorporate those a little later. And then the squat, okay, so the squat is the mother of all lifts, in my opinion, because it works, the largest muscle groups, quads, the hips, the glutes, the hamstrings, the calves, and it even uses your stabilizers like your core, and you're back. So it's kind of a full body movement. And when you talk about wanting to build bigger biceps or tighter back or bigger glutes, I say, well, first, you got to get the foundation, squat, deadlift, and pressing, I mean, the pressing doesn't even really contribute to the lower body. But the squats and deadlifts definitely do. And they contribute to the core and everything else. So those are the basic basic movements that you want. In a beginner program. You don't need barbell curls, you don't you don't even need like chins and pull ups until you get a little bit a little bit in like a few months in. You don't need isolation movements, you don't need machines, you don't need cables, all that you don't need those, okay, for a basic program. So what is the protocol look like now? Okay, and I really hope this I know, this is a long answer to a question in the q&a segment. But I think this is important. So the program should allow you to workout three to five days a week, okay? Two days would be if you're significantly older, and you've never lifted like 70 Plus, but everybody else should be able to work out at least three to five days a week. And I one of the later questions of the four questions. Today, I'm going to talk about the difference between three and four or five day splits, and which one's more beneficial? So stay tuned for that question. So 35 workouts per week, I liked the advice by Mike Matthews of Legion athletics, in terms of how many sets to do and he likes to say nine to 12 Hard sets per major muscle group, okay, per week, which basically comes out to be nine to 12 sets of something per workout, or to make it really easy three or four movements with like three or four sets. Fair enough. So three or four movements, three or four sets, you're not going to do seven movements or eight different machines or anything like that, I can do cardio, none of that three to five movements. Keeping it simple, I would use straight sets across at first, what does that mean, you're going to do say three sets of five, or three sets of four, or three sets of six, and just go up in weight each time. Don't make it complicated with rep ranges and RPE are IR if you've heard all these terms, don't let them you know, confused the beginning phase, which we want to keep very simple. You want to go heavy, what does that mean? Heavy mean 75 to 85% of your max. Now you're not gonna know what that is at the beginning. So you just want to go with something that is achievable, and then start going up from there. And you want to work in the four to six rep range. The reason we do that, and I like five, it's right in the middle five reps. The reason we do that is it optimizes your volume it balances, reps and sets, okay? Or reps and weight. So if you go four to six reps, you can lift pretty heavy. If you were doing like one rep, it would be way too heavy and you probably wouldn't even have good form and wouldn't give you enough volume. If you're doing 20 reps, you're not gonna have much weight and you're gonna get fatigued really quickly and you're not going to get the stimulus you need. So around five reps is ideal. Once you start adding an accessory movements, other movements, you can go in higher rep ranges like six to eight or eight to 10 at a slightly lower weight. One of the important things we care about in our program is stimulus to fatigue ratio. I think that's I think Mike Israel, coined that phrase And it's the idea that you want the most muscle stimulus, but you also want to be able to recover. So always keep that in mind, if you feel like your training program is beating you up, and you you come sluggish to the gym every time and you're doing everything else, right? You know you're eating, you're sleeping, and so on, it may just be too much stimulus. Conversely, if you feel super fresh, and like you could easily lift more weight, and you probably shouldn't be lifting more, you should be lifting more. All right. And then finally, we're going to, we're trying to work out so heavy that it feels like it's one to three reps shy of failure. And as you get more into training, you'll understand what that means. If you use sets across and just go up in weight each week, it'll keep you in that range. And then we're going to have decent rest periods anywhere from two to five minutes between the movements. Okay, so that was quite a bit that could probably be a podcast all to itself. But what are the considerations for people over 40 and women over 40? All right, and I say women and I say people because a lot of it's the same, regardless of gender. The differences for women that I've seen, and that I think the science or the evidence has shown is women can generally handle a little bit more volume on average than men, which just means that you might have to do a few extra reps, or take a little bit less rest period, or have do the movements more often during the week. So with all that sounds sounds like bad news, right? Like you have to do more, but it also means that you could recover more quickly. So that's the plus side of all of that. And recovery is the name of the game as we get old. So I'm in my 40s. And I'm feeling I don't feel like I was in my 20s I couldn't work, do 90 minute sessions every day for six days a week, no way. So let's talk about the considerations to have the most optimal workout and feel your best but still make progress. First, you're not going to like get something they're not going to like this, but you've got to eat food, you've got to eat enough. And if you really want to make gains in the gym, you have to at least eat at maintenance calories, but more likely, you want to be in a very slight surplus. So strengthen muscle gains and of any meaningful amount, you're not going to get them in a diet. Okay, if you're brand new, and you're in a very slight diet, and you've got all the other things up to snuff, right like your your steps and your sleep and your stress and your macros and everything, then yeah, maybe you can get a little body read composition going on. But it's not going to be optimal. If you want to focus on just the goal of getting stronger and increasing your muscle mass. Knowing that later, you can quickly lop the fat off, you need eat enough. So that's that's an important part of training for over 40. Recovery, recovery is very important. So as a beginner, you're probably going to be working out three days a week. And that gives you a good amount of rest periods a rest time. But as you get more advanced, you might end up working out four or five days a week. And so you really have to manage the programming style versus your ability to recover recovery in a couple of ways. One is recovery between sets. So taking long enough rest periods, right. And if you feel like you're just winded by set two or three, you might just need to wait longer. And then recovery in terms of don't not doing the same movement too many times in a week. Like if you're doing a three times per week squatting program. But you've been doing that for three months, you may be too fatigued doing that and need to back off on the frequency or at least on the load. All right. Here's another consideration for women specifically, I found that women sometimes can handle more sets with fewer reps. So for example of a program is written with three sets of five, and you start to plateau. Like let's say you're on your second month of training, the overhead press and you just don't feel like it's going up. Switch it to five sets of three. So if you think about it, you should be able to lift more weight for three reps than for five reps, or, yeah, more weight for three reps than for five reps. But now you're just going to do a couple extra sets. And because women again have a better recovery ability and ability to handle volume, this actually works pretty well sometimes because you can get those extra couple sets. Whereas a male trainer might, you know, might find that too fatiguing in terms of volume that the way that structured. So we'll let you progress continue to progress. So think of instead of three sets of five, five sets of three as a way to continue progressing, okay? sleep and stress so important when you're over 40 They're always important, but if you can get that eight or even nine hours of sleep, if you can manage your stress or a cut things out of your life you don't need, you can find time to yourself and you can find time for self care as much as possible. That's gonna go a long way in how you feel in the gym and your ability to make gains. We talked about food, we talked about recovery. The only other thing I would say is don't Don't go with the same program too hard for too long. If you're six or eight weeks in or even 10 weeks in, and you're feeling just beat up, you can take a D load. And a D load is where you take a very light week where you still have high intensity, but you do many fewer sets. And you might even notch the intensity down a bit like to 80% of what you were doing, just for that week, cut out all the accessory movement, and then continue with your block the next week. That's one approach. The other approach is just switch it up. If you're doing a strength based program, switch to a bodybuilding program, you know, those are ways to kind of allow your body body to keep recovering. So I hope Christina that that answers your question is a lot of information, go back and watch or listen to this again. And of course, you can reach out to me with direct questions. And if there's further q&a from that q&a Answer, I will clarify more in the future. Hey, this is Philip Pape. And if you feel like you've put in effort to improve your health and fitness, but aren't getting results, I invite you to apply for a one on one coaching to make real progress and get the body you desire. We'll work together to figure out what's missing so you can look better, perform better and feel better. Just go to wits & weights.com/coaching, to learn about my program and apply today. Now back to the episode. All right, question two is from Sophia G. She asks another woman over 40 Here I've been lifting with progressive overload for a year, I've not been able to progress as much as I would like. It's not that I don't want to go heavier. I just don't feel safe in doing one rep, let alone four to six. What are my options? So Sophia, thanks for that question. Obviously, you you've already gotten know some of the information that I just shared about training and training for women over 40. But the struggle I'm sensing here is more on the safety and the confidence in the gym. So I'm going to repeat what I said earlier in the episode and that is, if you don't have a coach yet, consider getting a coach even if it's just for one or two sessions to teach you the movements and look at your form and give you feedback. Okay, you know, if it's not in your budget to hire a personal trainer ongoing, just just have one or two sessions. If you can find a starting strength coach in your area, go online and look that up. I would highly recommend someone like that. I mean, I've worked with them myself. Such as oh man, what's his name in Connecticut? Cheese. And you know, Cody, Cody's is Cody and Nino's his name in Connecticut. And he helped me tremendously with my squat, my deadlift and my press all in one session. That's one. The second option is if you're going to do the DIY route, I want you to take video of your lifts and watch them back and compare them to either books or videos about that show you proper form. Okay, so this is a skill, it's a skill for life, and you're going to constantly have to tweak and get better. But unless you get feedback, it's very hard to know where your bad habits are. So use the video and check and watch yourself. Also, you could upload your video to one of a number of groups online that do form checks, okay, like I do form checks for my clients directly, for example. And if you had a remote coach like that could be an affordable option. If you can't afford a personal trainer, in person, or remote coach, and I know a few I could recommend could give you a form check and tell you what cues to use to to better lift some resources. Okay, I would definitely check out starting strength, the book and all their videos and resources on the proper and safe and effective way to lift. I would go look at videos by barbell logic on YouTube. Okay, barbell logic, and then and then let's talk about actual safety in the gym. You want to use a spotter like another person has a spotter or the pins and spotter arms on a power rack when at a minimum when you're squatting and when you're benching Okay, so when you squat, you want to sit the pins or the spotter arms, those are the the pins or the arms that go across the rack that can be used as stops as safety stops. You want to go down into a full squat and set those just below that point. So if you have to bail on the squat, you're going to bail forward, you're not going to go backward like in CrossFit where you dump the bar and everything clanks to the ground and then you damage equipment, you're going to just gently lean forward set the bar on the spotter. That's how you safely squat. I do that myself in my home gym. benchpress is even more important because benchpress actually could be dangerous. If you don't have a spotter spotter arms because you could drop the bar on your chest or neck and then not be able to get out of it. Pardon me. So again, spotter arms, you want them set up at the height between your neck and chest. So that if you fail the rep, you can just gently set it down and then like scooch out from under it while it's just safely sitting on the spotter arms. So that's important. And then here's the thing, you said, you feel you don't feel safe doing even one rep, let alone four to six, there, there has to be a weight that's light enough, where you do feel safe doing four to six, it might be the empty 45 pound Olympic bar, or it might be an empty women's bar, or like even a 15 pound bar, if you can get that, um, you could buy one yourself, if it's a home gym, or a PVC pipe, or a mop or broom handle seriously, and do your four to six, your three sets of four to six or whatever, with that weight, you should be able to do something, right, and then go up from there. So if it's a 15 pound bar, and you're like, Yeah, this is no problem, you know, add five pounds on each side and make it 25 pounds. Oh, now this is starting to feel a little heavy, but it's not so crazy heavy that you feel unsafe. So start there. And then each session just add a little bit of weight. This is where you might need microplates you have to buy those, just put them in your gym bag, where you get like quarter pound, half pound, three quarter one pound plates, so that you can go up by two pounds instead of five or 10. Okay, so I hope all that helps. And you just going to iterate through that process and developing that skill, watching videos, reading books, doing form checks, working with coaches as needed, reaching out to me reaching out to others in our group, you know, slowly progressing over time, you know, backing off a little bit if you feel unsafe, and you need to rework and form and then just keep going and you're gonna get there. All right. Question number three is from Alan, F. My man Alan, he asks, does research show a difference between a three day full body work? Three day full body strength training schedule, versus breaking it up into four or five days split? Like push core pull calves legs, core full body? Okay. He's saying is there a difference in effectiveness between three days full body? And four or five day body part splits? And the answer is, the research suggests that there's not a difference for strength or size. But there is a difference based on you as an individual. So you knew I was You knew I was going to say it depends at some point here, but I'm going to break it down exactly to give you the decision tree to to decide that from. So two research studies that came out just in the past year two, one is by ama evangelist at all in 2021. And the conclusion was that quote, resistance training twice or four times per week has similar effects on neuromuscular adaptation, provided weekly Set volume is equal. Okay, so that's neuro muscular adaptation. It doesn't matter. The other study Peterson at all in 2022, and Brad Schoenfeld was on this. And he's, he's one of the researchers that I really respect out there. Quote, this study did not show any benefits for split body resistance training program compared to full body resistance training program on measures of maximal and explosive muscle strength, and muscle mass. So again, they didn't really find a difference. What's the most important thing, Alan and everyone listening, as we said before, progressive overload, okay, so whatever a combination of intensity volume, and recovery allows for you as an individual to get stronger, is the best program for you. But there are some things to consider. Okay. So the first one is your training age and your experience, if you are beginner, three days, full body, bar, none, I wouldn't even consider anything else. And that's because you get the best bang for your buck in terms of the lifts in terms of your time, it's time efficient, you're not going to have very long rest periods, because you're new, and you're gonna be able to recover really quickly, within two days to do all those movements again. So you should be squatting every session, you should be dead lifting or pulling every session and doing some sort of press every session, every session. That's it, period. That's my opinion, no matter what age you are, unless you're very, very, very old and have never lifted, maybe it's two days a week, okay? Another factor is ability to recover between sessions. This is often tied to the first thing, age and training experience. So the older you are the hardest to recover, the more you want to consider whether you need a three or four day split as a result. Now, it could go both directions. A three day split gives you extra time between sessions, but it's also longer, right? And you may get more beat up doing it that way, in which case splitting it into four or five days allows you to spread that fatigue out over the week and recover better. So that's going to be individualized. The other thing is your personal schedule and whether you enjoy it and it makes it's consistent. Right? If your schedule doesn't allow for four or five days, because you know, you work a full time job, you have a family you have all these obligations. Then three days it is or maybe every other day where it's kind of a shifted schedule, right or maybe every third day, whatever makes sense, three days is great. For beginners, it's time efficient, it stimulates all the big muscle groups multiple times per week, it helps with your work capacity. And your it helps it gives you enough frequency to become better at the lifts to develop skill. So I said that already, but barn on beginners, three days, four or five days is what you want when you are intermediate, or advanced. So that could be as soon as three to six months after you start training, if you do it the right way. Definitely, if you're a year or two into training, you're probably up to a four or five day split at this point. Because then you can get more frequency and volume for muscle mass and hypertrophy. Right. So like the bodybuilding type stuff. Also, the training sessions won't be as long because when you're an intermediate trainer, you're you're lifting much heavier and you need more rest periods. And your sessions generally go up to like an hour and a half. So splitting into four or five days allows you to get that back down to maybe an hour. But again, it's going to depend on can your schedule accommodate that some people would rather have long sessions where they have the commute time built in than shorter sessions. Now the long story short is the best program is the one you can stick with that you can enjoy. And that meets your lifestyles and goals, lifestyle and goals. But let me give you an example from my personal experience over the last two years, I started with a three day split, when I was a beginner. Then I moved to a four day, a four day split, that I moved to a four day conjugate style program. Then I moved to a five day bodybuilders power building program. Then I tried a six day bodybuilding program, I went back to a four day conjugate program. And now because I'm in a fat loss phase, and I want to get more sleep, I'm back to a three day program. But it's not a beginner program. It's more of an advanced program. There you go. Alright, question for Question four is from Jay W. She asks, What are your recommended pre and post workout nutrition strategies? All right, always love this question. Because it can get complicated and it doesn't need to be. I'm trying to, I'm gonna try to simplify the guidelines as much as possible. And if you want a book about a really good book about flexible dieting and macros, that covers the research behind a lot of this flexible dieting by Alan Aragon is fantastic. He came out with it, I think lat just last year. And he summarizes all the research really succinctly. So here we go, I'm going to talk about protein, carbs and fats, protein, consume protein up to two hours before and two hours after your workout. That's pretty broad, right? So you get a lot of flexibility, consume some protein up to two hours before up to two hours after. And this will maximize muscle protein synthesis. If you're eating enough protein, you're probably going to be eating four or five times a day anyway. So if you're working out that day, make two of those times two hours before and up to two hours after. And I would say somewhere like 25, or 30 grams of protein at each of those is in the ballpark for most people, you know, if you're much larger, it's going to be higher. So that's that's protein, simple. Carbs. You You generally want carbs in your blood from a meal consumed up to two hours before the workout or a small amount, 30 minutes before your workout. So let me explain if you if you have breakfast, and then you train it 10. And you know, if you had breakfast at eight, and you train at 10, and your breakfast had a deep amount of carbs in it, you're good. If you wake up early, and the first thing you do is work out, well then give yourself a 30 minute buffer and have a simple carb like fruit, banana, I love bananas because they add potassium which is excellent electrolyte. So fruit or something like rice. Okay, 30 minutes prior, give yourself a little time to start digesting and then hit the gym. Okay, and this can be as little as 10 to 20 grams just to get something in your system to help you with your performance. Because when you work out when you strength train, you start to draw on your glycolytic tank on your glycogen. And if you don't have that tank filled, like if the last time you ate was dinner the night before, in your tank is half full, you're going to deplete it much more quickly and you're going to start to feel like you can't lift as much. And the whole goal of strength training is lifting the heaviest weight we can for progressive overload. So if it's a long workout, or if you can't consume carbs before your workout, try to consume them during the workout. So this could be something like highly branched cyclic dextran or it could be fruit. The bodybuilders way back in the day would have like pop tarts and gummy bears I don't recommend that. But you know, the dextrin or fruit would work something that's easy on the stomach and digest pretty quickly and then just get your the your next carbs at your next meal within a few hours. So I know I talked a lot about the carbs but just to simplify, have carbs up to two hours before The closer you are to workout make it simpler carbs that digest quickly. If you can't consume before consumed during, and also consume carbs within a few hours after you workout, it could just be your next meal. Or if it's a very intense training session like CrossFit or a lot of movement, you want to consume it sooner than that to refill your glycogen. That's it. Fats easy, limited or no fats at all, because they slow digestion of protein, carbs, and they have no benefit at all for energy or hypertrophy or strength during strength training. So don't worry about fats, I mean, worry about them in the sense that try to keep keep them low to minimal, low to non existent. So here's what I do. I work out in the morning, early in the morning, I give myself about half an hour, 45 minutes, I wake up, I have a banana and a way shake, I get some work done. Or maybe I read and relax. And then I go for my training session. After my training session, within 45 minutes, I have a way shake with some highly branched cyclic dextran. Or now that I'm in a fat loss phase, I can't even afford those carbs. So I just go jump right into breakfast. All right. Hope that helped. That is it for our first q&a episode. If you found this helpful or valuable, let me know please by leaving a five star review at Apple or Spotify, I often read these reviews on the show. And I would be happy to give you a shout out if you want. And again, thanks for listening and stay strong. Thanks for listening to the show. Before you go, I have a quick favorite ask. If you enjoy the podcast. Let me know by leaving a five star review in Apple podcasts and telling others about the show. Thanks again for joining me Philip Pape in this episode of Wits & Weights. I'll see you next time and stay strong.

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