Okay, so first off, I just want to take a moment and apologize for being somewhat AWOL for the last couple of months. CXP simply had to take a backseat because life has been throwing several curve balls my way, and so, in order to maintain the standard and quality of what I put out there, I felt it best to just wait until I could pour 100% of my focus, love and attention back into this.
Those of you who follow me (@cxpfitness) on Instagram and Facebook will have at least seen me keeping up with posting some of my Workouts, the grub I whip up, and the Supplements I use; so I hope you’ve been liking that content!
But right, let’s get into it. A hot topic for this last week: the new supplement line known as ‘LADDER’ – founded by a foursome of Legends who have each reached the absolute pinnacle in each of their respective careers…
We have: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lebron James, Cindy Crawford and Lindsey Vonn. The proverbial Kings and Queens of their respective fields, you have Arnold – once the most formidable Bodybuilder on the Planet; Lebron – still defying Father Time as he elongates his Prime of what has been an astonishing NBA career. Cindy is one of THE *original* Super Models – the only other names that even exist in the same realm would be Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell. And finally, we have the game-changing, Olympic Gold-Medallist Alpine Skier – Lindsey.
Now, I follow Arnold on Instagram, so I was aware of Ladder pretty much the moment they [finally] took it public. However, this was opportune timing for me, as I was just getting ready to tuck back into my articles and podcasts here on CXP.
I actually held off a couple of days in the realization that a) I knew this was what I wanted to talk about as my first article back (it fits *perfectly* with the topic of my last article: Great Marketing or a Great Product… You Choose!). And b) I wanted to wait and see what other people were going to say about this new venture into the Supplement World, and the results were… well… about what I expected!
I listened to a couple of podcasts, watched some YouTube reviews/rants, and read articles online, and honestly, felt pretty underwhelmed! I mean, I hit up everyone from big [“household”] names to lesser known Content Producers. I’m talking:
Men’s Health (article)
CBS Sport (article)
Tim Ferriss (podcast)
Weik Fitness (podcast)
Massive Iron – Steve Shaw (YouTube)
Nick’s Strength and Power (YouTube)
(These aren’t all of the sources I scoured, but most of them at least)
Not one of them got into the truly relevant aspects of what makes the Ladder Supplement Line good or bad. I mean: the ingredients themselves, the quality of said ingredients and the standards that their products actually meet!
Instead it was just a lot of superficiality. A fair bit of ignorance. And shameless plugs for the product simply copying and pasting content from the About Page from Ladder’s website!
So, I knew I had to do it some justice! (But sorry – let me just be clear – I’m not meaning to “bash” anyone here, so I will justify this as we go!).
Vibe and CBS Sport really just gave a background on how/why Ladder was formed in the first place (pretty much everything you can read on Ladder’s About Page). Though, Men’s Health did have ONE interview question with Arnold that was relevant (ish); the question was vague, as was the answer, and then the article just moves on to the next irrelevant question!
(In case you’re wondering – it was about how Ladder ‘works differently to other proteins and supplements’, to which the answer was an odd allusion to how one product wouldn’t work for two people with different *goals*… Well, no sh*t Sherlock!).
I think what was just a bit blatant was that these “major media monsters” were really just trying to direct traffic to Ladder’s website. They don’t utter a single syllable about the products, it’s just paid publicity, so… Slightly disappointing!
And Tim Ferriss (in Episode #349) spent all of about nine minutes of an hour-long Interview with ‘The King’ (Lebron James) and his Trainer (Mike Mancias) talking about Ladder… again though, it’s more based on the formation of Ladder as an entity, as well as its resources for the Community it is hoping to build. Tim does at least highlight that Ladder is NSF-Certified for Sport.
YouTube was where I got a bit more in the way of “opinion/review”… The most irritating thing was the ignorance.
In most cases, there was a seemingly universal problem with the fact that Ladder leverages the Celebrity status of its Founders… [Insert/cue forehead slap]. I mean, really? And, when you’re going to compare to the only brands you know (in these instances, you had Optimum Nutrition, 1st Phorm, MetRX and other Supplement Industry behemoths being put out there), it just doesn’t make sense to criticize using a person’s fame to yield business!
All companies do it! That’s the whole point of endorsements and having Brand Ambassadors!! So, frankly, the Celebrity Status “issue” should be a moot point! After all, as Social Influencers – between the four of them, they have well over 50-million Followers on Social Media – why the heck wouldn’t you capitalize on that Distribution Scale!?
But okay, roasting the most irrelevant stuff out of the discussion, let’s get into some of the things that actually matter!
So, simple fact is, there is an awfully large segment of “the market” that is concerned with ‘Price Point’, and I get that. However, these guys are seriously making mountains out of molehills! They’re talking about $2 – $2.50 being “astronomical” as a ‘per serving cost’. Well, again – when you’re comparing it to buying Optimum Nutrition [in BULK] at Costco… what the hell do you expect?
But the fact is, most of the names these guys on YouTube are dropping are Supplement Companies that have committed some of the cardinal sins of Supplement formulation: they’re either [simply] under-dosed, use proprietary blends, are guilty of protein spiking, or just don’t deliver what they put on the tub!
Thing is, when I hear someone who has thousands of Followers say something as ignorant as ‘their products are FDA approved’ (talking about the brands they actually use) and ask ‘How is [Ladder] any different?’ (without actually taking the time to look at the formula/ingredients), it just pisses me off! Because now we have THOUSANDS of people believing the same crap that they’re saying. The same under-educated, completely un-researched, just over-simplistic “bro science” with nothing but some bulging biceps in a tight-fitting Supplement-branded t-shirt to back their arguments.
I’ll agree that there are some decent Supplements out there that you can get for cheaper. However, there are some elements of the Ladder product line that warrant a high price-tag, which I’ll get into later on. Fact is though, for as high a standard (regarding product quality) that Ladder meets, their price point isn’t out of this world, but rather, quite competitive with others on the market that are of the same calibre. But I’ll get back to that…
Another issue that some people seem to have is with the Subscription-based / Direct-to-Consumer Model that Ladder uses. Again, this is simply a business strategy. Subscription Models are the new “thing” now – Onnit uses it, Freshly uses it, Under Armour uses it. And ya know, the funniest thing is that some of these YouTube guys are comparing to GNC… clearly, they’ve never looked at GNC’s website before, because – what d’ya know – they have a Subscription-based service also! Granted, it’s not the ONLY option (like with Ladder), but still…
So, once more we have a bit of a moot point! And once more, we have the bemoaning of an aspect of Ladder that hasn’t been looked at well enough; one person was complaining about how you can’t just try it out, because then you’re tied in and can’t cancel… They clearly didn’t read this part of Ladder’s FAQs:
Another point that was made on the Subscription Service was that it was “a ploy” to trick you into buying into their products in the hope that you’ll simply ‘forget about your subscription’ and just keep paying [“unwittingly”?] for several months down the line. Sorry, but that would suggest that we – the consumers – are just morons that don’t pay attention to our bank balance nor when a package rammed with supplements arrives at our doorstep every month!
That leads me to the next issue that most of the more Hulk-like ranters had about the Ladder products, and that was its packaging: Packets instead of Tubs…
Now, while there is a brief acknowledgement as to the convenience that packets offer, there is no recognition given to why gargantuan tubs of protein might NOT be so appealing to a number of people.
Again, perhaps it’s unfair to pick on these guys as they practically eat, sleep and breathe Whey Protein… but their ignorance is what is so intolerable.
See, I *get it*. Thing is, there’s wayyyy more thought that has gone into Ladder than I think anyone truly realizes! Some have recognized that there is an ambitious aim for the mass market in every sense of the word; but that’s only from the standpoint of how the Founders are comprised of two Men and two Women. Clearly, I’m talking demographics now.
Some coverage of Ladder has pointed out how the idea was originally the brainchild of Lebron, and subsequently Arnold. Only later on did Cindy and Lindsey come onboard. And this was a smart move – put a product on the market that was totally universal, meant “for him” and “for her”. Problem is, having famous females at the helm doesn’t quite cut it alone. That’s where packaging comes into play.
From a marketing perspective – they’re going “gender neutral” with the colours (simply black & white, for the most part; then full-spectrum when adding a splash of colour). Also, the fonts used on the label, and the overall aesthetic of their website is – again – very neutral. Clean, crisp, ageless. Like the Founders themselves, right?
But let’s pivot back to the Packets vs Tubs thing… so, while most Men are happy to have their “man-cupboard” rammed full of Protein Powders (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a cupboard matching that very description!)… Women – understandably – can be quite put off and/or intimidated by the notion of having a gigantic 8lb bucket of Protein!
But also, there’s the versatility and portability that comes with Packets – stereotypical as it may sound, it is pretty genius to make a product that can slip easily into a lady’s purse, no? I mean, without sounding vulgar, it’s akin to the marketing psychology that goes into tampons…. Discreet. There when you need. Convenient. Easy to use.
Sorry… never thought I’d find myself comparing packets of Protein to tampons, but hey-ho! Funny enough, the “quest for tampons” (helping a Customer who was in a bit of a “crisis”) formed the most unexpected dialogue of my interview for Virgin Active (over a decade ago) when I first got into the Fitness Industry; I got the job, so apparently the Regional Manager who interviewed me appreciated the balls it took to drop a topic like that in an interview!
Anyways… back on point!
Let’s just consider the Founders for another sec… So, we have Arnold and Cindy – both the faces that moulded the Bodybuilding and Super Model worlds into what they are today; yet despite Cindy being in her fifties, and Arnie dipping into his seventies, they are both excellent examples of how well we can age if we take care of ourselves and our bodies!
Then you have Lindsey and Lebron – both in their thirties, relatable to the younger generations, still very relevant in their respective sports, and both the more “sporty” of the four.
As a target audience, Ladder is trying its best to appeal to just about everyone possible! And let’s just de-stereotype the packet thing for a second too – fact is, Seniors (aiming to emulate Cindy and Arnold) wouldn’t want massive Tubs either, and yet, they can most definitely benefit from taking either one of the Protein Powders; and whipping it down to the other end of the line… Fact is, kids could even take a packet to school with them.
I actually remember when I was about 15, I found these boxes of Protein Powder sachets (packets) in the supermarket that were individual servings – they only had about 16g Protein per packet, but I loved them – they tasted like a healthier version of a Nestlé milkshake!
By the time I was 18 and started looking more into Sports supplements, the first “real” Protein Powder I started buying was the MetRX Meal Replacements… that came in boxes… of single-serving packets!
So, fact is – a) the packets/sachets have been around for a while, and b) they’re actually ideal for just about everyone! Minus the self-conscious men out there who can only be seen shovelling Protein into their faces Direct-from-the-Tub!
Then we have another aspect of Ladder that has been criticized, and to be honest, I find myself scrutinizing this same point here, and that’s the ‘unique’ element of being [apparently] personalized to the consumer/customer, and I’m not sure they’ve convinced me on this one.
The whole “Personalization” part of it is really just a thin veil for what is – at its core – unadulterated data collection. It’s really no different to a BuzzFeed Quiz where a certain combination of answers will yield a specific set of recommendations.
The reason Ladder uses this quiz is two-fold: firstly, because they’ll now have data that you’ve offered up that will allow them to send you additional “personalized” recommendations in the future [as their product line expands].
Secondly, it’s to cover their own a$$es! See, you’ve filled out the quiz. *You* have given them answers. They have given you recommendations to those answers. So, let’s say that you selected an answer that would clearly indicate that you’re Vegan, but then you go and buy the Whey Protein (against the recommendations of their site), then you try to slander them for selling you a Supplement that [obviously] isn’t Vegan-friendly… they can turn around and say, ‘Well, based off what YOU told us, we didn’t recommend the product that you ultimately bought. You wouldn’t have had that experience if you’d gone with what we recommended’.
So okay, I know you’re probably wondering what they ask in the quiz, right?
Well, here are the six questions they ask:
What primary goal would you like to focus on right now?
- Losing Weight
- Gaining Muscle
- Improving Overall Health
- Enhancing Sports Performance
How often do you eat protein each day?
- Most Meals
- Every Meal
How often do you eat vegetables per day?
- Most Meals
- Every Meal
Do you avoid products that include dairy?
How many times per week do you exercise?
What is your gender?
- Prefer Not to Answer
(I’ve highlighted MY answers in yellow)
My results: Whey Protein (30 Pack – 5 x per week) & Energy (16 Pack – 4 x per week)
Based off my answers, this makes a lot of sense. They know I’m working out 5+ times per week, so they were always going to suggest a 30-pack; the ‘Dairy’ question automatically results in the Whey recommendation (had I selected ‘No’, they’d no doubt have offered a 30-pack of the Plant Protein instead). And the Energy product will be based off the fact that I’m clearly active, so it’s an easy upsell. The lack of Greens is likely because I selected ‘Most Meals’ on the ‘Vegetables’ question, so I’m not lacking there.
So, I respect that they’re not trying to ram everything down your throat, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel terribly “personalized”. Those are just the logical options based off a 6-question Quiz… When I think of *personalized*, I’m thinking that it’s going to be tailor made to suit my “bio-chemical profile”… Which is kinda what the claim is… Just looking at the ingredients of the four products, there’s nothing that marks them out as being outliers in the Supplement Market that will cater to *YOUR* individual needs.
That pretty much covers all the topics that were actually touched upon by other Content Producers via articles, videos and podcasts.
Now, this is already shaping up to be the longest CXP Edge article ever, so I won’t delve into this last part too deep…
But the final thing I want to talk about is WHAT is actually *in* the products!
Actually “deciphering” the Nutrition Label and Ingredients is what I’m all about here on CXP Edge – explaining why a product is top notch or not, rather than basing it off price and hype; and instead considering whether what you’re paying to put in your body is actually worth the money or not in the first place!
Off the bat, the best thing I see is that all protein sources are from Isolate (not Concentrate) – big win in my books! And at 26g Protein, this is just slightly above [what has become] the Industry standard. The use of Vitamins & Minerals is nice to see, but a tad redundant when it comes to the Zinc and Magnesium (as these will have to compete with other Minerals for uptake). And the Probiotic Blend (not to be confused with ‘Proprietary Blend’) is something I’ve never seen in a Protein Powder before, and I’d say there’s good reason – it is highly unlikely that much of that Probiotic bacteria is going to reach the gut (where it NEEDS to go) as it has to survive the harsh environment of the stomach first… Conclusion: good product, just a tad too much “garnish”!
It makes sense to see a Vegan option in their lineup, and this one seems on point. The likelihood is that the inclusion of ‘organic pumpkin protein’ is going to be to a minimal extent, but no doubt the true Vegans out there will relish the thought of such an “exotic” protein such as that. The Enzyme Blend is a curious one – not sure why you would put *lactase* in there… just saying. And the same argument as before can be made regarding the Probiotics. Ultimately, 21g Protein is pretty decent for being Plant-based.
This one is playing it safe in some ways – mostly regarding the Green Tea; I think that’s because a fair number of people can’t tolerate much greater amounts of it, so 100mg is enough to reap benefits, but not so much that you’ll get an upset stomach. And as far as Caffeine content goes, 98mg is very conservative, but again, just enough – especially for those with a lower tolerance for Caffeine. Creatine / Beta-Alanine / Betaine-wise, they’ve nailed it! 5g / 3g / 2.5g [respectively] are all doses that are scientifically proven to be effective, so there’s no under-dosing here! Now, I’ve talked before about Choline as an ingredient, so seeing its inclusion here is a pleasant surprise. L-Theanine also makes sense as it pairs well with Green Tea. Overall, a decent product – playing it this safe [again] just further explains their widespread approach for a Customer base.
Now, I’m not gonna lie – I think these “Green Powders” are a bit of a waste… for me at least! If you’re someone that doesn’t touch a single veggie throughout the day, then clearly, you’d benefit greatly from something like this. Doubling up as a Multi-Vitamin is a definite upside (and you get significantly more Vitamins & Minerals than you do in either of the Protein Powders). With much fabled ingredients like Spirulina, Matcha and Rhodiola (which some people have never heard of), I know that this one “has all the right things” in it… I think the main thing that “seals the deal” on this one for me though, is the fact that a) it’s Non-GMO, and b) the product – like EVERYTHING that Ladder offers – is NSF-Certified [for Sport]! And that – Ladies and Gents – is the true game-changer here…
If we go back super-briefly to one of the first major grievances that some people had about the Ladder products out the gates, it was about Pricing! Knowing that their entire line is NSF Certified tells you all you need to know about WHY… And if you haven’t read any of my content that explains that, I’ll tell you right now: NSF Certification is the gold standard when it comes to testing for purity and quality – especially in Supplements.
What most people don’t realize is that Pro Athletes (in the NFL / NBA / Olympics / etc) cannot take ANY Sports Supplements that haven’t been WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Approved – or in the case of the Olympics, complies with the incredibly strict IOC Standards. NSF (the National Sanitation Foundation) is one of the only third-party lab tests that a Supplement can pass that will meet all these super-high standards. And getting these products tested and certified is NOT cheap!
It’s for this reason that I trust brands like dotFit and AthleanRX (both of which have NSF-Certified products). And if we’re talking about Price, then $2 to $2.50 falls right in line with these other two brands.
And by the way, both Neal and Jeff (the CEOs of these two companies) use a Subscription-based Model… and are Direct-to-Consumer! (That’s why you’ve probably never heard of them – because instead of ploughing millions into mass marketing, they focus on producing high quality products).
You can find dotFit / AthleanRX / Ladder products listed on the NSF website, thus proving their authenticity.
Anyhow, that’s all for today…
First one back – had to make it a good one!
If you’re not already following me on Instagram or Facebook, then check out my pages @cxpfitness – give us a Like/Follow, as it’ll really help to grow this gradually expanding community that I’ve been building over the course of the last year or two now.
I’ll catch you in the next one, but for now, remember: Train Hard, and Train Smart!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO