Archive for May, 2018

I wrote a blog a while back about “toxic masculinity” as well as one about how to behave in a way women will respond to, and it still leaves questions in my mind about the nature of manhood, especially given our ever-shifting culture.

The question of manhood is quite fascinating to me, and it’s a subject I’ve studied almost as much as I’ve studied the subject of feminism (being a single father to a son and a daughter has perhaps been at the heart of my interest in gender roles).

My initial instinct on the subject goes something like this: from a biological, evolutionary and even spiritual standpoint, women and men have certain differing strengths that come naturally. Women for example tend to be more naturally capable of nurturing and as such have adopted a greater inclination towards the kinds of traits that accommodate this — perhaps this speaks to why women tend to have a higher representation in careers that involve working with people. Men on the other hand, have historically had to compete for everything – including the women, and as part of this tend to be fuelled to a greater extent by aggression. So it is little wonder that men carry this over to the work environment where they either utilize this competitive nature to try to get ahead or often times prefer to avoid people altogether by working with “things”.

Obviously this is just a broad stroke and is not meant to imply that competitive women or nurturing men are any less in their respective genders, in fact I would argue the opposite. Having a strength in what is traditionally considered to be the other gender’s realm could very possibly make one better suited to understand the opposite gender — if they allow themselves to… here’s the problem: men who are more agreeable by nature DO allow themselves to accept the position of the other gender. Conversely, women who are more competitive or assertive, may tend towards seeing men as their competition and therefore will not easily allow themselves to see things from their perceived opponent’s point of view.

This epiphany brought a lot into focus for me. Men who are assertive see other men as the competition. Women who are assertive see men as the competition.

So naturally, if men are the competition, the way to gain the greatest advantage is to paint masculinity as somehow oppressive or inherently bad in some way.

Another complication is that women are generally taught about what kind of behaviour is acceptable from their perspective male partner – and rightfully so. But men are seldom taught the same. This means that men go into potential relationships with far more expectations and those expectations can subtly grow.

This has unfortunately led to a lot of confusion about what it means to be a man – or in some instances – how we are allowed to express manhood.

There’s another problem that can’t be understated… it is clear from data across ethnicities and races that children raised in single-parent homes are more likely to get involved in crime, violence, poverty, gender confusion and even suicide.

So I propose that the number one job of any and every man is that of being a positive male role model for his children and in fact children in general.

Of course this begs yet another question: “what is a positive male role model”?

Aside from simply being a presence I think it involves the following:

1. Accepting the role of a protector. This means that you put the safety and security of the ones in your care above all else including your own.

2. An unwavering respect for the role and duties of motherhood… this includes providing for them and making their job easier. I think “chivalry” comes out of this respect.

3. Learning to harness your aggressive instincts. I like the word “harness” because it is not an all-out suppression. We have those instincts for a reason, but we must control them and not allow them to control us.

All of this is being written by a guy who has taken on the role of being a single dad. I’ve had to be both an emotional and physical support for my children, and I’ve loved every second. I have taken on the challenge of trying to teach my son how to be a successful and responsible man, while teaching my daughter respect for herself and those around her. She can be whatever she wants as far as I’m concerned, as long as she goes through life with respect and understanding of her male counterparts.

Last time was all about preparing mentally and physically for training so now we will talk about getting the most out of the session in the moment.

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There are a few times in your life where you make landmark improvements in your life and I’m going to share many of those with you here. Briefly, the best information I learned about healthy fat loss while strengthening muscle came from Tom Venuto’s Burn the fat, Feed the Muscle; Ben Pakulski was the one who taught me the most about exercise form and muscle growth with his MI40 program. As far as mental focus and drive, I credit Anders Ericsson’s book Peak alongside Carol Dweck’s Mindset.

FOCUS

The term focus is one that I love because it is all about being in the present. It puts your mind squarely on the task at hand. But I find that focus is something that needs cultivation. It means secluding yourself from outside distractions. It is something that gets better with persistent practice.

Focus is having laser vision on your current activity while pushing towards your desired future. It is connecting your mind to your body. It is he single moment when you what to quit a set but you tell yourself that this rep is the one that will determine whether you progress.

I’ve said before that progress is not easy, and this is one area that is definitely not easy. Nor is it intuitive. Our bodies and minds are designed for survival, meaning that when things get difficult our brain tells us that we are entering a danger zone and that’s when we quit.

That instinct is clearly important, but being aware of it, and knowing when you can push past it is where we begin to grow. In this way that inclination to quit can actually serve you extremely well, as it will guide you ever closer to the edge of your comfort zone.

The more you practice reaching this point and pushing past it, the better you get at doing it naturally – which can impact your life both inside and outside of the gym.

The pursuit of getting to this point where we not only face challenges head on, but in fact enjoy such opportunities to progress can be understood using what Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset”. When we learn to crave growth we also learn to love the challenge.

PROGRESS

With the right mindset and the right teaching, people are capable of a lot more than we think.” – Carol Dweck

Ingredients for progress:

  • Specific performance goal
  • Focus
  • Meaningful positive feedback

As I suggested in part 1, short-term performance goals take into account your current limitations and give you a target to aim for that is slightly beyond your current ability. This should be slightly ambitious but not unrealistically so.

The term “progressive overload” is probably familiar to most who have entrenched themselves to some degree in physical activity – even more common is the concept of the “comfort zone”.

But a term that may not familiar to you is the “zone of proximal development”, an intriguing concept initially developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

While the intentions of this concept seem to be geared towards childhood development, I’ve found it to be applicable to training psychology as well. The zone of proximal development represents the happy medium between pushing upwards enough to progress while not so hard as to inflict injury or discouragement. This is where I always strive to be – on a constant but gradual incline.

This idea can also be conceptualized by thinking of your comfort zone as something that is continuing to grow as you progress.

It may help to remind yourself that any upward climb is – by definition – difficult, while also maintaining the humility to understand our limitations.

In order to ensure progress you should keep a training log. This will help you know week to week the amount of weight to use and also help track your progress.

Additionally, while I suggested having an open mind and being creative with your program creation, there is also value to keeping a program somewhat consistent over a number of weeks. This helps you know that you are advancing in either weight or reps.

As an aside, I find humility itself to be a key component of improvement of ANY kind. In fact I have heard it said that humility is the prerequisite to wisdom.

Feedback can come in many forms, it could be from progress photos or a coach, or just a friend commenting on your progress. Whatever the source, it seems to be a key component to maintaining long term progress. Instagram has become a breeding ground for “attention seekers” but while its commonplace to shun such people, the reality is that getting positive responses is actually something we need.

The Ingredients of Muscle Growth

If we think of muscle building as hypertrophy, there is little better resource than the work of Brad Shoenfeld, who determined that the primary factors leading to muscle growth are: muscle damage, muscle tension and metabolic stress (aka cell swelling).

Brad suggests periodizing these factors. Personally I’ve found that simply being aware of them can help understand the true goal of the training session.

In the protocol I suggest below all of these factors come into play, and by being mindful of them you will access their true power.

TRICK YOURSELF INTO LIFTING MORE WEIGHT

The “contrast principle” or “perception effect” suggests that our mind perceives things in comparison to one another. So how can this be used to improve physical training?

Instead of training with a constant weight for a constant number of sets, try reverse pyramid training. This method suggests starting with the heaviest weight and dropping the weights while increasing reps for successive sets.

I’ve seen time after time that implementing this techniques has resulted in rapid strength and muscle gains.

Now for a word of caution…. if you are too ambitious on your first/heaviest set you risk injury (yes this is coming from experience). A set or two of lightweight warm ups to mentally practice the form will help prevent against this, and make sure that the incremental increase from your last session is moderate. In actuality it’s the second set where true growth often occurs as this is where you are typically lifting above your previous ability.

MUSCULAR FAILURE

In order for progress to be true there has to be a controlled variable. This is one reason why training to “failure” is preferred when doing resistance training.

This means that you are physically unable to perform any more repetitions while maintaining proper form. That point cannot be overstated, because doing a low number of reps with a relatively light weight won’t accomplish much (outside of rehabilitation purposes).

It should be noted that at different parts of the range of motion you have greater strength. If you have ever seen someone squatting or bench pressing with chains this is the reasoning behind this. In the case of bench press, as you push the bar farther from your chest you are stronger and therefore the chains give you more resistance to work against.

However in many gyms using chains isn’t practical, so one way I’ve found to be more practical for getting to muscle failure is using “top partials” – which is doing a few reps at the top – or more accurately – strongest few inches – of the range of motion at the end of each set.

DENSITY

Density refers to the amount of “work” done within a set amount of time. From my experience it is an amazing way – if not the most effective – to progress physically as well as aesthetically.

In my Superhero training program I suggested working on three things: power, size and speed.

Using density as a measurement can help improve all of these.

The beauty is that you can progress in a number of ways almost indefinitely because the amount of density is essentially:

(sets) x (reps) x (load) / time

So you can progress by:

  1. lifting heavier weights
  2. doing more reps
  3. doing it in less time – usually done by decreasing rest time.
  4. A strategic combination of the above three.

One of the best ways to do this type of training is using reciprocal inhibition (RI), which means pairing up antagonizing my muscle groups. This is my favourite RI split:

  • Day 1: chest + back (rowing)
  • Day 2: quads + hams
  • Day 3: shoulders + back (lats)
  • Day 4: biceps + triceps

And then I will work low back and abs into the routing intermittently.

Try doing that split while using a rep scheme something like this:

20 reps, 15 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 10 reps, 6 reps, 8 reps, 15 reps.

Then each week decrease the rest time between supersets from about 60 sec to 15 seconds. When the rest becomes that low you can go back to 60 seconds but with heavier weights 😊

Related: Man’s Search for Muscle: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In the pursuit of an improved physique your resistance training is probably going to be the focal point of your day, so with that in mind let’s first look at the way to optimize the pre-training process.

THE FIRST MOMENTS OF THE DAY

What you eat has implications beyond what you are likely to consider when eating it.

One of those implications has to do with neurotransmitter, which are chemical “messengers” in your brain that regulate such things as mood, emotion, energy, appetite among others.

I don’t want to get too in depth on this subject, but here is a quick list of some of the major ones, how they affect us, and what foods promote them:

Neurotransmitter Effect Food that promotes
Dopamine Motivation, drive Protein (L-tyrosine rich), B-vitamins, broccoli, chia seeds
Acetylcholine Motor control, memory function, focus Choline rich foods (eggs, meat, dairy, nuts), broccoli, chia seeds
Serotonin Happiness, relaxation, sleep Carbohydrates, protein (they seem to work well together to produce it), eggs, broccoli, chia seeds
GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) Calming Glutamate rich foods (dairy, eggs, rice), broccoli, chia seeds

So judging by this table (and based on the recommendations of olympic trainers, top psychologists and a multitude of researchers) to promote optimal cognitive and functional performance, eat protein and “healthy fat”-rich foods in the morning (supposedly saturated fats can impact dopamine which is why I stressed the word healthy), and save your carbohydrate meals for later in the day.

It might interest you to note that eggs and broccoli seem to help all of them, making them among my favorite foods in existence.

While I do not like the idea of Intermittent Fasting, I do like the idea of avoiding carbs in the early part of the day, especially if you train early in the day. Since carbohydrates can increase insulin and lower growth hormone, we definitely want to keep them absent pre-workout.

Pre-Workout supplements

If you choose to use a pre-workout supplement, consider what you are trying to achieve. For example as I mentioned, I like to optimize GH and avoid insulin, so since even BCAAs can increase insulin I avoid preworkouts that have it.

Carnitine shows up in a lot of pre-workout supps, but it has been shown to be more effective in the presence of insulin, so by this logic it would make more sense to have it post-workout when you might want to increase insulin.

The main things I look for in a pre-workout is something that helps with mental focus and energy, so ideally a clean caffeine source. Betaine is another one I like both pre and post workout to help cortisol control.

Music

What you listen to can affect your mood too, and what I’ve found is that either listening to something intellectual like an audiobook or alternatively some kind of aggressive but fun music pre-workout helps me focus my mind.

Warming up

Warming up should be taken seriously because it sets the stage for your training. Too much cardio activity and you’ll deplete energy to the point where your workout is less effective. Not enough and you risk injury.

There are two main things I feel are important when warming up:

  1. lubricating the joints
  2. mentally rehearsing the movement form

doing this is quite easy. It just means doing a few light-weight sets of your first compound movement before jumping into it.

Next time I will discuss Intra-workout ideas.

 

Related: 

Man’s Search for Muscle – part 1: meaning

Man’s Search for Muscle Part 2 – Why fitness programs don’t endure

It is no secret that you can’t continue on the same program indefinitely and have continual results – certainly not on a linear trajectory of improvement. Some claim that you need “muscle confusion” or other such new stimuli to continue to progress, but I believe it to be more of a psychological condition.

After a while we get bored of doing the same thing over and over and it is no longer fun, but a chore. When something becomes work and not play it loses the appeal. Don’t get me wrong, there is great value to be found in disciplining yourself to do work ESPECIALLY when you don’t want to – in fact this is one of the things Anders Ericcson considers to be a trait of top performers in all fields.

So contrary to what we tend to seek as beings who – ironically put a great deal of effort into seeking the path of least resistance – we ought to be doing the opposite. However while our training should be challenging it should also have a level of enjoyment.

As an aside, it was in the process of learning how to optimize exercise form so that a relatively light weight would seem harder that I began making noticeable improvements in building muscle.

And so it seems many of us are constantly on the lookout for a brand new training program or diet, which has the outward appearance of bypassing the problem of boredom. But as I mentioned earlier, many programs set you up for failure from the beginning.

Virtually every marketable fitness program available sells itself by offering something new and exciting. This is exactly why the industry thrives. Purchasing such a program can provide a short-term novelty factor that motivates people to go all in. There is also something to be said for sacrificing your money for something important to you.

However what these programs don’t tell you is that what they are offering is typically no better than any other method out there, just simply different enough to sound interesting. It is the clever combination of being both familiar yet new that helps these salespeople market their product to unwitting clients (victims).

The other hidden secret in these program is something that only recently occurred to me… Consider the people marketing these programs. They make a living off of being in good shape. This is no secret. So how do they keep such high levels of physicality?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years and the answer that seemed obvious was that they are motivated by having to market themselves. In other words their motivation is monetary. But it turns out that is not the case at all.

The real reason the elite fitness professionals maintain such high levels year-round: Because they create their own programs.

Trust me, they don’t want you to know this because it will put them out of business!!!

Why is this? This has to do with the discovery that humans are more engaged when they feel that they are doing something creative.

Engaging and exercising our creative abilities is not something to be thought of lightly. Milton Erickson is a fantastic example of that. He was interested in the idea of using hypnotherapy to help his clients but the research up to that point was not promising. Trying to think of new ways to approach the concept he came up with a form of trance where he joined the patient in trance and managed to create extremely effective, lasting results in a relatively short amount of time… in a sense that’s very similar to what we want to accomplish as “physique artists”. Erickson is a shining example of creativity by the way. In addition to his hypnotherapy methods, he created several unconventional and revolutionary methods of helping people – and more than likely just as many unsuccessful experiments – which led his successors to create the highly regarded Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

So here’s an idea for you… instead of jumping onto a new training program try this:

Get a blank notebook. At the top of the page write three things: the date, the body part (or parts) you want to train, then – recalling part 1 – wrote down your purpose.

Then fill out the page with the movements you do, number of reps and weight as appropriate. This will allow you to be creative within your session while working the pre/planned parts.

There is actually further evidence of the effectiveness of this method in studies on what had been coined “autoregulated periodization”, although it tends to give credit to “listening” to your body.

In PART 3, we discuss pre-workout.

Related:

Man’s Search for Muscle: Part 1

1. Women would rather be listened to than talked to.

This is important to know from date number one. Rather than talking about yourself (she could not care less about your job), instead take the opportunity to learn about her.

2. Women are not disposable

This is a mentality that some men take on unknowingly. But the fact is that if you take on a philosophy of objectifying women, the ones of high value will never respect you.

3. Confidence is sexy. Arrogance is not.

Learn the difference.

4. Never… NEVER send an unsolicited dick pic.

Women are not like men, this is a good thing. As such she will not likely be aroused by a spontaneous nude as you would be. Just don’t.

5. Be a man; and let her be a woman.

Okay this is pretty broad (no pun), but it requires a basic concept of what it is to be a man. Unfortunately there is no set standard but there are a few things that seem consistent such as: ambition, accountability, knowing your values and being true to them and so on.

As far as letting her be a woman, this essentially means that you respect her unique qualities and value them as much as your own.

6. Learn to be both tender and passionate

Both at once whenever possible.

7. She doesn’t want to be rescued.

As much as it seems hardwired into us to want to help a woman we care about when we can (and even when we can’t), don’t rob her of her sense of capability by constantly trying to solve her problems. It may seem weird but it can actually be counter productive.

8. Don’t be boring

Yes this is subjective, but try to think of the most interesting people you know and what makes them interesting to get an idea of whether that describes you.

9. Respect yourself enough that you will not accept being treated poorly

As much as I have suggested a high respect for women, there are plenty out there who are quite capable of using their assets to manipulate you. Having a high self worth will be a good repellent against such behaviour.

10. If you feel the need to disagree with something she says, begin the argument with the words “you’re right” – and mean it.

There is no such thing as winning an argument with a woman. However most reasonable women will respect your opinion if you show a genuine respect for hers.

Oh and one last thing… Smile!