Archive for the ‘Man’s Search for Muscle’ Category

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

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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

Over the last decade or so, I’ve had numerous innovative exercise-related theories spring to mind in the midst of intense training sessions. Those seem to be the moments in which my brain seems the most attuned to creative training and diet philosophy. Within recent years various aspects of human psychology have worked their way into my mind as well, and this blog series is what I consider to be the marriage of these ideas to the best of my current ability.

I’ve achieved my greatest physique improvements during this time, but I’ve also suffered my greatest setbacks. I came to realize that my biggest mental barrier between knowing what to do and actually doing it has been motivation, and the temporary fix seemed to be hopping from one training program over to another.

The source of the problem was not actually a problem at all, but rather success itself. Having a happy relationship and being comfortable with my level of fitness seemed to take a devastating toll on my drive. My physique, as well as my motivation to improve it hit an all-time low and not only was I unaware of what was happening, I was frustrated by my seeming inability to get the fire back. I hated what I saw in the mirror but felt I was too far gone to do anything about it. My energy and passion for activity were non-existent, and no amount of program hopping helped. Sure I would go to the gym a couple times per week but the training was half-hearted and my nutrition was not kept in check.

Compounding the issue, it is quite shocking to look back and realize that many well-intentioned fitness programs are specifically designed for short-term success followed by long-term lulls.

So I went on an intense journey to try to understand the very nature of self-motivation, with the ultimate goal of trying to harness its power. What I discovered was that much of what is driven into our way of thinking are the exact things that make it difficult to do the things that will make us happy.

Ironically, your goals can be the very thing getting in your way.

I can hear you saying “huh?”

If you’re considering baling on me now I can’t blame you. Every single fitness program out there seems to start off by going on about the importance of goal-setting, so it stands to reason that we are conditioned to put high value on goals. And I’m not saying all goals are always bad, in fact some will be necessary to progress – rather what I’m saying is they need to be handled with care.

It has been shown that result-oriented (or outcome) goals can – if not properly handled – not only inhibit motivation, but lead to unethical behavior, and since I have attacked this from a standpoint of maintaining ethical behaviour and integrity this concept caught my attention.

Again, you may be scratching your head, but just consider the transformation challenge for a moment… how many people do you suppose, desperate to win the challenge, or even simply meet their goals, resorted to using performance enhancing drugs? While I have never gone to those lengths I would be lying if I tried to suggest that the temptations weren’t there.

There are several other examples of this in the real world, where companies or individuals are so driven to meet a specific goal that they have to sacrifice quality or workmanship to accomplish it.

So how do we combat this?

First of all, I think that it should be pointed out that it is virtually impossible to go into a fitness program of any kind without some sort of overarching goal such as improving body composition, gaining strength, building muscle etc, but what we should attempt to focus on day-in and day-out is action-oriented goals rather than result-oriented goals.

it should also be noted that result-oriented goals can serve the function of getting you over a mental hurdle, but beyond that we are better off using action-oriented goals than results-oriented goals. These serve the function of driving us to DO the things that will serve us best keeping integrity intact.

A results-oriented goal would be: lose five pounds this week Where as an action-oriented goals might be: go to the gym every day.

Action-oriented (or process) goals can even be momentary, such as: complete THIS rep.

I also like to think of these as “progress goals”, which takes into account your current capabilities in a very specific area and are intended to help you push those limits.

I find action oriented goals work well for dietary adherence as well.

Like most things in life there are exceptions to every rule, and most sports psychologists insist upon having clear, measurable goals. You can do so but the key is to make sure you put integrity above achievement. Do not “win at all costs” or the cost will be our soul. This is why I now prefer to think in terms of “purpose” or life meaning.

YOUR PURPOSE

The first thing you want to start out with is a PURPOSE. This replaces the traditional “goal”. Nietzsche made the observation “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” – in other words, plant firmly in your mind the reason you are doing this.

A purpose might be as noble as lowering your blood pressure or as superficial as getting a six pack. What’s important is that it is important to you. The stronger your understanding of WHY this is important to you, and the stronger it connects to your personal values, the better it will be, because when you are working towards something that aligns with your deepest values failure does not exist.

That’s probably an easy point to gloss over, but I want to emphasize that even when you don’t hit your goals or make the progress you want… hell, even if you regress, the act of striving to accomplish something can provide amazing feedback as to what works and what doesn’t.

Other examples of a purpose could involve: building strength, building muscle size, losing fat, improving health, improving in a specific sport etc.

Your purpose doesn’t have to be limited to one thing, but try to keep it relatively few and non-contradictory. For example you could conceivably get bigger and stronger.

One method for deciding upon your purpose is projecting your mind into the future and think about what you want to have accomplished, and how you got there – including challenges you had to overcome.

While I can’t give you your purpose for obvious reasons, it should be noted that discovering it can be profoundly difficult. One trick I learned was to look at yourself objectively – or to “see yourself as a stranger” in order to begin to learn who you are and what you ought to strive to accel at.

While hunting for my own purpose, both in physical terms and in my broader life, I was drawn to the work of Viktor Frankl, who suggests that we can find out life’s meaning in three ways:

1. through performing deeds

2. experience or encounters

3. through dealing with unavoidable hardships

This can be an amazing guide. I remember being inspired when I met Ben Pakulski and being excited by his training philosophy. Likewise I can attest to the satisfaction that comes following physical work of virtually any kind, and I wholly believe that the demonstration of true character – and learning life’s great lessons happens in the presence of adversity — if only I had the luxury of learning this from a book and not personal experience.

I learned the lesson of growth through hardship fairly young. My house burned down at age eighteen. Our family and pets escape safely while virtually none of our possessions were salvaged. Of course it was devastating, but as we began to rebuild our lives I began to understand the frivolity of material possessions at a much earlier age than most people have the benefit of. Similarly, when my twelve year marriage ended I began to see my character weaknesses for the first time and made a conscious effort to rebuild myself. Of course these were not deliberate acts for the sake of finding meaning, but helped provide the character and insite needed to embark on the search.

What did I come up with through my own search for meaning? Ironically the search itself and the unexpected findings was highly fulfilling – to the extent where I must believe that meaning is my meaning, not only my own but bringing meaning to my interactions with others and hopefully helping bring meaning to the lives of those who desire it.