Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

Okay, since we’re being honest here, it is the audiobook I’m reviewing which is unabridged anyway.

I had to restart the book a couple of times because the author lost me at one crucial point – after discussing a plethora of nutritional supplements that can be helpful, he adds in the shameless plug of his own brand.

Maybe I’m extra sensitive to this kind of marketing within a product, because I was disillusioned when starting out a fitness program for the first time. It was Bill Phillips’ Body-For-Life, a hugely motivational and successful book that came out when I was about 18. I loved it, until I realized that this book – that I bought under the assumption that it had the answers to my questions – was really just a marketing gimmick, and to add insult to injury, I had paid thirty bucks to be advertised to.

This is one of the reasons that I was initially drawn to Tom Venuto who very deliberately disassociates himself from any supplement brand.

Aubrey, here uses some slick salesmanship teaching you that “you are worth” investing in his supplements which kind of pisses me off a lot and undermined virtually everything he said leading up to that point – especially his supplement suggestions.

Just as I was getting back into it… he started marketing his own podcast and I was ready to strangle the bastard.

Enough about that, on to the rest of the book.

Here are a few of the ideas in the book…

  • Start the day with salted lemon water for hydration – probably a good idea
  • Use cold showers in conjunction with Wim Hof breathing – cold exposure is an interesting idea, although to be honest I’m not sold on the breathing
  • The joys of using plants – most of which can’t be obtained legally anyway
  • Pitches for bulletproof coffee
  • Don’t over cook meat – this was an interesting recommendation I’ll have to look into further
  • Embrace challenges – I think this is a great philosophy
  • Calories are bogus, it’s macronutrients that matter – I partly agree with him here. I think he’s right, but calories are something of a common denominator that makes portion control easier for most people; that said, his book is about taking things above “good enough”, so it is definitely good information
  • Taking 30 min naps midday
  • Brainwave states and binaural beats – again, an intriguing idea I have more to learn about
  • Use small amounts of drugs and alcohol post training to enhance their effects

Now onto the training portion… the exercise portion of the book aims to give an “unconventional” program to provide unconventional results. For the most part it is CrossFit training, with a dash of strength training. He also throws in some “animal walks” – which very well might be effective, but I can’t bring myself to trying them as they make me feel ridiculous.

Once he lays out the protocols for training he then (big surprise) tells you that if you are serious about training you should visit his site to buy his coaching services. Once again he has shamelessly plugged himself out of any respect he might have earned up to this point.

He does something interesting but somewhat perplexing at the end of the training section… he tells about how researchers found that just thinking about exercising made people stronger and fitter – interesting for sure, but a strange thing to say when you are trying to convince people to actually train. Perhaps this would be better in a different part of the book.

The next section of his book is about connecting with other people, which is a fine suggestion, but unfortunately people like myself who have social anxiety will not find any tools in here about HOW to connect with others aside from playing music in the home – which is an interesting idea, and stepping away from social media – which is also a great idea that no one will listen to.

There is further discussion of nutrition where he mentions some common foods along with obscure minerals. One excellent point he makes is to eat slower and mentions a study that demonstrated that found that people who struggle with fat loss tend to eat faster. While the science on this is probably lacking, anecdotally I can attest to the fact that the people I know who are overweight tend to be fast eaters, and the ones who are lean tend to eat slower… especially in women.

Just like in the 4-hour body, which this book has been compared to, there is a section on sex. Now I do take issue with his assessment of the current sexual culture – at least in part. He begins by stating that data suggests we are having less sex now despite the fact that it is theoretically easier to have now with things like tinder and less social stigma. He said that the reason for this is that we are just not that good at it. This makes absolutely no sense. Why? Because if it was bad across the board we would have no standard of what “good” means. The problem would rather be that since there is no sexual stigma, women now tend to have experience with more partners so as they learn what they like and what they don’t, their expectations rise.

There’s another aspect that compounds this problem, which is the fact that as our society idiotically encourages entitlement young men likely aren’t as concerned with pleasing women as they were in days gone by.

He also claims that sex Ed spends too much time focusing on STDs rather than teaching boys how to please women. Again, I think he’s somewhat off base, firstly because the tendencies of sexual education right now is leaning towards the politically correct doctrine of teaching kids that gender doesn’t matter, that gender identification doesn’t dictate sexuality and yet it is simultaneously linked to sexual education. It also seems to me a bad idea to teach curious young men how to get a woman off unless what you want is a promiscuous society.

But all that being said, the idea of becoming properly sexually educated seems to make sense from a male perspective – if you want your partner satisfied that is. The author wisely chooses not to go into depth on technique but rather talks about ways to communicate your way to a better sex life with your partner. Again, nothing novel here, in fact it feels almost like he put it in as a mandatory afterthought, but overall not bad.

The next leg of the book talks about what she suggests to do and not to in your downtime. Ironically, he say he doesn’t like reading books that take simple ideas and stretch them out unnecessarily long. He then tells you to brush your teeth.

In the final chapter he talks about sleep… and I couldn’t believe this the first time I heard it, but he actually has the cheekiness to quote himself. If it was a silly quote I would pass it off as self-deprecating humour, but instead it comes off as a bit pretentious. This chapter is what he calls the antidote to poor sleep. Sounds promising. One of the suggestions was to sleep multiple times a day – this is similar to Tim Ferris’s suggestion of having 30 minute power naps. The suggestion of breaking up your sleep cycles sounds interesting but also sounds contradictory to his previous comments on the circadian rhythm. The suggestion is to track your sleep using an oura ring – which I suspect he has stock in. He also suggests controlling the temperature while you sleep, which is another suggestion also found in the 4-hour body. He also suggests sleeping with plants in the room, specifically English Ivy. In the end there was not a lot of practical advice but the occasional interesting tidbit.

In conclusion… I wouldn’t consider this a “must read”, but I do think that the author has knowledge in his field and something to say to those who would find it helpful. I think a lot of people could find one or two helpful suggestions, but I don’t know anyone who would benefit from the book in its entirety. Personally I found 4-hour Body to be more practice and to-the-point. Still, it is entertaining if nothing else.

(Photo: me and Ben in 2013… fear not, this will be unbiased)

For my latest fitness program review I’m going to get into Ben Pakulski’s latest project, “Hypertrophy Execution Masterclass”.

Ben has done a hell of a lot to teach the principles of hypertrophy and muscle mechanics, so his new venture is right in his wheelhouse – which is teaching about the intricacies of exercise movement, specifically when the goal is muscle growth.

For promotional reasons I was given a limited-time member to the program so my review will have to be limited to that.

The “curriculum” is broken down into several modules each with sub-modules beginning with what he has titled “the 6 essentials of exercise”. Now, these are excellent basics for those who are unfamiliar with his work, but for me they were just reiterations of things I’d heard many times. Of course I can’t really blame him for wanting to make sure anyone watching is starting at the same point.

Next they get into specifics of various muscle groups using video tutorials from Ben and another big dude whose name escapes me. The idea they propose is that you focus on implementing execution principals bit by bit as you progress – which is a great idea, the only hitch is that in order to actually get to the workout you’ll need, you have to watch another video where they outline the workout, and they provide a 4 week program which is great although I think I would prefer if it were given earlier in the course so you could work on it while getting through the material.

There is a lot of material here. Again, some of it may be repetitive but if you are a content junkie you will enjoy it. In addition to discussing physical intricacies they talk about mentally pushing through barriers as well. Personally I found it to be a bit much, whereas MI40 was more concise – which appeals more to me.

That was all of the content I was able to access, so I have to limit my review and thoughts to this module.

Specifically recommending this particular program is difficult, because I’m not quite sure who it is targeting. It seems too basic for advanced lifters, but at the same time little bit too advanced for beginning lifters. And it comes with a fairly steep price, which is expected given the sheer amount of content – I’m just not sure who exactly would get the most value out of that content.

This might sound foolishly obvious, but Jason Momoa wasn’t always the titan he currently is. Having built himself large enough to follow up Arnold in a Conan film that no one saw, he has reached an incredible level of fitness so I did some research into how he accomplished this.

He claims to have never lifted weights prior to the role of Conan – If this is true, he, at the very least, set up the foundation for growth.

As a young actor he was certainly in athletic shape, which seems quite common in a lot of bigger guys. Their struggle is generally not getting lean but rather packing on size. They need to eat big. But guys like me who do that just get fat.

I spent years going through a cycle like this: spend 6 months “bulking” then 6 months cutting – I would get lean, but my muscle mass was not significantly improved. For that reason I spent several years chasing the elusive “recomp” – the attempt to get both lean and muscular at the same time. The result for the most part was sitting in a perpetual state of physical mediocrity – at least by my standards.

This is why I decided to try something radical – a new approach to get big and lean. No not roids. It is actually based on a study that was brought to my attention – where quails had weights attached to their wings for 28 days resulted in an increase of the actual number of muscle fibres as well as muscle size and length. It stands to reason that if you increase the number of muscle cells available, you will get bigger – and then by hypertrophying them you will get bigger still. Yes this was done with birds, and the truth is that there does not seem to be conclusive consensus as to whether this was due to the muscles being stretched, or the nearly continuous load placed on them – which was began at 10% of their body weight and progressed to 35%. To my knowledge, the diet was not disclosed.

My attempt meant a combination of high frequency training with weighted stretching incorporated. I wanted to focus on a specific muscle group for this style of training. I chose to do chest because that meant I would also get additional work on my delts and triceps.

From a dietary perspective the goal was to have enough material to feed my muscles, but few enough calories that I would burn fat. This meant a moderate deficits with protein and fat sources making up the bulk of my diet with vegetables added in for their vitamins, minerals and fibre.

I knew this would push my recovery to a new extent so to help with the adaptation I first made sure to supplement with adaptogens, and used cold showers after chest training. The cold shower also has a calorie burning affect – albeit relatively small.

So my results? Well still being early in the process I can’t tell you yet, but once I have results I will post them (so if you’re interested make sure to follow).

However I think Momoa has mastered the inner game of being an Alpha – at least that’s how he carries his public persona. Look at him in interviews and you see a guy casually leaning back, owning his surroundings, very light-hearted and easygoing. What’s refreshing to me about his persona is that he is embracing his masculinity in a day and age when manliness is being vilified by the politically correct types. It is a lot harder than it sounds to be a chivalrous man when you are attacked for it. But when something virtuous becomes rare in society I think it is natural to admire those who demonstrate it.

Here’s the video review: https://youtu.be/nHWonDTuODY

I saw a feed come up in a couple of my social media’s advertising a book giveaway for something called “Muscle: The Stupid Simple Solution To Building Rock Hard Muscle While Eating Like A King And Dominating Your Life”

That’s one fucking title!

Anyway, I’ll be honest, when I watched the video I was like… “this little dude is gonna teach me how to build muscle?” But I looked into his bio and he seemed to be somewhat legit – at least as far as understanding muscle building science.

The add led to a page that made the claim that his publisher gave him 1000 copies of the book to give away, you just pay the shipping.

Here’s a couple screen captures of his page:

I filled out the form, and it turned out the shipping would cost $15, which seemed a bit steep, so I went to Amazon and found the book with free shipping for $20. There were also several shining reviews of the book.

I decided to spend the extra few bucks pick it up through amazon prime, that way if it sucked I wouldn’t be on his email list.

It was when I got the notification from amazon that it would take over a week to ship that I got suspicious. I decided to find out who his “publishers” are and it turned out my suspicion was correct… it is himself.

Now, I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing. Writing is a tough gig and getting published in a dying industry is no simple task. What I DO have a problem with is deceptive marketing (see Vince Del Monte).

Having used createspace myself for a few projects I realized that he is not giving these books away for free at all. This $15 price tag is not the shipping price alone, but actually the cost that createspace charges to print the books on demand. This also explained why it would take so long for me to get the book.

So once I realized he was being sneaky about the so-called publishers, I began to second guess the slew of five star reviews as well.

However… I really wanted to give the material a fair shot. After all, if it is so important to him to get this material out to people that he would go to these unethical lengths there is hopefully something of great value in it.

While waiting for the book to arrive I reached out to Jason to ask him about this publishing company claim, but no response from either the email address listed on his website or any of the social media adds.

Once the book arrived I really liked the visual layout, I dove right in. Chapter 1 was titled “How I gained 27 lbs of muscle in 7 months”, a promising title. However nowhere in the chapter does he explain HOW he supposedly gained this muscle just THAT he gained it. So not off to a great start.

In Chapter 2, he begins to fill in the gaps, but basically says the answer to HOW he gained that mass is by being a lifting newb. I began to get worried that his big “secret” is: “be a newb”.

Chapter 3 is basically a rundown of what some consider the “ideal” physique. Again no practical information.

I’m not gonna go over each chapter, but suffice it to say that by the end of part 1, I had absolutely no idea what he was claiming was the “stupid simple solution”.

Part 2 made me none the wiser, he did reference Brad Shoenfield’s mechanisms of hypertrophy, but if that’s what you’re looking for, Brad’s Max Muscle is the book to get.

By the end of the book I felt no better educated and I still have no idea what he thinks is the “secret” to building muscle aside from being a training newb.

So aside from the fact that it’s slimy marketing at work, the book itself is a waste of money. Just don’t.

I’m going to overlap some ideas I wrote here but today’s pondering is more geared at fat loss than muscle gain.

Getting into the kind of shape that wins admiration is extremely difficult and extremely frustrating at times, especially when we see 18 year old models popping up on our social media daily who look stunning.

Like success in any field I believe that fitness goals begin internally, and to be successful I believe that we need to accept and implement that, the older we get the more true it becomes.

Step 1: Find your WHAT

This is what you would call your “goal”. Let’s be honest here – you already know – at least to some extent what you want to achieve. So take this desire and firm it up, give yourself parameters such as specific targets to reach by a specific date.

Step 2: find your WHY

This is a miracle tool, In fact if anything in the fitness industry deserves the word “secret” it is this oft overlooked process.

Decide WHY you need to achieve your “what”.

There are a few reasons this is important. First and foremost it validates and strengthens your goal to a new level. But perhaps even more important is that it aligns your goals with your personal values… this allows you to reach your goal WITH INTEGRITY.

Step 3: find your HOW

Now it’s time to get to the nuts and bolts of your goals. Use all the information and experience at your disposal!

Deciding how you will achieve your goal is the one part that is fluid within this framework because you might find that a certain method is less effective than another, and that’s all part of the learning process.

Personally I’ve found doing this three step process to be not only effective but extremely fulfilling!

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.

——-

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