Artificial Values, Hidden Problems

One thing I teach my students about when working with people in coaching or personal training is that a number of people are less healthy than they think. The reason for this, is that we can easily use drugs to essentially prop up our performance when we would suck it up otherwise. Easy examples of this are people taking blood pressure medication so when you take their blood pressure they are normal, but this is hiding the fact that their default is unhealthy (high blood pressure). The same can be said about cholesterol medication, we are essentially hiding the original problem not fixing the root cause. The kids are usually on board at this point, so then I switch my sights and talk about the abuse of amphetamines (typically caffeine) and depressants (typically alcohol) for their personal use to get through their day and schedules.

How many times has someone told you that they “get enough sleep” while drinking a huge cup of coffee and if you even make a comment about stopping their coffee intake they clutch it to their chest and look at you like you just tried to steal their baby? The caffeine is filling in for the sleep they don’t get. Notice cats, dogs, and nearly every other animal you meet doesn’t delay sleep when they are tired and doesn’t have to have a pot of coffee to just get moving in the morning or be able to tolerate other human beings.

The same can be said when we look at people who need to drink in order to fall asleep. They have to have their wine, cocktail, or beer each night in order to relax. This is a crutch to avoid doing the hard work of learning how to relax.

Now this is not meant to be a character judgement, but instead help folks be mindful about their own reality and try to make small changes so they can cut back on their daily use. The strategies we develop and employ each day are there because they serve us a purpose in the context of how we currently live. I simply want people (and myself) to start asking the question of: “How can I improve my life so I don’t need these substances?”

The occasional cup of coffee to make you feel more amped up and ready is great, but when we create a reliance on it, when we need a cup just to get to “normal” it is time to take a hard look. The same can be said of drinking. I hope you got something out of reading this post and thanks as always for taking the time to read it. Have a great day and if you have any questions please leave a comment.

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Westside for Skinny Cheerleaders

Here is a quick and dirty program that I gave to some of my athletes here. Take a look and have fun with it if you try.

Max effort upper

Exercise 1: Build up to a max set of 3-5 reps in one of the following exercises and rotate them each week:

Push press, strict press, close grip inclines, seated military press, close grip bench press, Close grip floor press

Exercise 2: two sets to failure of one of the following:

Db military press (seated or standing), Db steep incline press, DB incline press, Dips

Db one arm military press

Exercise 3: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps of one of the following

Db rows, Machine rows, Barbell rows, Body weight low rows, Cable rows

Exercise 4: 100 reps of one of the following:

Band pull aparts, scarecrows, face pulls, rear delt flyes, seated db power cleans

Exercise 5: 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps of one of the following:

Db shrugs, barbell shrugs, db snatch (light weight on this one), Cuban presses

Exercise 6: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps of any curl exercise of your choice

 

Dynamic effort Lower

Exercise 1: 5-8 sets of 3 jumps in one of the following ways:

Box jumps, Seated box jumps, Box jumps holding light dumbbells, Medicine ball broad jumps

Exercise 2: back squats 50% of your max for 10 sets of 2 reps, aim for max speed and pause in the bottom of each rep. You can switch this to clean pulls or snatch pulls same idea with speed

Exercise 3: 1 leg exercise 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of one of the following:

Bulgarian split squats, Reverse lunges, Lunges, Step ups

Exercise 4: Hip exercise: 4 sets of 8-20 reps of one of the following exercises:

Back extensions on 45 degree machine, Back extensions on the GHR, GHRs (glute ham raise), Romanian deadlifts, Kb swings

Exercise 5: heavy abs 4-5 sets of 10-20 reps of one of the following:

Hanging leg raises, Incline sit ups, Weighted planks, Db side bends

 

 

Rep Effort Upper

Exercise 1: Medball push press to ceiling 5-8 sets of 3 maximal throws let the ball hit the ground between each rep. Can do this one handed or two. Use a light ball 5-20lbs. most likely 8-10.

Exercise 2: 3 sets of failure in one of the following exercises:

Db bench press, Db incline press, Db military press, Weighted dips, Weighted push ups, Handstand push ups

Exercise 3: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps pick one of the following:

Chin ups, Pull ups, neutral grip pull ups, Lat pulldowns (not a fan)

Exercise 4: pick one of the upper back exercises from the other upper body day and do 100 reps of it (break up sets where you need to)

Exercise 5: 4 sets of 8-12 reps of one of the following:

Lateral raises, Machine lateral raises, Upright rows, Lateral raises with thumbs pointed down

Exercise 6: triceps 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps, pick one of the following

Overhead skull crushers (French press), Tate press, Skull crushers, Cable overhead skull crushers, Db overhead skull crushers

Exercise 7: biceps 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps pick one exercise with the fat grips on the bar and go for it.

 

Max effort lower

Exercise 1: Back squat build up to a heavy set of 5. Take as many sets as you need to do so. Next week do trap bar deadlifts for a max set of 5. Following week do front squats for a max set of 5 reps. The following week go up to a max set of 5 in the safety squat bar. Be sure you are squatting to parallel and using good form. One week 5 rotate back to the back squat and beat your old PR.

Exercise 2: pick another unilateral exercise from the other lower body day and do it 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Exercise 3: pick another hip exercise from the other lower body day and do it 3 sets 8-15 reps

Exercise 4: high rep ab work, do what you want, but lots of reps here.

Exercise 5: push, pull, or drag the sled for 5-10 trips of 30-60 yards

 

This program was written with liberal inspiration from both the folks at westside barbell and from Joe Defranco’s Westside for skinny bastards program. If you need more context on exercises or programming please go to those websites and read up on the exercises and their programming.

Glass cages

A concept that I just came across the other day is the idea of glass cages. This is limits or prisons of our own designs that we create due to our own behaviors and self-imposed limits. The goal here is to be mindful and to give a few examples of how this effects all of us and how we might need to break them from time to time.

Hates the job, but it pays well

I was talking with one of my cousins the other day and we talked about life and work. He could be making more, but he thoroughly enjoys what he does and has the quality of life he desires. He then told me about a close friend that absolutely hates his job, but won’t change his job since he would have to take a pay cut and his family doesn’t want to live in a smaller home or not in the country club neighborhood. This guy is a prisoner of his own making. This is his glass cage that he doesn’t enjoy.

Going for long walks

When I was younger, the thing that helped me bust out of my own rut was by going on long walks. I had developed a thought that traveling anything over a half a mile from my parent’s home was too far and needed a car to travel there. It was by going walking (and even roller blading) that I realized that I could travel as far as I wanted from my parent’s house as long as I was willing to do the work. This for some reason really helped me break loose from some other self-defeating and fraudulent thinking that I had fallen prey to (I would always be fat, weak, etc.). It was through the walking and testing what I thought were my limits and breaking past them that helped me get past my prison of my own design.

I want to get strong, but don’t want to get fat

A number of kids that I work with will talk about wanting to get stronger and gain muscle, but don’t want to gain any fat. To give this context, this is usually from a student that is lean or quite lean for their gender. They are concerned that if they lose any definition on their abs they won’t be “attractive” anymore and won’t be able to attract the attention they want. If you have been training for a while and want to gain muscle mass you will likely gain a little fat in the process, and if you want to get really strong you will likely gain some fat (barring the use of anabolics in this argument). So they are trapped at their size and strength, because they are afraid to get just a little fat on their body.

What are your cages?

What are you complicit about for limiting yourself in one area or another of your life? You can slowly trap yourself in certain loops or realities without being deliberate about it, or even thinking about it. What are some conventions or behaviors that you do that you haven’t tested to see if they are in fact true? Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope this helps some of you.

Rage vs. Resolve

I have a few young folks training with me now and it is nice to see the fire in their eyes to get stronger. I like their intensity, but one concept I’m trying to get through their heads is the difference between rage and resolve. Rage is obviously just being fired up and crazy to attack the weights. There is definitely a time and a place for this approach, but it can sap you and take a while to recover from especially as you get older. Resolve is just that quiet fortitude to accomplish what you set out to do.

Think of how much you can do as a continuum. Each day you will fluctuate a little bit depending on how much you have eaten, how much sleep, time of day, etc. I’d say your average relatively trained person can be plus or minus 10% on any given day. If you walk in to the gym with resolve to hit what you need to, you won’t be red lining yourself. If you always have to rage hard and go crazy to make your lifts at some point you are going to stomp on the gas pedal and nothing is going to happen.

Use your resolve when you are training to improve your performance and save your rage for those truly maximal attempts in competition or during the peak week of your training. In the words of the Clash “anger can be power”, but don’t run on it all the time since it will start to wear you down. Build your resolve and you will be able to train for the long term. Then when it is time to compete, bring the rage.

GPP – General Physical Preparedness

A concept that comes up frequently in athletic performance is general physical preparedness (GPP). GPP is your general fitness levels. This involves your basic levels of strength, power, endurance, coordination, mobility, and agility (among others). Having good GPP sets you up to be a decent athlete, but to be a good player of a sport you need what is known as Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP). This is the difference between being able to bench press a lot of weight and being able to throw a shot put. The GPP here is bench pressing, the SPP is throwing the actual shot put. Now you can have great technique with throwing the shot put, but if you can’t even press the weight of the shot you won’t throw it very far. So GPP is important, but the difference between bench pressing 500 and 600lbs. when it comes to throwing a shot won’t make near as much of a difference as between bench pressing 0lbs. and 100. The goal here is to develop a set amount of GPP for anyone that you are capable of attaining the SPP you want in a given area.

Developing GPP

How you develop this GPP is by doing work. This is as simple as going for a walk, doing some pushups, or hitting some barbell squats. Your goal here is to develop your general capacities. This means the range of motion you can do an exercise in (mobility), the amount of force you can develop doing it (strength) over time (power), how many times you can do this for (conditioning), and how accurately (coordination). The easiest way to develop this is to simply do the work and add another 5-20% (better off with 5-10%) to the amount of total work you do each week and deload on occasion. What this means if you currently do 20 pushups a day, next week try to do 21-22 and keep increasing this volume over time. If you do 100lbs. for a set of 10 try to do 105-110lbs for the same amount of reps. Don’t overthink it, just do the work and slowly increase how much you do.

When to develop SPP

At some point you are going to need to be specifically able to work. There is a big difference in conditioning needed to run on a treadmill and to play soccer or basketball. Both require running, but the latter two have lots of changes of direction. So when you know your stressors are going to be different start about one to two months out with committing to developing your abilities specific to the sport you are looking to participate in. Start with a slight amount of actual sport practice and then increase the volume and duration accordingly.

Why take your time with the GPP and the SPP

The goal here is simply not to get hurt and to allow your body to adapt to the stress. You can build up to crazy amounts of volume with time, but if you do this rapidly you greatly increase your risk of injury. My goal with anyone I coach or work with is to make sure that they never get hurt. Now, injuries will happen to anyone if they train long enough and hard enough, but aim to slowly let your body adapt over time and spend most of the year just being in general shape, then once in a while focus in on having a high level of performance in one area or another.

At the end of the day, your goal should be to either maintain the amount of work that you can do, or be increasing it over time. Being generally fit will help not only your performance and body composition, but increase your health span and quality of life. If you want some good ideas of how to program GPP in more definition just let me know.

Understanding Variables

I recently has a good conversation with my sister about one topic and how certain people get hung up on one variable to control to the detriment of what are the major variables that matter. This got me thinking to write up a simple thought piece on how variables work and why we need to be aware of some concepts with how they can work.

One variable

Most people understand how one variables can effect another. An example of this would be things like genetics where one trait gives us our eye color or our hair color. This however is rare in reality and we need to keep in mind things have multiple causes.

Multiple variables

A good example of how multiple variables effect outcomes is concepts like height. How tall you are is a function of a large number of variables, like your genetics, how much sleep and stress you got as a child, and your nutrition. Each of those then have a number of individual variables (multiple genes for height), how much sleep you got each year of your life along with how much stress and activity and the forms of that stress, finally how many calories you were able to eat on average, how much calcium and vitamin D was in your diet and so on. I like to show my students how there are a number of variables that give us performance and we need to not only look at the variables we know and can track, but think about what are we not testing or can control for. After they do a test like a maximal handgrip (test how much force you can produce when closing your hand) and we relate it to the size of their forearm when corrected for lean mass this typically will explain about 70% of the final results in that someone with a more muscular forearm (bigger around) produces more force, what we don’t test and what is likely a part of that other 30% is how big are their hands, how well adapted is their nervous system, how good was their effort, how well recovered are they, have they eaten that day, are they sick, and the list goes on. By the end of the class they are good at not just seeing the relationships we have shown, but starting to identify what is in the percent left over we haven’t explained.

Which is the most important?

The variables that are the most important are the ones that contribute the most to your success. This means if you focus on only these you might have solid success without having to worry about other variables. These are the first ones to master and then worry about the variables that don’t make as big of an effect. A good start here is lifting heavy weights if you want to get stronger, also to simply be consistent with your training and to be sure to progress your program with time.

Which is the least important?

With the variables, take a look and see which are the least important. Which ones make the smallest difference? These are the ones to bother with last or not at all. When people debate sometimes they can get hung up in these variables so it is important to understand how to steer the conversation back to the things that make the biggest difference. An example of this is the argument for real sugar compared to high fructose corn syrup at the end of the day the key to remember is they both suck. In health and performance you get people that preach that everyone needs to do cryotherapy or sauna, which can be a good choice, but these are the same people only sleeping 4 hours per night.

Putting it together

With your life and your training start with the most important variables and then when you have mastered them move on to the variables of lesser importance. By starting with your “big rocks” you will make better progress and feel like you are more effective then immediately starting off by majoring in the minor.

Charlatan

noun

  1. a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud.

 

In the health and fitness world there are a number of charlatans. Unfortunately lots of people want to make changes to their physique. May it be losing fat, gaining muscle, or both at the same time. These people are willing to spend money for supplements, personal training, and training programs. The goal here is not to call anyone out, but to help you, dear reader, with understanding some basic points to look for if someone is talking out of the wrong orifice and are going to swindle you out of your hard earned money.

 

Supplements

Does it promise to be “exercise in a pill”, “get you to lose weight without working out”, or “let you eat anything you want”? If so it is either meth which does work, or something that doesn’t really work and don’t waste your money on it. Supplements outside of things like anabolic steroids, growth hormone, clenbuterol, and other illegal substances maybe add 5% to your performance. The real progress you will make is through your own hard work and effort. These can just add a little bit, don’t expect there to be great progress made just by taking a supplement.

 

Training Programs

First off, the program that works for someone else might not work for you. Does the program use compound movements? If it never does move on. Does it progress from week to week (get harder in some way)? Does the person who is selling you this program say that it worked for them so it should for you? Will it also suddenly make you as tall or short as that person? How is this program tapered to your and your goals? Does it train each muscle group in your body more than once per week?

 

Personal Trainers

Ask the trainer who have they trained. If they haven’t trained anyone before, do you want to be their first guinea pig? How do they like to divide up their program, if they just do one body part or muscle group per day for their clients you can do better. If they immediately want to sell you supplements or food plans be wary. Ask them how they like to progress their program, if they don’t know how to answer this question move on. Ask them about what their goals are for your muscle gain or fat loss. If they say they can deliver more than one pound of each per week (and you aren’t over 400lbs.) this is not feasible. Do they seemingly change the exercises and program every single week? If so find someone else.

 

It pains me and annoys me each time I find one of my students buying some crumby Instagram butt model’s or false natty’s (guy who uses steroids and claims that he doesn’t) program that is not only awful, but misleading. There are a number of good programs out there, unfortunately with social media these days there is a lot of noise. Think critically about the things that are being marketed to you. Ask why this should work for you, or why it should work better than anything that you have done before. Thanks as always for reading and let me know if you have any questions over what might fall in this trap.

Fixed vs. growth mindsets

I recently got to have a fun weekend with a great friend where we talked about life, the universe, and everything. One thing that we kept bringing up is our enjoyment of the book Mindset. Specifically, talking about the main treatise in the book about the fixed vs. growth mindset. The idea that in a specific area you are either improving your skills since they are plastic (growth), or stuck and stagnating where no improvements or changes are occurring (fixed). How often in life have you heard people saying that they are “no good” at one thing or another? Typically they haven’t tried to learn or practice that skill to actually get to the point in the learning curve where they start making improvements. How many people reading this can play the harmonica, ride a unicycle, or fly a paraglider? The way to get good at any of these is to practice and build your abilities. This is why a growth mindset is important no matter how good you are at a task, or you still stagnate and improve no further.

So if you are good at a skill, what are you currently doing to try and get even better? Are you still challenging yourself to learn a new technique, or improving the ones you already have? When is the last time when you wrote something that you actually focused on improving your hand writing? We all started off not being able to write or type. So have you actually tried to improve your ability to do these things?

Not all one way of the other

An important concept here is no one is really all growth or all fixed mindset. We can apply different mindsets in different areas. Maybe you are in a growth mindset with your physical training, but in your daily habits like cooking you are fixed. Think about an area that you haven’t improved for quite some time, and if you did improve it what enhancements in your quality of life would potentially occur.

Work towards growth everywhere.

It will never be enough

I’ve competed in strength sports and trained myself to a pretty high level in powerlifting and strongman. I’ve gotten hurt in training multiple times and have been lucky to only have had one major surgery from training related injuries. This all occurred in the journey to be as strong as possible* (*without drugs, still being able to move, being in decent shape, and not getting to be as large as humanly possible). A problem that I see in myself and other lifters is that we don’t often set what is enough. When are you strong enough? Big enough? Fast enough? Now this is a vain problem when it comes to competing, but the issue these days is usual in the form of social media. A number of my students are chasing bigger glutes, arms, etc. not to be a better athlete, but instead to fulfill an aesthetic. The problem with this is we are holding ourselves to standards that are not enjoyable to actually attain, and frequently our genetics limit us to what we can accomplish.  The goal here is to simply look in to some realities of what is attainable, and what the cost is to get there. At the end of the day, I hope when you look in the mirror you like the person looking back at you. Keep in mind this is a journey, and destination thinking can lead to yoyo dieting and other negative relationships with your own health.

 

Leanness

When it comes to how lean we are there is a genetic component and a huge environmental component. To get down to a health long term body composition for men (8-15% body fat) and women (18-25% body fat) which puts you in the lean to normal categories you figure you will have to work out and eat a sensible diet (heads up, metabolic disease throws a huge wrench it to these numbers). Some lucky souls can walk around at that body fat percentage without really working out whatsoever, while others will have to put in solid work to get to those levels and stay there. Now to get in to those body fat levels you will likely spend some time feeling hungry, but not all the time. In order to get lean and ultra-lean (think bodybuilders on stage) you will have to put in concentrated effort and spend nots mere hours but days and weeks of just being hungry. In order to look “shredded” you are going to have to not only workout, and calorie restrict, but even take a hard look at using drugs to help you get and stay leaner. I have a friend who is a model and his “cheat” food is making a slushie with BCAAs and Splenda. Staying ultra-lean is hard on your mind and your body, it might be fun to peak once in your life and see all of your abs, but if you want to stay a friendly person I suggest accepting the fact that you will only have a little ab definition and actually feel good and full most of the time.

 

Muscle Mass

I’ve posted before on limits to how much muscle mass someone will have if they are drug free. Overall, I can’t say for sure what the limits are to how much muscle mass you can have relative to your height or otherwise, but it definitely seems like a lean mass that puts you at a FFMI of 30 or above is using steroids and other drugs to gain muscle. This means that a guy at 5’10” would only be able to get their lean mass up to 210lbs. (before adding fat on to the body) this means if this guy was 10% body fat he would weigh in 231lbs. For women it is safe to say this number would likely be lower due to the testosterone differences. Now the amount of muscle mass you can gain in a week much less month is hard to say, but likely less than 1lbs. of lean mass. If you are a novice you might be able to do put on over 2lbs. when you first start training, but once you are well trained you are only looking at maybe half a pound per week or less.

 

Speed

Turns out if you weren’t the fastest kid in school growing up you aren’t likely ever going to be the fastest athlete later on in life. A certain amount of speed is influenced by genetics. You can get faster from strength and power training, but figure you aren’t going to make over a 50% improvement, more likely a 25% would be the ceiling for most folks. Meaning if you untrained can sprint a 5 second 40 yard dash you can possibly get this down to a 4.6 (which is real fast). If you can only run a 6 second 40 yard dash you will be unlikely to run a 5 second or less 40 yard dash. Now if you have a huge amount of body fat that you lose you will likely massively improve your speed.

 

Strength

How much you can lift can be increased by over 50% in less than 6 months and you can even double or triple your strength with time. However, genetics again will limit how fast you can improve your strength and what the ceiling that can be attained will be limited. Your bone structure and injury history can all effect how strong you will be. Take your time and look at your health and what you want to be able to do when you get older. I have friends who have already had a hip replacement and aren’t even in their 50s, but they could squat a 1000lbs. at one point.

 

Improving any physical ability will require more time and energy in order to get better and better. Your risk of injury increase the more your push the maximum of your physiology. Understand that we as humans are limited, to have a solid level of physical abilities will require some effort, but nothing absurd. As you increase to the limits of physical performance you are going to put a lot more stress on your life and the ones around you. Have your goals, do your best to attain them but still ground yourself in reality. In the words of a good friend “a man can be two of three things at once; big, lean, or natural.” If you want to push the boundaries at some point you will have to make some decisions and keep investing in to your physical performance, and if you want a family and otherwise be mindful of where you invest your time.

Getting Me those Big Thick Meaty Inner Thighs

In just about any gym you will find the hip abduction and hip adduction machine. Sometimes referred to the “good girl” and “bad girl” machines. You will find a number of people doing nearly infinite number of sets thinking that this will tone and tighten the inner and outer thighs. This is not really how this works.

First off, you use those same muscles when squatting, lunging, or sumo deadlifting a heavy load. Those exercises have the added advantage of training the other muscles of your legs along with your core. They also have a better carryover to daily life and sport.

Second, any time you train a muscle it has only one response to training and that is to get bigger. So if you spend countless hours on these machines you are going to make your groin muscles and outer hip muscles bigger. I personally like this effect since it helps out with things like strong man and powerlifting, however, most of the people doing this don’t want to get thick upper thighs that recreationally eat their pants.

For most people, they should stay off of those machines and use them only as rehabilitation or prehabilitation exercises. If you are looking to achieve a “thigh gap” then this is a great way to make sure that doesn’t happen. What most folks need to do is to lose some fat and keep their muscles the same size or increase their size slightly and you can do this much better by doing things like sprinting, heavy weight training, and most importantly slightly cutting back your calories (take out 100-400 calories per day). Thanks as always for reading.