Strategy vs. Tactics

Any time you hear someone say they’ve got the hottest new “hack”, they’re talking tactics. There’s nothing inherently bad about tactics. In fact, you need to use them in order to accomplish your goals.

But just lumping a bunch of tactics together probably isn’t going to get you want. Looking at tactics is looking at a small part of a picture, zoomed in all the way. You can see great details, but it’s impossible to see the whole picture.

Strategy is zooming out to see a larger part of the big picture. You use strategy as a wider-scale approach to accomplishing an objective.

The objective is the overall goal you want to achieve.

Put another way, the Objective is the whole picture; the Strategy is the picture divided into smaller parts; Tactics are the magnified close-ups.

Objective → strategy → tactics

Here are two examples to show you how this might work in real life:

Example 1:

Objective: Have $1 million dollars [you can pause and raise your pinky now, if you want]

Strategy: Make money

Tactics: get a job, buy lottery tickets, rob banks

Once you have your objective (what you want), you’ll have to choose your strategy (your broad plan or plans how), which will lead you to your tactics (the small, direct actions you take).

To get your objective, you can use one or a few strategies, and you have a ton of choices when it comes to tactics.

Example 2:

Objective: Gain 20 lbs. of muscle

Strategy: Lift weights, eat at a calorie surplus

Tactics: barbell training 3 days per week, eat 3000 calories a day, take steroids

I’m not recommending you take steroids. Just using it as one example of a tactic a person could use in an attempt to achieve a goal. You want to think about all three levels in the hierarchy before taking action.

For any given Objective, let’s understand that there is more than one Strategy to accomplish it. In fact, you’d probably do well to implement more than one. You don’t need a million, by the way, just a couple. Similarly, within any Strategy, there are countless Tactics you can use. Remain flexible in your approach when choosing Strategies. Be particularly flexible in adding, implementing, and switching Tactics.

Your objective is the most important thing. The strategy is the next important thing because it will dictate which tactics you employ.

If you don’t decide on a strategy before you choose your tactics, basically, you’re just guessing. By choosing your strategy first, you’ll more easily be able to tell which tactics make sense for you and which don’t.

Here’s where we get to the fitness “hacks”. Maybe a new workout plan or new diet or new exercise device fits into your strategy. But maybe it doesn’t. Know your strategy and you’ll have the answer.

Objective: What’s the one big thing you’re after?

Strategy: What’s your wider-scale plan to make that happen?

Tactics: What are the steps in that plan?

Thanks for reading. I hope this helps. Any questions or comments, leave ‘em below.

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How to Get Your First Pull-Up

You want to be able to do pull-ups or chin-ups but you can’t do any just yet. That’s no problem. It’s an impressive feat of upper body strength. Maybe you’ve thought it would never be possible for you. Follow the steps below and you’ll be able to get your first one pretty soon.

The most obvious difference between the pull-up and the chin-up is the placement of your hands. With pull-ups, you use an overhand grip, meaning your palms are wrapped around the bar facing away from you. For chin-ups, you grab the bar with your palms facing you. This makes for some differences in which muscles are worked, but they’re minor. For most people, chin-ups will be somewhat easier. Either exercise is a great way to improve your back strength and develop a great looking back.

Real quick, let’s make a deal: For the rest of this I’m going to use “pull-ups” and you’re going to agree that it means “pull-ups or chin-ups”, even though we know they’re not exactly the same. Deal? Deal.

LatThis is a diagram of your lats (latissimus dorsi). The large fan-shaped muscle ranges from your armpit to your lower back. Its purpose is to move your upper arm down, back, and towards your side. It’s the primary muscle involved when you do pull-ups. The exercise does basically works all the muscles in your back. It also trains your biceps (the muscles on the front of your upper arm), forearms, and grip strength.

Now that we’ve got that covered, we can really get to business. In order to make it happen, you’re going to have to develop a good strength-to-bodyweight ratio. This may mean you have to lose some fat. The leaner you are, the easier pull-ups will be. If you’re not as lean as you’d like, you obviously can still work to get stronger. You don’t have to wait to begin this progression.

You can build pulling strength by doing lat pulldowns and using the assisted pull-up machine but in order to get better at pull-ups, you’re going to have to do pull-ups.

Doing negatives are a great way to make this happen. A negative is when you actively resist the force of the weight as it extends your muscle. That sounds fairly technical. A more common sense way of thinking about it is: fighting gravity as it pulls the weight back down.

Visualize picking a weight up with your hand and bending your elbow to bring the weight towards your shoulder. Now imagine lowering it as slowly as possible. That last part is the negative. You’re going to do that with pull-ups.

If you can jump up and grab a pull-up bar so that you’re holding it tight and your chin is just over the bar, that’s probably best. You’re already in the top position for doing a pull-up.

If you’re not there yet, no sweat. Find something stable to stand on that will allow you to maneuver yourself into the top position. Really make sure it’s stable for safety’s sake. You can also use your workout partner, if you have one, to give you a boost up to the top position.

From there, you extend your arms as slowly as you can to lower yourself to the dead hang position. Really fight the gravity pulling you down. You know you’re doing it correctly when you feel your lats working. You’ll likely feel the stretch in your upper arms also. Once you’re fully extended, let go of the bar and gently drop down to the ground. Then repeat. The first few times you do this you probably won’t be able to resist too long. That’s okay. Just keep working.

Start really easy and just do a couple negatives. You’ll likely experience some soreness the day or two following. That’s okay. As you do the exercise more frequently your body will adapt and you’ll get less and less sore.

I suggest you do this at the beginning of your workouts when you’re nice and fresh. You want to focus on slowing down your descent more over time. Doing just a few high quality reps is better than doing several reps of lesser quality.

Soon you’ll feel more confident and comfortable with the movement. This should happen over a few weeks. Then you’re ready for the next step.

For this you’ll jump up to the bar, same as before. Only instead of slowly lowering yourself down, you’re going to hold yourself up in that top position as long as you can.

There are essentially three ways you can contract a muscle. 1) Contract it: This is what you probably think of when someone tells you to “flex”. You shorten the muscle, as in when you flex your biceps, you shorten it to move your elbow joint to bring your forearm to your shoulder. 2) You resist as you extend it, as in the case of the negative. 3) Isometrically hold it. This is where you’re working the muscle but it’s not actively lengthening or shortening. Picture trying to shove a wall. As hard as you push, it’s not going anywhere. Even though your arms aren’t moving either, you’ll still feel the muscles working.

You will be working your entire upper body in this isometrical hold pull-up. Eventually you’ll fatigue, your arms will start to extend and you’ll end up in the dead hang position. Rest a minute or two and repeat the hold a couple more times. As you keep working this, you’ll notice you’ll be able to hang longer and longer, a sign of improved strength.

Then you’re ready to try doing a pull-up from the dead hang position.

Reach up to grab the bar with your arms fully extended. Raise yourself towards the bar in a smooth motion. Keeping your whole body tight will help this. Brace your abs, flex your butt and legs. Try not to kick or swing or otherwise use momentum. Thinking of the motion more like bringing your elbows towards your sides, than raising your chin over the bar might help you engage your lats. Once you reach the top part of the pull-up your chin will be above the bar. Lower yourself under control to the dead hang starting position.

Congratulations! You did it! Can you do 2?

I know you will soon enough. I’ll wrap this with a couple tips:

  • If you find yourself craning your neck to reach over the bar, focus on bringing your collar bone towards the bar instead of getting your chin above the bar.
  • Don’t shrug your shoulders towards your ears. There’s a tendency to want to shrug both at the top and at the bottom of the exercise. Keep your shoulder blades down.

As you get more confident doing pull-ups, you can try different variations. Besides an underhand or overhand grip, there’s a neutral grip. That’s when your palms are facing each other. It’s more comfortable for some people. If you have access to rings, you can definitely use them for your pull-ups. Rings offer more of a challenge in terms of stability. But their ability to rotate will help you find your body’s naturally efficient groove to do pull-ups.

These are all vertical pulling movements, meaning you’re moving up and down. For your best progress, you definitely want to include some horizontal pulling lifts, such as inverted rows or dumbbell rows in your workouts also.

Hope this helps! Any questions, leave ‘em below. Thanks for reading.

Nuance Training

This is about embracing nuance. The subtle “it depends” responses when it comes to training. When we first start out, things are pretty simple. You go to the gym, do your 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise 3 days a week and come back stronger each time. Progress is easy.

As you get stronger and fitter, by definition you need more volume to stimulate your muscles further. Unfortunately, you can’t just keep adding volume indefinitely. And your muscle and strength don’t keep increasing in a linear way. You’re also more experienced than when you started. In order to keep developing, you’ll need to become more nuanced both in your understanding and in your training.

Embrace it. It’s a sign of more complex thinking. Kids exist in a binary, right or wrong world because they have no experience. You can’t have judgment before you have experience. Teaching them to separate things into two groups simplifies life for them as they start to learn. Yes and no, good and bad, always and never absolutism helps build a framework. But eventually we learn other groups like “maybe”, “sometimes”, and “it depends”.

The same is true for fitness. As you become more experienced you find the rules are more of a framework than absolute truth. When you start out, it’s all about big compound lifts (or at least it should be). Your workouts center around squats, deadlifts, and bench. Probably you’ve been told you have to lift x reps and y sets with z time to rest.

In time, you might figure out that your body responds better to different parameters. Your workouts become more customized to you, which is exactly how they should be. At first it’s good to learn the “rules” and stick to programs as they’re drawn up. That’s a great way to make progress and build a solid foundation of strength and fitness. It’s important to learn the fundamentals well. And you don’t ever want to stray too far from them. But as your training progresses, your knowledge and experience expand also.

So understand that as your understanding and experience grow, so does the grey area between black and white. There’s no singular path to fitness. Once you’ve got the fundamentals, it’s good to be a bit flexible with the tactics you use.

In time your goals may evolve (I certainly hope so). Your life will change. Your body changes as you get older. The truth is, you’re always chasing a moving target. I think it’s a good thing. It keeps things interesting.

The Carrot or The Stick

What spurs you? Not motivates you. I don’t mean your purpose, mission in life, or your goals. Are you goaded into taking action by the carrot or the stick?

I’ve always been fascinated by this idea. The carrot is a promised reward, held always just out of reach. You take a step towards it, and it moves a step farther from you.

The stick is a threatened punishment. You keep moving forward because you don’t want to feel its sting.

In school I had many teachers and coaches. Some believed the best way to inspire greatness (or compliance) was through yelling or berating. Others did it more nicely.

We all need to be challenged. The most effective coaches and teachers seemed to intuitively know who needed a boot in the ass and who needed to be coaxed more gently.

I think it’s important to have a clear understanding of yourself (so did some guy named Socrates). Your internal mowq7b1wotivation is what’s going to drive you to go after your goals over the long term. But every once in a while, we all need a little nitro to give us a temporary turbo boost.

If that’s someone challenging your intestinal fortitude by calling you out of name, that’s cool. I’ve seen it work. If someone clapping for you and encouraging you, just one more rep or mile, that’s cool too. I’ve also seen that work.

I tend to fall mostly in the latter category. When I saw a coach screaming in a teammate’s face, spittle flying far too close, I thought it was funny. (I never claimed to be the most mature human.)

On the rare occasion when I was the object being yelled at, I never felt inspired. If the idea was to make me so enraged that I’d take it out on the opposing team, it didn’t work on me. It did, however, make me wish all kinds of horrible things would happen to that coach.

Circling back, it’s helpful to know which spur is going to work best for you. As a fitness coach, it’s imperative to have an understanding that everyone is different. You have to adjust to help inspire your clients to achieve their goals. Not that you have to be fake about it. People will see right through that. You want to see the situation (the desired outcome, the necessary steps, and the path) through the eyes of the client.

Hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Any comments or questions, leave ‘em below.

4th Quarter

It’s the beginning of October. That means it’s the start of the 4th quarter of 2017. Are you still on track for the goals you set for yourself this year?

If you are, you’re awesome. If you’ve already achieved what you set out to for the year… it’s time to pick bigger goals.

If you’ve fallen off, it’s easy to start thinking about ‘18. I mean, there are only a few weeks until the holidays and you may as well just slack off and enjoy, right?

Nope.

First, there’s still plenty of time left to put in lots of solid work towards your goals. For the sports fans, is there any greater thrill than a late-game comeback win? Who doesn’t love a movie where the hero overcomes the biggest challenge at the end? You are the hero of your story. If you truly want something, go after it. Take actions every day (every day) that put you closer to it. You won’t make giant strides daily. Small steps are still progress.

Second, you know “I’ll wait ‘til next year and then I’ll start” is bs. It’s just procrastination with no benefit. Why would you wait to improve your life? If it’s a good idea to start in January, it’s a good idea to start in October. As in now. Today.

Are you going to look back a year from now and say, I’m so glad I waited until January to get started? Or are you more likely to think you should’ve started earlier?

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to be more fit, drop that fat, build muscle, make a million dollars, write that novel, etc. Waiting is wasting. Go. Do.

You got this! Hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment or question below.

So You’re Having a $#!tty Workout

You’re feeling great… until the barbell’s in your hands…

You’re in the gym. Your mind’s right. Your warm-up was good. You’re feeling great. It’s bench day and you’re ready to set some PRs. You sail through your acclimation sets and then… (sad game show sound effect) nothing.

The barbell feels way heavier than expected. You try to push through but it’s just not happening today.

You rack the weight, then rack your brain trying to figure out what happened and why.

Maybe the answer is simple. You didn’t get enough sleep or you’ve got a little cold.

But sometimes, it’s just one of those days. You got no juice. It happens. Most workouts are just pretty good, in the same way that most days at work are just okay. Some training sessions are awesome. And others are just a slog.

What should you do?

Be honest with yourself: maybe you’re just feeling lazy. If you are, c’mon, just fight through that.

When it’s not that, you should do what you can. Accept that you’re not going to set any records today. And that’s okay. Just make up your mind to get through the session. Once it’s over, don’t dwell on it. I know it’s frustrating. One bad workout isn’t going to derail your gains.

Perhaps there are other factors at play. It’s important to have the self-awareness to know they can impact your workout. While the gym can sometimes be a sanctuary from the every day life stress, it’s not an impermeable bubble. We all go through times of intense stress and it’s reasonable to expect it may seep into your time at the gym.

The most important thing is to do the best you can each workout. Sometimes that means hitting PRs. On other occasions it may just mean showing up just to stretch and break a little sweat. It doesn’t mean you messed up or failed. It means there isn’t always an immediate payoff for your efforts. Just keep trying and you’ll reap the benefits.

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, leave ’em below.

10 Ways to Get Everyone at the Gym to Love You

Become your gym’s favorite person!

Here’s a quick list of things you can do to make sure you’re the real MVP of your gym:

  1. Never wash your gym clothes. If you’re worried they might not smell great, take a cologne shower before you hit the gym.
  2. When you’re done using the equipment, don’t wipe it off. Leave a little sweat for the next person.
  3. As soon as you finish an exercise, leave the weights right there. Don’t strip the plates of the bar. Never, ever, ever put the dumbbells back in the rack.
  4. Everyone should know how hard your workout is. Let them know through a series of grunts, hisses, and loud swearing. Your effort is contagious. They’ll see it and up their training to match yours.
  5. Give each person a helpful tip about the exercise they’re doing. They’re probably not totally wrong, but you can definitely provide 5 or 10 pointers. Share your expertise with them. Sure, they might be wearing earbuds pretending to concentrate on their own workout, but trust me, they’ll be grateful for your knowledge.
  6. Train efficiently by using supersets on at least 3-4 pieces of equipment at a time. You must remain fiercely vigilant about guarding them all. Never let anyone work in with you, that shows weakness. You don’t go to the gym to be weak, do you?
  7. Ogle. Ogle. Ogle. No one comes to the gym to not be seen. By ogling, you give them the gratification that they’re obviously after.
  8. Along similar lines, make sure you dress appropriately to be seen. Stringer tops and nut-hugger shorts give everyone an opportunity to admire your entire physique.
  9. In the locker room, take your sweet time getting dressed. It’s a social place. Strike up a conversation with a stranger as you use the blow dryer on your nether regions.
  10. Remember, all the mirrors in the building are there for you to show off your front double biceps pose.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a tip to add to the list, leave it in the comments below!