Level Up Your Fitness

 If you’re not into video games it might be hard to even understand their appeal. If you are, you may not have thought past “they’re just fun.”

 This isn’t about liking or disliking video games. We can take something valuable from how they’re structured.

 When you begin a video game (think of just about anyone you can think of), it usually follows a similar path. Orientation, exploration, mission, acquisition, and reward.

 First you’re immersed into that world and there’s an orientation. You learn how to move and what the buttons do.

 Next you find out your objective, maybe it’s slay the dragon, save the world, or win the championship. Of course, you don’t just go straight to the dragon’s lair. You start with smaller missions. This is exploration.

 This is, you may be thinking, when game really starts. You set out on your mission, a short-term goal that advances the story. You begin skill acquisition. How to run the plays in a sports game. How to defeat the low-level bad guys and loot them for their weapons, money, or xp.

 You improve pretty quickly and what happens? Your avatar levels up and becomes stronger and more capable. This is the reward part of the cycle.

 Then the loop essentially resets but everything is a little more difficult. The missions are more complex, the bad guys are harder to defeat, you get more skilled, and the rewards are bigger.

The cycle holds you engaged by keeping you right at the edge of your ability. A game that’s too easy won’t hold your interest. If the learning curve is too steep, the frustration is too high and the game isn’t fun.

 The key is to find that middle ground where you’re challenged. You feel perpetually pretty good. You know how to play but you need your full concentration in order to keep advancing. You may “die” some but it doesn’t feel hopeless.

 The same basic model is true when it comes to fitness. You start out in a strange new space called the gym. Your mission is to get stronger.

 The so-called “light” weights feel heavy as you orient yourself and get used to all the movements.

 There’s no clear-cut bad guys (well, I sincerely hope not) so you progress first by just surviving the early sessions. Each time you workout you’re a little bit stronger. Just like a good, challenging video game, you won’t just sail through. You don’t “die” like your on-screen counterpart, but you will have obstacles and sticking points. And you overcome them the same way, by persevering and learning.

 Adding weights to the bar is the easy corollary to leveling up. The reward is a more capable body and an improved appearance. And the cycle continues as the heavier weights and harder workouts are a greater challenge than before.

 While sitting in your chair playing video games won’t get you in better shape, hopefully now going to the gym can feel more like you’re heroically saving the planet from destruction.

 

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Don’t Be Mr. Burns

Spend hours every day hunched over a desk or steering wheel? How to undo the damage.

 Modern life is trying to turn you into C. Montgomery Burns. And not in the rich enough to build a device to block out the sun way.

 Do you spend hours driving? Do you sit at a desk for hours at a time, probably typing away at a keyboard? Perhaps staring down at your phone or tablet?

 Maybe you’re sitting at a desk right now. Notice your posture. Are you hunched? Shoulders rounded forward?

 Spending hours a day in that position affects your posture in the long term. In time, this Mr. Burns posture will become normal for you. It’s uncomfortable and might even be painful.

 But it’s not inevitable. And it’s correctable.

 When you’re hunched over like that, your upper back muscles are stretched and tight. Your chest is caved in and weak.

 Sitting for prolonged periods tightens your hip flexors and hamstrings, and signals your butt to basically go to sleep.

 You can fight this by making a point to get up every 45 minutes to an hour. Stand up tall, move around a bit. Stretch. Go for a quick walk if you can. It can also help break up the monotony of the task at hand and clear your head. Even a couple minutes can refresh your mind and spirit.

 If you really want to help combat it, you can do Wall Slides. Essentially, you move your body into the opposite position of sitting hunched over. It’s a great way to feel your chest and shoulders open up.

 The first thing you’ll need is a wall. You don’t need anything else.

 Stand with your back towards the wall. Your butt, upper back and the back of your head should be against the wall. Move your arms out so you’re almost in the “hands up” position. The back of your forearms and hands will be against the wall. Keep your core engaged. Slowly raise your arms up, making sure all those points above remain in contact with the wall. The entire time you want to keep your shoulder blades squeezed together and down. You don’t want to shrug.

 At the top of the movement, you’ll look similar to a ref signaling a touchdown. Then reverse the movement back to the starting position. Repeat for 8-10 repetitions a couple times a day and you should notice your posture improving pretty quickly.

 If you can’t slide your arms very far without losing contact with the wall, that’s okay. Work within the range you can while still maintaining all the points of contact against the wall. Over time, you’ll notice that will improve too.

 Hope this helps! Any questions or if you just want to say hi, let me know.

Training vs. Exercise

Is there a difference between exercise and training?

Often they’re used interchangeably but there’s a subtle and important distinction.

Exercise is a means to its own end. Training is a means to a different end. In other words, you exercise for its own sake. Whether it’s running, swimming, biking, dancing, lifting weights or any other physical activity, you’re doing it because you enjoy it.

When you’re training, it’s for another purpose. It may still be enjoyable, of course. But you’re following a plan with a specific goal. For example, your bike workouts are to prepare you for a specific race.

Neither is better than the other.

 The reasons I have my clients train rather than exercise is because having a specific goal is really motivating. The goals are theirs, not mine. You’re not going to be motivated for my goals. At least I hope you won’t.

 When you have a goal in mind that you really want, a lot of awesome things happen. You have a deadline. It’s not “some day”, it’s a particular time. Maybe it’s 12 weeks, 6 months, or a year. In fact, it’s a great idea to have a mix of shorter-term goals on the road to your longer-term goals.

You can think of the deadline as a finish line, if that’s more appealing to you. Either way, it means that you don’t have time to mess around. Each of your training sessions is a step closer. If you skip a session, you lose a step. Sticking to the plan matters.

It helps you build your mental toughness. You learn to set aside your feelings and do the work. There will be days when you absolutely will not feel like working out. You may even hear a little voice in your head suggesting, “it’s only one day”. You learn to drown that out and push through any resistance.

You use your toughness and the knowledge of an upcoming finish line as fuel to keep you going through even the toughest workouts.

When you learn this, you can apply it to any aspect of your life. Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, regardless of how you feel at the moment.

Let me say again, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with exercising. It sure beats the hell out of sitting on the couch all day. It’s a great way to be physically active. It’s a great flipside to training.

Training is really taxing mentally and physically, so sometimes it’s nice to just exercise. You still get in your workouts but it’s not quite such a grind. Taking some time off to just exercise without a particular end goal can be recharge your batteries. But exercising all the time without a goal can become boring. It’s a good idea to use both phases in cycles. Alternating a few months of training with a few weeks of just exercise can keep you motivated and progressing without wearing you down for a long, long time.

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

Finicky Eater?

For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I was never able to put on any weight. I was a really skinny kid. So skinny, I barely cast a shadow.

Being a finic- I mean, selective eater doesn’t mean you can’t make great gains. Just as there’s no one food you have to avoid in order to lose weight, there is no food you absolutely have to eat in order to help you put on muscle.

I know this is probably contrary to some things you’ve heard. Maybe you’ve read about the GOMAD approach. If you haven’t, that’s drinking a Gallon Of Milk A Day. Some people actually do this. I think it’s excessive, but if that’s what you want to do, go for it.

There’s no arguing that milk is the one substance specifically evolved to grow little baby mammals into larger ones.

(I’m not going to get into the merits or morality of humans drinking other mammals’ milk. I will say, I’m totally against depriving baby almonds from their moms’ milk though).

IMG_2748As long as I can remember, I have hated milk. The taste, texture, smell, everything. I must have been stubborn about it ‘cause I don’t recall my parents ever trying to force me to drink it. I must have gotten enough calcium and vitamin D ‘cause not only have I never broken a bone (knocks on wood), I am still alive. I made it all the way to adulthood!

This isn’t to knock milk specifically. If you love it, good. I solemnly swear to never take yours.

I was born lucky enough to develop a finicky appetite with other foods too. I’ll spare you the list (you’re welcome). It wasn’t like I grew up only on junk food or anything like that. There’s a bunch of healthy foods I like.

The truth is, if you’re a finicky eater, that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life as a malnourished stick figure.

What it does mean is if you’re looking to put on lean mass, you’re going to have to do a couple things. You’re going to have to eat a whole lot of the few things you do like. And you’re going to have to keep trying new foods, even if you’re pretty sure you’re going to hate it. Once in awhile you should even retry something you hated just to see if your tastes have changed.

IMG_2749

It never made sense to me why anyone would force someone to eat something they clearly hate. Any nutrition you miss from not eating something you dislike can likely be made up by eating something else you do like. So don’t think that you should replace your most-despised vegetable with Pop-Tarts. Being a picky eater doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat mostly healthy. Any calories you’d miss from one food can always be replaced by eating something you prefer.

 

Making sure you eat proper nutrition will help keep you healthy. But it’s the calories that are going to help you add size. Simply put, in order to put on size you need to eat more calories than you burn consistently over time. The fancy term for this is eating at a “calorie surplus”.

The best way to make sure those excess calories are used to fuel muscle growth rather than fat is to do strength training. You want to lift weights a few times per week. Focus on getting stronger at compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press and pull-ups while eating at a slight calorie surplus.

Be patient, this will take time. Especially if you’re finicky.

 Thanks for reading. I hope this helps!

 

 

P.S. No. I’m not trying milk again. Last time I tried was when I was in college and I’m good. Same for liver and brussels sprouts.

Thanksgiving!

I’ll keep it simple: Enjoy the holiday. Enjoy the food. Enjoy time with your family and friends, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Don’t worry about tracking calories or making sure you hit the gym. The whole point of fitness is to make your life better, not to consume your life.

I hope you have a great one!

Come Monday though, it’s time to get back to the mission!image1

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 Upside of Sucking

When you first start anything new (walking, reading, a sport, a musical instrument) you will be terrible. You will suck. And that’s good.

It’s good for several reasons.

Perspective – even if you are an expert in one area, you will be a know-nothing in most others. Keeping perspective will keep you in the mentality of the student.

Learn Fast – when you’re first acquiring a new skill, you learn fast. It doesn’t feel that way, but you do. Going from zero to one is a bigger jump than from one to two.

Application – The stages of learning: novice, beginner, intermediate, proficient are the same for any skill. You can’t skip. Going through them is how you gain experience. This experience is indirectly transferable as is the accompanying confidence. You probably don’t remember learning to walk. Perhaps you can recall learning to swim or ride a bike. You start off totally unsure. You have to think about each action before you do it. The task seems really complicated. As you practice, you get better and you have to actively think less. This happens each time you try to learn something new. But, you don’t start exactly from scratch even if the new thing is totally different. You have the experience of having gone through the stages. You know that you can learn. You’ve learned to learn.

Become comfortable being uncomfortable – The best way to grow is to struggle. This is an important concept. Obviously there are times where it’s valuable to be comfortable. Being uncomfortable is stressful. Staying in a stressful state for a long time clearly isn’t ideal. But neither is never challenging yourself. The edges of discomfort is where we find our limits. We can’t push our limits if we don’t know where they are and test them from time to time. It also reminds us not to take our comforts for granted.

Inoculation – falling off the bike. Before it happens, it’s terrifying. When it happens it’s scary. It might even hurt a bit. But not forever. The next time it’s much less scary. Going through the process of being bad at something teaches you it’s really not so bad to be bad at something, at first.

Process is the thing – Learning to persist is priceless. This goes hand in hand with intentionally placing yourself in situations where you’re uncomfortable. The achievement of goals is kind of like signposts. They can tell you where you are but that’s about it. The process of getting there is the real value. Having a skill is great but learning a skill is growth. And growth is everything.

So learn something new.

Thanks for reading! Any questions or comments, leave them below.