The Holiday Minefield

I’ve written on this topic before but I wanted to add some more nuance as we head toward Thanksgiving and various other gluttony-based holiday events. I’ve written in the past about the need to plan ahead, to plan for cheating, to plan for failure, etc. But I wanted to talk more specifically about how to do that for the holidays, how I do it in general, and how I’m doing it now with my specific workout/eating regimen.

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Force of Habit

So much of the work I did – and still do – in taking control of my body involves what seems like a very basic thing… Changing habits. But I’m continually learning that this is one of those things where you do it once, then assume you’ve mastered it until you hit a wall and realize you need to do it again. And again. And again. So it has been with my own habits. Just when I think I’ve mastered “good habits”, I find that I’ve really just mastered the art of telling myself I have good habits.

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The Hidden Traps

So I bragged on Facebook about a few of my clients last week. Several of them have made great progress: dramatic, visible progress. J___ is much leaner, T___ is practically a different person in the face, and C___ can slip out of his pants now without unbuttoning them. I’m proud of their success! And a little proud of my part in it.

But at the same time, a few guys have expressed frustration at their progress. Not that they aren’t making progress – all my guys are, even those who barely listen to me! But some of them want to hit the gas a little harder. C___ in particular wants to see some abs and tends to grumble that those aren’t making their debut quite fast enough. I’m sympathetic to a point – abs are bizarrely motivating, especially to us fatties who may never have seen them in the mirror – but only to a point. And I say that because my guys tend to fall into some pretty obvious traps. Traps I feel like I warned them about… but then again, maybe it’s one of those things where you can’t really warn people away from a hot stove until they put their hand on it.

So what are the biggest traps my clients fall into? Let’s look.

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Self-Selecting Beautiful People

I was thinking about this the other day in connection with my last post about Cheat Days, but also because I had been browsing the magazine rack at the grocery store and saw Adam Levine on the cover of Men’s Health and got irritated that the feature article was about torching fat. The fitness industry, like many groups and professional spheres, has a pretty steep selection and confirmation bias. Which normally wouldn’t be a big deal except that in fitness, this bias will keep people who need the most help from getting it. Let’s walk through what I mean.

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For Everything a Season

I was talking recently to a friend of mine who wanted some advice about supplements to take. Actually, about 4 friends asked me in the span of a couple days the same kind of question about supplementation. So while I do want to talk some more about supplementation and specifically what I do and why – and some of the science behind it – but first a kind of general overview of how I’ve come to see fitness in general: from supplementation to weight training to eating and everything surrounding those. In short: the body craves variety.

My friends’ questions usually had something to do with them being dissatisfied with their current supplements – in most cases a pre-workout – and they wanted advice about what to change to. When I get this kind of question, my answer is usually that what you change to is not as important as that you change to something. The idea behind the question is that they must be using the wrong product or an inferior product. Well that could be true – there’s nothing to say that all pre-workout supplements are always effective for everyone or are even very good as a rule – but sometimes they just need to change products.

The secret of the body is that it is very efficient at not doing much work. The scientific description of this is “the body is always moving toward equilibrium” but that’s a fancy way of saying that the body gets bored and stops changing. This is true for a wide range of stimuli.

Have you ever noticed that as you sit wherever you are sitting reading this that you aren’t “hearing” every sound that goes on around you? You may only hear the humm of your computer or the click of your mouse. But if you stop you can probably pick out the whirr of appliances, the subtle buzz of light bulbs, the creak of the building, your own breathing and heartbeat. All these stimuli get filtered out, though, and you only really register unusual sounds. For a long list of sensations, the body has a way of pushing them to the background and only responding to the new.

Now my friends all were using different kinds of pre-workout supplements (a pre-workout, for those who don’t know, is basically a stimulant to give you more energy to work out, though some of them have other effects as well) but in most cases they had been using them for a few months. After a while, though, the body can get used to a regular diet of supplements like these. They lose their effectiveness as the body begins to expect, then ignore, the stimulant. Any of you coffee drinkers may recognize this from your daily coffee. It’s always best the first time! So when people ask about a pre-workout supplement I’ll give my own recommendation (I have favorites for reasons I’ll discuss elsewhere) but also say that they can’t really go too wrong by just switching. They’ve become immune to the effect and need to cycle to something else.

gym-workoutThis is just like what I said about weight lifting. In order to be growing, you have to have variety at every level. People lifting weights will hit a plateau usually because they have been doing the same thing for too long. The body gets used to it, expects it, then ignores it. It’s why I always change what I’m doing in some way every 6-8 weeks. Longer than that and the body just stops working.

So if you find yourself sitting in place but working incredibly hard – be it with supplements or with weight training or even with eating – you may ask yourself how long you have been doing things the same way. Usually if you’ve been at it more than 2 months, then your body has adapted. Changing – almost in any direction, honestly – will jar the body out of its stasis and get it growing again.

Always Learning… The “Cheat” Day

So as much as I repeat truisms that I’ve learned about the fitness industry, I find that I never quite get them into my head completely. Which is why they bear repeating and why this whole thing is an ongoing process. Case in point today: the idea of a “cheat” day as a harmless – and sometimes helpful! – mechanism in a diet regime.

The Rock... who consumes mountains of food on his cheat days.

The Rock… who consumes mountains of food on his cheat days.

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Bodybuilding: Week 3

(Previous week: 1, 2)

Week 2 was a little rough, of course. My best plans notwithstanding, I didn’t get as much done while on vacation in Chicago as I’d hoped, but also about the same as I expected if we’re all being honest. Still, I made some progress in certain areas even as some stagnated, so any progress is still progress, especially considering that I was gone for 5 days in Chicago and could have made no progress.

So let’s recap.

Long Term Goals:

  • Increase my Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Shoulder Press by 30%.
  • Lean down to an athletic bodyfat %
  • Qualify for a show

Near Term Goals:

  • Increase my Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Shoulder Press each week.
  • Clean up my diet and maintain a very clear, very clean carb cycling regimen.
  • Increase my cardiovascular endurance each week.
  • Find myself a coach.

Like I said, some goals got met and some didn’t. Namely, my bodyfat goal suffered mainly because I couldn’t control my eating the way I’d need to in order to make progress there. But my lifting actually went really well!

Bodyfat: My weight stayed the same: I’m holding steady at 224.4. But I also increased my strength, which would seem to indicate that I changed some fat weight to muscle weight.

Strength: I made some impressive gains in my support exercises last week, which surprised me, but even more satisfying is the fact that I increased my strength in my four main target motions: bench, squat, deadlift, and shoulder press. My squat, shoulder press, and deadlift increased by 20%, which is pretty astonishing to me not just because the weight increase was so big but because I maintained my form through it. I’m doing a squat correctly and increasing my strength… which really shouldn’t surprise my I guess. Doing things correctly in the gym tends to improve gains. My bench press increased by 7% and while not as impressive as the others is still a pretty solid gain in one week. As far as strength goes, last week was really productive!

Diet: This part was a total collapse haha. Like I said, my food was hard to control in Chicago even though I tried planning ahead, but thankfully my weight didn’t fluctuate. Which actually really surprises me because normally my weight would shoot up from any deviation from the norm.

Cardiovascular Endurance: I didn’t get to do much Insanity in my hotel room, but I did do it each morning before I left and the morning I got back. I’m happy to say that my endurance is now up to about 80%-90% of my target (my target being “get through Insanity without stopping”). Again, sort of surprising considering that as an endomorph my cardio endurance is usually first thing to decay if I’m not consistent with it. So again, pretty happy!

Next Week:

With nothing surprising on the horizon, let’s see if I can get up to 100% with all my goals. This will mean focusing on healthy carbs on Saturday for my “refeed” as well as getting all of my cardio into the program. If I can get things to 100% this week, I’ll add some new goals!