Focus On Incremental Goals And You’ll Get There, Focus On Outcome And You’ll Quit

I was trying to say this last Monday about why you’re not going to run yourself thin but I don’t think it was a success. So I’m going to switch examples and talk about a favourite exercise I once said I’d never do: Bench Press.

Seriously. I’m proud to say I have a tattoo dedicated to my love of coffee and chest work outs. It says French Press & Bench Press. I almost named the blog that too. Anyway…

I had no desire to build up my chest, or get pecs, or even to bench press really. All my training was focused on running and you don’t really need a big bench for that. But I did need to something to balance out all the lower body work and in The 4 Hour Body (which is brilliant for running) there’s a program to get a stronger bench press.

I’ll always take strength training over vanity training so I figured why not?

Ferris’ plan has 3 weights with 3 grips once a week. I did the math for the percentages of my one rep max (I used 115 as a guess really) and put each work out on an index card with a date. Put’em all in a stack and each week I took the card to the gym and did the work out. Along with my usual training and whatever else of my day. Never thought about it much, in fact it was nice not to have to think about it or even measure my progress or check anything. Just doing the cards.

And then, long before I thought it happen, long before the program was done, one of my fitness goals dreams came true.

I got oooh‘d at in the staffroom.

Change snuck up on me and it snuck up on everyone. Just like when I lost a lot of belly fat by cutting carbs I changed my habits and focused on the habits themselves, not on forever, not on outcomes, just the next work out card, the next meal, the run, the sleep, the work, the day itself.

It’s actually a lot like Alcohol Recovery. You get overwhelmed and fatalistic if you think about fixing everything, changing everything, about how things should be if you’d stop fucking up. Success comes one day at time.

That’s how to have a great first year, a year where you look back and gleefully see all the progress you made while you weren’t looking, while no one was looking. If you try and look forward you will not be gleeful, you’ll be resentful. You’re trying to look around the mountaintop while you’re still climbing, you don’t have much of a view. And that’s good. Look at the rock, examine the rock, fall in love with the rock. And keep moving. One hand at a time, one card at a time, one meal at a time, one debt payment at a time, whatever. Make a plan and work the plan, work it so diligently you never want it to end and the outcomes are just pleasant surprises that you don’t care about much because you’re excited forming a new plan.

Videos I Liked This Week

So I was doing a lot of research on muscle glycogen this week and here’s 3 good videos on it.

 

 

This third one is great for people starting to go low carb and are feeling negative effects. Ultimately it’s a question of how to have more energy by knowing which fuel sources I’m depleting and how to restock them.

Which brings us to creatine quite nicely as AMOF

 

And respecting rest, fighting the feeling that you should be training all the time and that everyone else is training super great whenever you’re not

 

Then some relief that the Crossfit guys launched their new update show and a philosophy video about the powerful and the sublime that all of us self-important millenials could use

How Running Makes You A Better Person

I was the type of person who had to push back against everything. I felt like if you have an opinion and don’t express it, or if someone insults you and you don’t retaliate, then you’re accepting being a faceless doormat cog. I put pride on the line for everything and I had to win every conversation.

Or course if you don’t practice humility eventually you get humiliated. Unless you’re swept into wealth and fame in your 20s life will beat you down enough that you have to grow up.

I came to running because it was a solo activity and I found it was a great microcosm of life, a safe space to train emotional skills.

Running will test you, running will insult you, there’s a point in any long enough run where your pride will go away. Running can take you to some dark places and when you’re there running can help you find your fight. Running teaches you to fight smart, you want to beat this 20k you’re not going to be able to plow through it, intimidate it, or answer every time it tests you with aggression. If you do that it will win and you will lose. You have to run smart and know that the little tests, running’s little suggestions that you should quit, that today’s not a good day, are just that – little tests.

In life I learned to not even acknowledge the little tests. I can deal with a boss who takes it out on me when he gets flustered by thinking you’re just a little test, man, I’ve got to save my pace for the hard parts.

Stopping the pace of a day for the shittiness of others is like not running a race because of the weather; you can’t control the weather, weather’s always gonna be there and if you can only run when the weather is ideal then you’re not really a runner.

When a run tests you or when life tests you with difficult conditions or awful surprises you gotta think this is what I trained to be able to do. I didn’t train so that I could do things that were easy – everyone can take the easy, automatic, give-in way – I trained so that I could make things that were impossible merely hard.

Because my pride comes from Endurance now, it’s built on something I can demonstrate to myself. When you’re cocky your pride just comes from defending your pride, it’s a shell that only exists to you if it’s seen my others.

And I think having some humility and having some class is trusting that your efforts will be seen by others and you don’t need to drive it home. If you run a half marathon you don’t need people to see every kilometer, you don’t need to explain it, people know running 21k takes some grit. You have an opportunity to show some grace by acknowledging it, even thanking it for it’s tests, and moving on.

Ugh, the macho bullshit advertising

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I’m leaving aside the daintly little tennis playing fitmiss logo, I’m not a woman so I don’t need to offer insight into women’s issue and we all know the blah blah selling of unattainable beauty standards and blah blah male gaze sexiness of vulnerability. Those posts have been written. They teach them in college.

Yet no one seems to question the children’s toy style marketing of fitness to men.

The liberal use of words like Combat, Detonate, Explosive, the use of camo patterns and the bio-hazard symbol in fitness marketing.

It’s just a hook to get the douche bag dollar but it perpetuates the stereotype that fitness is full of douche bags. Which, it is.

What I see, and what I think is really stupid though is young guys, non-douchebags, adopting a douchey brosona when they start going to the gym.

The other night I saw three young scrawny guys at the gym spotting each other doing chest flys with 10 pound dumbbells while wearing jewellery and starting every. Single. Sentence. With “Yo!”

And I wish I could have paternally told them ‘shh, it’s okay, you don’t have to act like this, you don’t have to broadcast that you are what you think a gym guy is, no one gives a shit about you…’

It goes for everyone, you don’t have to live up to anything to be a gym-goer except go to the gym.

But guys are gullible and like to join cliques rather than think for themselves and that’s a great way to get money out of them.

Gym culture is kind of like a pyramid scheme. You need hundreds of useless entry levelers to make it viable for the people at the top. If everyone only paid what they needed to, used only the equipment they needed to, and bought the food and supplements that they really needed to – then the fitness bubble would pop. And the entire industry would a few rooms with barbells and creatine from the grocery store.

The Difference Between Mental And Physical Energy

Not having the energy is the number one explanation for not doing things, desire for energy sells us energy drinks, keeps us eating calorie dense foods, has us addicted to coffee (actually just the amount of fat and sugar you put in your coffee), etc etc.

You have all the energy you need right now, no matter what, unless you’re literally dying of starvation and are under 5 percent body fat.

There’s 9 calories per gram of fat, that’s all energy that your cells could burn to produce work.

The truth is you just don’t feel like it.

So you turn to caffeine and actually coffee perfectly captures the difference between mental and physical energy. Caffeine, as found in black coffee or tea, has no calories. It contains no energy.

A caffeine molecule is close enough to the shape of an adenosine molecule that it can fill up an adenosine receptor. Imagine a helicopter landing pad, if caffeine is on the pad then adenoise can’t land. And adenosine makes you sleepy. You feel ‘awake’ because not because you have more energy but because you’re not getting the sleepiness signal.

BTW, this causes your body to make more adenosine receptors which is where caffeine tolerance comes from.

This is also why power naps work. Adenosine makes you fall asleep but doesn’t keep you asleep, if you let yourself fall asleep you’ll clear the adenosine and wake up five minutes later slightly refreshed. Again, you don’t have any more energy – from a physics point of view – you’re just experiencing the absence of sleepiness, a mere mental state.

Another thing that has no calories that blocks adenosine is light. Full spectrum light like my veralux happy light I turn on every morning in the dark Canadian winter.

If you can’t get some sunlight, get some fake sunlight and you’ll feel more energetic. Taking vitamin D (with appropriate amounts of calcium and vitamin K) helps as well.

So let’s talk about the other drug people use to try and have more energy that does contain calories: Sugar.

Now sugar does contain energy and it glucose is vital to the brain. If you have no glucose your brain can run on ketones but your body loves glucose so much it can use the liver to even turn protein in sugar. Neat.

If you ingest sugar while you’re doing something your body will grab it right up. In fact, carbohydrates just entering the mouth causes cyclists in an experiment to produce more power.

Aside from that I’m just going to link to this article about sugar. It’s really good.

The thing is if you’re not moving your body just stores that sugar for later, as fat. Energy isn’t use it or lose it, all that you accumulate you store.

Adding more energy to your system won’t get you moving, won’t make you feel like moving. Mental and emotional energy doesn’t track with physical energy. I’m at my most excited after a 10k run or a squash game because the oven is hot, burning lots of fuel lets your body know there’s lots of fuel to burn.

The final way that mental and physical energy is different is actually a way that they are very much the same, they both run on glucose for fuel. Your brain actually uses most of the glucose you consume. And yes, you can be exhausted by thinking, being emotional drained is physically draining – all those thoughts and feelings you have are coming from the same neurotransmitters that respond to physical threats.

With one difference. Your muscles store energy in the form of glycogen. No matter how exhausted you are from math or dealing with people or whatever you do have the physical energy to exercise or run from a lion or go dancing.

And you don’t even need to top your brain up with glucose, honestly. As mentioned before, your body will produce ketones to keep your brain running. This is why people in ketosis aren’t zombies (although, oddly, people loaded on sugar are, but I’m not going to get into carb-related brain fog in this post). Anyone who has ever fasted knows there’s a weird and often sudden mental clarity that kicks in. That’s ketones. And that’s proof positive that mental and physical energy are completely different.

To wrap up I’m not saying that I don’t feel like it is always an invalid excuse, sometimes your body is telling you to back off training using emotional signals that you shouldn’t override.

But just to be sure, just to Leave No Doubt, why don’t you get started and see. Most of the time the heaviest lift at the gym is front door. Procrastination, fear, comfort, these are the much more likely culprits than a lack of energy.

Why You’re Not Going To Run Yourself Thin

Ultimately fat loss is easy, change your habits and wait.

But focus on the results and obsess about the outcome and it’ll be torture. If you got into running because you want to lose weight and that’s what you think about all the time, you’ll quit. (and I’ve said this before) You’re comparing imaginary future feelings of good to current feelings of suck and you’ll quit.

If you focus on the habits, on the here and now, what you’re going to do and not-do today, then time will just breeze by and then you’ll look up and notice you look a little better. Then you’ll really want to keep going and it’ll be a pleasure.

So at the start I say no announcing that you’re starting, no before pictures, no first weigh-in, no nothing just coffee

Stop making coffee (or morning… ugh… tea) at home. Get up at the same time everyday, get dressed, and walk to the store for a cup of coffee. For almost all of us coffee is mandatory so you’re not going to skip this, in fact you’ll notice you feel driven. Sooner you’re out the door, sooner coffee.

Then, even if you have music or a podcast going, be mindful. Take in the air, cool or warm, the sunshine or lack therefore, the quiet streets or the bustle, but take it all in and let it feel good. Especially after you’ve gotten the coffee and you’re taking those first sips (It’s an interesting question to ask if you could live in a commercial what commercial would it be? I say coffee commercial, it’s always a beautiful morning where you’re not tired in the least and you’re usually out at a cabin or something). I learned this in reverse, in a way. I was committed to wearing suits everyday for a year and when you get up and put on a suit you don’t want to sit around the house drinking coffee. So I got out and became a morning person after years, decades, of being an up all night sleep past noon drunken songwriter.

You will enjoy these mornings, enjoy it for it’s own sake, it’s self-rewarding. Much better than trying to jump into running as an awkward beginner and fight through hoping it’ll feel worth it once you’re skinny.

But speaking of awkward beginners, step two of running is actually running. Well, actually step two – phase one of step two – is buy an new outfit.

A terrible one.

Don’t think that your dirty old sweats are good enough and don’t matter anyway because you’re just going running. If you wear your loser clothes you’re going to feel more like a loser. And if you go buy cool sports cyborg branded super science clothes you’re also going to feel like a loser. When you actually run. In the store you’ll tell yourself you’ll feel (and look) super cool and then… you won’t. Reality is a hard bitch.

I new I’d feel stupid running for the first time so I leaned into it. I bought bright green runners, white shorts with palm trees, and a yellow tank top. I’ve always found that if you feel stupid (or silly, or awkward or whatever) and you acknowledge it, embrace it, it goes away. Don’t be afraid to be a character.

When I started swimming I had no problem imagining the life guards saying to each other hey it’s the drowning guy again.

After you’ve moved from walking to get coffee to running in bright clothes then it’s time to start setting goals. Just arbitrary ones. Run 20 minutes a day, run barefoot on grass every other day, see how long you can go for at comfortable slow place, do some sprints. Don’t have pro goals like marathons and training splits. Don’t think it has to suck to be effective.

Accept it: You Are A Beginner. Embrace it, you get to make mistakes, you get to look dumb, no one has expectations, no one gives a shit what you’re up to. Goof off. Just find good feelings, that’s all you’re up to for the first months of whatever you’re doing.

Except with food. Sorry. You’re going to have to give up all your comfort foods, all your convenient foods, even tons of things you thought were healthy.

The first thing I learned about losing weight is that weight doesn’t matter. If you start working out you burn fat and build muscle and your weight won’t really change. You’ll look fantastic but you’ll weigh the same. And this is about how you look ultimately. If you get healthy you’ll look good.

So the first action I took came from Tim Ferris. Don’t eat anything white or that could be white. Meaning bread, pasta, rice, etc. I thought I was good because I ate whole grain bread fortified with quinoa or flax or any such shit. Nope. Gave up bread and pasta 5 or 6 days a week and started shedding belly fat. Plus having more energy through the day and feeling less sluggish less often.

Next I started strength training. We all think, and I did too, that cardio burns fat, you just run yourself thin. Nope again. To get your body to burn fat takes a shit ton of effort. You gotta get your heart rate near max for 20 minutes just to start burning any serious fat with cardio. And people doing fasted cardio just eat more later throughout the day (as does anyone skipping breakfast – don’t skip breakfast).

But muscle burns fat. Building muscle channels nutrients that might get stored as fat into useful areas. Plus strength training let’s you eat garbage bags of food. If you want to eat yourself thin you basically have to eat one meal a day. Switching to healthy snacks is still fueling your body, and your body burns carbs before it burns fat. A small bag of carrot sticks has enough sugar to fuel your body most of the day if you’re not training. Fat cells are your body’s savings account, it doesn’t want to dip into that, it’ll spend what you eat long before it reaches back and opens up the fat cell bank account. But if you burn those carrots for fuel and use the nutrients to repair the over-worked muscle? Go to town, get your carrot stick on, you can have almond butter on your celery, girl.

There might be some women reading this thinking they don’t want to work out with weights because they don’t want to get bulky. You won’t. You see all those bizarre, intense ads and huge tubs of protein powder, and tropes like Rocky drinking raw eggs? There’s a billion dollar industry and whole areas of science based on dudes trying to get bulky. It’s not going to happen to you by fucking accident.

And if you just stop eating your body will adjust. It’ll lower your metabolism and your NEAT (non-exercise thermogenesis), if you just eat less food over all rather than giving up carbs and beginning exercise your body’s maintenance calories will go down and down. It’s known as persistent metabolic adaptation orĀ  The Biggest Loser effect.

So let’s review: Exercise and don’t eat flour everyday.

Booze ruins it all too. Sorry. We all knew it.

In studies one daily drink contributed to better health than zero. So hurray, drinking is good for you and everyone uses the totally fraudulent glass of wine with dinner example to justify drinking. But while one is better than none, two is worse. All the purported health benefits of drinking are undone by drinking.

But you know what? This isn’t about being a robot. Train hard and eat well during the week then do as you please. You’re not in competition, you just want to look and feel a little better. You still gotta live some life.

Beyond eating and training your whole life dictates if your gaining or losing abdominal fat (I’m focused on the that because abdominal fat is particularly a sign of a health problem and not just aesthetic) so get your sleep. Being tired makes you fat. Being stressed makes you fat. Being fat makes you tired and stressed which makes you more fat. Basically we’re always at the top of a point with slopes on either side, you’re either sliding away from health or towards it.

You can even find correlation (not necessarily causation) between smoking and a lack of intimate friendships. People who have one tend to have the other and they’re the number one and two predictors of all-cause fatality.

Any healthy choice has momentum but so does any unhealthy choice.

Even something as simple as eating a banana at breakfast because you’re going for a run spills over into other benefits like bananas containing tryptophan which is a serotonin precursor and makes you happy (in layman’s terms) and then the run also makes you feel happier, and then the fact that you ate breakfast means you’re going to eat smaller meals throughout the rest of the day so you’ll be leaner and you’ll be even more happy.

It’s a slippery slope in both directions, don’t let anyone tell you health is an all or nothing uphill battle, it gets easier and easier all the time as you make it your normal and keep finding good feelings.

 

What Makes A Good Work Out?

When I read the kettlebell work out in Aubrey Marcus’ Own The Day I thought that’s a good work out. And then when I did the work out I thought wow, that’s a really good work out.

But how did I know? What did I see when I read a series of movements and times organized in cycles that made it good?

As I see it the work out had two things going for it, Purpose and Novelty. Novelty is that it had moves I’d never done before which is always nice but doesn’t need much more to be said. Purpose I think is the feeling of imagining how rewarding something is going to be.

The work out is divided into sections and cycles. There’s a mobility section where you do 3 moves in a cycle as many times as you can in 8 minutes (so movement A, movement B, movement C, then repeat).

Playing with time also makes a work out good. Just doing reps doesn’t really feel like anything, no matter how near the end you are. But knowing time is running out excites you to keep moving. A timer also allows your thoughts to wander rather than mechanically counting which is pleasant, it makes working out more recreational and less like a chore.

Then in the work out there’s two more sections for power and conditioning. This gives it a sense of progress, like finishing a chapter and going to the next one. You feel like you’ve got one section under your belt and now you’re moving on, causing you to take stock of how you feel and notice you’ve got energy left, you feel good. And the sections are in order for a reason. There’s an Athlean X tricep work out I love that’s 6 movements in groups of 2 based on shortening the moment arm each time. It’s lovely because it’s just so organized.

And good work outs are Simple. The Aubrey work out is 2 kettlebells and some space, the Athlean X is 2 20lb dumbells and a floor. The more complicated a work out the less likely one is to even get started.

Because what a good work out isn’t is outcome focused. Tim Ferris talks about how people would ask him to write out on index cards exactly what they have to do to get abs and they’ll do it.

Success rate zero.

Looking at the outcome and the work out and thinking this is the chore that gets me there will not get you through a work out.

People say nothing tastes as good as skinny feels but you’re not skinny and you don’t feel good so fuck it, you end up eating pizza. And it’s the same with working out: you’ll give up on a hard work out because you’re comparing discomfort in the present to a future feeling you’ve never had.

Once you’ve seen some gains from diet and exercise you’ll be able to get through some pain cave moments knowing that there is a purpose but before that you have to keep the work outs as self-rewarding as possible.

They’ve got to be fun, quick, easy, simple, organized, purposeful, and variable.

Building Up Fitness Routines

My first fitness routine was running 5 days a week and resting 2.

Followed immediately by having braces on both knees and taking two weeks off.

Lesson 1: Sticking To The Plan isn’t Noble If It’s A Bad Plan

My second fitness routine was running Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and resting in between. So some lessons were learned right there.

Then my fitness routine looks like this when I branched out into strength training to help with running:

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Are you even working out if you don’t have notebooks full of indecipherable hieroglyphics, bro?

 

 

 

That’s 17 planned work outs (of which I skipped 2 so far) in a week plus swimming laps whenever possible before work. It becomes like shifting puzzle pieces around; need a lot a space between back work outs, oh can’t put leg stuff before sprints, rest on the weekends or use the extra time to do longer work outs, what do I do before breakfast vs after work… it’s an eternal process.

So Lesson 2: Write It Down And Move It Around

Except for the breakfast thing – the answer is before breakfast.

I guess the key of both pieces of advice is have a plan but don’t stick to it. Sounds a bit weird but having a plan sets an expectations, it signals what your goal is so you know if you’re hitting it or not. Improvising with no plan you won’t know if you’re coming up short.

Variety is key. Not just for all the legit training reasons like differing stimuli but because the boredom factor is a real factor. Thinking that athletes are immune to boredom, or that fighting-through-boredom is a gift they have that you don’t, is plain stupid; stop thinking that immediately.

You’d never say I love movies so I watch the same movie everyday at the same time ’cause I’m hardcore. Enjoying movies means enjoy lots of different movies and shows and even reading about movies or other auxiliary things. That’s what it means to be into something.

Even with running there’s tons of variety to build into a routine. Long run, sprints, outdoor or treadmill, time trial or form focused, you can have a totally different running experience focusing on your footfalls or your breathing.

You can do all the same work but it’s never the same work out twice.

Working out is a big, big, big world and you’ll never be able to do all of it but don’t think that you can break off a teeny tiny piece like 15 sit ups every day and then dust your hands. Take a big fucking bite. In fact I think when starting out looking for a daily routine is poison, we don’t like doing things we’re not good at, it’s a perfect recipe for hating it and giving up. Instead pledge to try 3 new exercises everyday for a week, never repeat yourself, you’ll be forced to learn a lot and do a lot, find what you like and what you need to work on (answer always: external rotation), and I promise you you won’t get bored.

And take a second to be notice how it feels not just during but also after, notice that it gives a structure to the day that makes you do things like eat breakfast and shower in a timely fashion and not lose your whole morning to scrolling.

If the search for the perfect fitness routine keeps you working, learning, organizing, experimenting, etc, then it is the perfect fitness routine. The Search is the Destination. Mind Blown.

Get your search on and Leave No Doubt.