Years ago, you were young with little responsibility. You wanted to pack on muscle, shed fat, and gain superhuman strength. You trained six days a week for two hours at a time. You felt invincible.
Then, you matured and life changed.
Today, you tackle high-level work projects. You have family functions to attend. The days of training six days a week for two hours each session are long gone. Now, you’re lucky if you lift two days a week for an hour.
The pounds have crept on. You feel lazy and tired. The thought of being in the gym for two hours is as painful as watching grass grow. You need an iron-clad training plan that gets you in and out of the gym in four hours or less each week so you can dominate every day.
If only there was someone who could concoct the magic potion that enabled busy lifters to maintain strength and protect muscle, while they shed stubborn fat.
Well, behold! I present to you the 4-Hour Fat Loss Elixir for Busy Lifters.
Put a Strangle Hold on Your Muscle
The first instinct for some lifters is to trade lifting sessions for hours of slow, boring, steady-state cardio. I understand because I’ve been there.
Four years ago, I lost 14 pounds in a year. Ten came from fat and the remaining four were stolen from muscle. You may think four pounds isn’t much, but on an athletic 5’9” and 170lb frame, it’s massive.
Imagine lining up four lean, mouthwatering 16oz steak filets. Now, picture those filets as thick slabs of muscle on your back, chest, shoulders, or arms.
It’s the difference between you having a “skinny fat” body versus a muscular body.
It’s the difference between you having enough muscle to fill out a medium versus a large sized t-shirt.
Learn from my blunders. If you want to reveal a lean and muscular body, don’t skimp on weights.
A caloric deficit is required for you to lose body fat. You must burn more calories than you consume. When you’re in a caloric deficit, maintaining strength and muscle are key. When you consume less calories, your body wants to snatch energy from any available source. Sometimes, it wants to feast on muscle.
Don’t let this happen. Your body needs a reason to protect your hard-earned muscle. Lifting weights is the solution. In a fat loss phase, if you consistently practice the three mechanisms for muscle growth, you’ll keep a muscular physique as you shed fat. What are they?
Mechanism 1: Mechanical Tension
This is the process of progressive overload or an increase in strength over time. You need to generate as much force as possible through a full range of motion. Rarely does this require someone to perform their one-rep max on a lift. You should perform reps in the range of 3-5. Contract the correct muscles and lift the weight with maximal force every repetition.
Mechanism 2: Muscular Damage
Do you need to torture your muscles into oblivion? No. You can accomplish muscle damage in various ways. Create muscle damage with the use of a slower tempo on the eccentric (unloaded) portion of an exercise, an angle change to target a different part of a muscle, an increase in weight, or stretching a muscle under tension.
Mechanism 3: Metabolic Stress
Here, you chase the pump. It’s that time at the end of a set when your muscles become exhausted and you feel a deep burn.
Plus, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Lifters with a higher ratio of muscle to fat have increased resting energy expenditures.3 Therefore, even when you don’t have a ton of time, you’ll burn more calories while doing nothing because you made lifting a priority.
The best approach for you is to lift to protect your muscle. Use your diet to shed fat. If you need a reminder, repeat this message to your yourself or go old-school and write it 100 times on a chalkboard like a kid sent to detention:
“I will lift weights to build and protect my muscle. I will use my diet to shed fat.”
Protect Your Muscle With Heavy Days
The first two ingredients in your elixir are separate lower and upper body heavy training days. The goal is to maintain or (in some cases) build strength.
Below is your concoction for heavy days:
- CNS activation
- Primary strength movement
- Antagonist strength movement
- Primary support exercise for the strength exercise
- Secondary support exercise for the antagonist strength movement
Each session begins with an explosive movement to activate your central nervous system (CNS). CNS activation prepares your nervous system for the imposed neurological demands in the proceeding strength-based exercise. Jumps, throws, and slams are perfect examples.
Next, advance to your primary strength movement of the day. The movement makes your body more responsive to building and protecting muscle by improving your neural efficiency. Why is this important for you? Neuromuscular adaptions to heavier loading allow contractions to be forceful and efficient. This means that we can use more of the full potential of our existing muscle mass.1 This results in higher testosterone levels, a greater capacity to build muscle in the future, and a better-looking body
Each session ends with a support exercise for your strength movements. It gives you the opportunity to train the muscles responsible for maximizing each movement pattern. Since your CNS has been activated, take advantage of what’s called post tetanic potentiation (PAP). When your muscles produce a maximal effort, it increases the capacity of the nervous system to recruit muscle fibers during subsequent efforts. If you begin with a heavy lift, the remainder of the workout will be more effective because you can recruit more muscle fibers.4 For the support exercises, use heavy/moderate weight.
Protect Your Muscle With Light Days
The next two ingredients in your fat loss elixir are two separate lower and upper body light training days. The goals for these days are to provide your CNS a break and force lactate production to release growth hormone for fat loss.
Remember, you’re busy and stressed with work and family matters. When you train with heavier weights, it places an immense amount of stress on your body and CNS. Give each ample recovery time from the intense neurological demands of heavy lifts. The solution is the inclusion of two lighter weight days. Lighter weights don’t require use of your CNS. For these sessions, teach your muscles to flex and keep them under constant tension. You’ll fix underdeveloped muscles and build a better mind-muscle connection.
Your ability to maintain constant tension for at least 40 seconds forces lactate production which leads to the release of growth hormone. Growth hormone regulates whole body metabolism, and physical exercise is the most potent stimulus to induce its secretion in humans.2 Since we need to maintain tension longer on these days, the reps are 12 or more with shorter rest periods between exercises. You’ll remain focused, elevate your heart rate, and burn more calories because you’re training more muscles in less time.
Plus, you must hit muscle failure on some exercises. Muscle failure is the signal for creating muscle growth and protein synthesis. Sure, your goal isn’t to pack on muscle. However, stimulating the process of protein synthesis during a fat loss phase increases your body’s ability to maintain muscle. Failure will be achieved by extending sets with the use of two methods: drop sets and rest/pause.
- For drop sets, you train close to failure. Then, drop the weight anywhere from 15 to 25% and perform as many reps as possible until failure.
- On rest/pause sets, you also train close to failure. Then, you rest for 10-15 seconds. Once time has passed, you knock out more reps until failure.
Below is your concoction for lights days:
- Reps of 12+
- Unilateral exercises
- Antagonist supersets
When life gets crazy and trips to the gym are inconsistent, your muscles become fragile. Do you feel like one arm or leg is weaker than the other? Maybe you have a tough time flexing your muscles on one side of your body. When one side is weaker than the other, it makes you feel like you’re not getting enough from your workouts. Regain your muscle with unilateral movements and feel invincible again. Unilateral refers to a movement where each side is training independently. Unilateral training helps you fix muscle imbalances, improve your explosiveness and athleticism, and add variety to your workouts. Each light day begins with a unilateral superset.
You’ll perform antagonist supersets so you can crush multiple muscles at once without a decrease in strength. This method consists of pairing two exercises of opposing muscle groups in a superset (two exercises performed consecutively). There is a brief rest between the exercises and moderate rest after a set of both have been completed.
Your Training Plan
Day 1 – Heavy Lower Body Day
- Vertical Jumps – 3 x 5, rest 60 sec
- Front Squats – 5 x 3-5, rest 2-3 min
- Barbell RDL – 4 x 6-8, rest 90-120 sec
- Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat – 3 x 8-10 per leg (slow eccentric), rest 75-90 sec
- Lying or Seated Hamstring Curl – 3 x 8-10 (rest/pause on the last two sets), rest 75-90 sec
Day 2 – Rest
Day 3 – Heavy Upper Body Day
- Incline Plyo Push Up – 3 x 5, rest 60 sec
- Incline Barbell Bench Press – 5 x 3-5, rest 2-3 min
- Pendlay Row – 4 x 6-8, rest 90-120 sec
- Dips – 3 x 8-10 (slow eccentric), rest 75-90 sec
- Supinated Pull Ups or Supinated Lat Pulldown – 3 x 8-10 (rest/pause on the last two sets), rest 75-90 sec
Day 4 – Light Lower Body Day
- DB Reverse Lunge – 3 x 12 (per leg), rest 45 sec
- Weighted Single Leg Hip Thrust – 3 x 12 (per leg), rest 60-75 sec
- Leg Press – 3 x 12-15 (rest/pause on the last two sets), rest 60 sec
- Leg Extensions – 3 x 12-15 (drop set on last two sets), rest 30 sec
- Cable Pull Through – 3 x 12-15, rest 60 sec
- Hanging Leg Raises – 3 x 12-15, no rest*
- Kettlebell Swings – 3 x 20-25, rest 60 sec*
*Finisher for the session
Day 5 – Rest
Day 6 – Light Upper Body Day
- One Arm DB Z Press – 3 x 12 (per side), rest 30 sec
- Split Stance Single Arm Row – 3 x 12 (per side), rest 60-75 sec
- Incline DB Flyes – 3 x 12-15 (drop set on the last two sets), rest 30 sec
- Incline DB Reverse Flyes – 3 x 12-15 (drop set on the last two sets), rest 60 sec
- Lean Away Cable Curls – 3 x 12-15 (3 second peak contraction), rest 30 sec
- Tricep Pushdowns – 3 x 12-15 (drop set on the last two sets), rest 60 sec
- Shrug Row – 3 x 15 + 10 sec hold on last rep, rest 30 sec
- Incline Lateral Raises – 3 x 15 + max partials, rest 60 sec
Day 7 – Rest
Your Best Approach to Muscle
Life is short. Don’t spend an eternity in the gym. Each workout should take you no more than an hour. Take four to six weeks and use this plan so you can feel invincible again. You deserve the chance to dominate work, rest, and play every day, in every way.
1. Helms, Eric, Andy Morgan, and Andrea Valdez. The Muscle & Strength Pyramid: Training. United States: Muscle and Strength Pyramids, LLC., 2019.
2. Ignacio, Daniele Leão, Diego H. Da S. Silvestre, João Paulo Albuquerque Cavalcanti-De-Albuquerque, Ruy Andrade Louzada, Denise P. Carvalho, and João Pedro Werneck-De-Castro. “Thyroid Hormone and Estrogen Regulate Exercise-Induced Growth Hormone Release.” Plos One 10, no. 4 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0122556.
3. Rolfe, D. F., and G. C. Brown. “Cellular Energy Utilization and Molecular Origin of Standard Metabolic Rate in Mammals.” Physiological Reviews 77, no. 3 (January 1997): 731–58.
4. Thibaudeau, Christian, and Paul Carter. Maximum Muscle Bible. Saint-Raymond, Québec: F. Lepine Pub., 2016.
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Many books on weight training will have chapters on intensity and its importance. They describe 100% intensity as being whatever weight one can only do one rep of within a certain exercise. If you can do more than one rep of the particular exercise then its intensity is lower. Thus, the more reps one can do, the lower the intensity the weight will be.
This discussion then inevitably leads to what the maximum reps will be at certain intensities. Every trainee who has advanced to the intermediate stage will be interested in this as they want to make sure they are working at the correct intensity for the reps they are doing.
They do not want to work with too light an intensity and they also do not want to work with too heavy an intensity, either. Many trainees do get a bit over-ambitious and err on the side of heavy. The lazier or timider will do the opposite. So, a knowledge of the rep-intensity chart is vital.
The Relationship Between Intensity and 5×5
For newer intermediate trainees, it may be decided that they will follow one of the standard strength development programs where they do five sets of five (5×5) straight across. That’s what Berry, Starr, Ripp, and many others prescribe—because 5×5 works.
So, they take the appropriate percentage for 5 reps for the athlete. This is about 89%, give or take, on average, often rounded to 90% for easy math (as I will do here). They may start at 85% if they want to ease into a new program—and that’s okay since improvement will come fast.
Then, the trainee starts doing 5×5 for the squat, bench, and other strength exercises. However, 5×5 does not work so well with the deadlift as it can be exhausting, but for most other lifts 5×5 will work fine.
After a week or so the trainee will be using a full 90%. But things do not always go so smoothly. For example, on the last set, the 5th rep may fail. What has happened? Are they now getting weaker?
The answer is no. All is well, even with missing that last rep. In fact, that is a good sign. Why? Because it means that their intensity is at the ideal point. How is this so? They were taught that you always do your complete five reps.
What is happening is that the rep-intensity charts are based on doing only a single set, not multiple sets. In doing so, their creators have forgotten the important concept of fatigue. We only have so much in the tank for a given training session or day before we need to rest. We cannot work to 100% indefinitely. We all are intuitively aware of that.
A sprinter cannot keep up with a marathoner for long. Even the marathoner has to save his speed for the end of the race. This is true even for lesser than 100% intensities. The 90% reps also cannot continue indefinitely since the trainee will eventually show signs of fatigue. By the last set, he is running out of gas.
Actual, Relative, and Perceived Intensity
This is especially true when one’s sets have just gone up in weight. Say one’s PR squat was 300lbs and he did 270 for 5X5, as advised, and all 25 reps were completed. One may then have tested their max and found that they could now do 320. In this instance, the trainee then dutifully adds 18 pounds to their work sets (the 20lb increase x 90%).
With renewed enthusiasm for squats, they find that the last set may have only consisted of 3-4 reps while the 4th set had only 4. The trainee is not weaker, instead, they are not yet accustomed to working with the extra pounds.
Their next workout will often see them doing a full 4th set and 4 reps on their 5th. Eventually, they can do the full 5×5. They have indeed gotten stronger with that extra weight. It just takes a little adaptation time.
Most trainees will be familiar with this pattern as they gain experience. What may take more awareness is what is happening within a single set. It should be realized that the fatigue factor is also at work even on the first set. Let’s look at the first set of a 5×5. The trainee above takes 270lbs for five since that is the prescribed 90% of his 1RM.
On the first rep that 270 will feel like 90%. That rep will take a little out of the trainee so the 2nd rep will feel like 275 or so. Not a big enough jump to notice for a 300 squatter. Then the 3rd rep will feel like 287 perhaps. Number 4 will feel like 296 and the last rep will feel like 300. Any more reps will be impossible by definition since we are talking about a 5RM.
That is how just one set at a 5RM will behave. Things get hairier when we go to multiple sets in a 5×5. Depending on the individual’s fitness, the effects of fatigue will show up on the last sets. On the 5th or even the 4th set that 270 first rep will feel more like 285 or so. Subsequent reps feel ever closer to 300 until at some point the perceived intensity is greater than 300. These reps will fail.
What this all means is that when doing, say, 90% sets across one, must realize that not all sets or even all reps will feel like just 90% to your organism. One will actually be working at a somewhat higher perceived intensity. As such, one will have to figure that in when programming. But how can one counter these factors when planning a workout?
One way is to attempt the full 90% on all sets, knowing that there may be failures on the last one or two sets. At that point, one can move on to the next exercise and hope that the next session will see strength improvement. Alternatively, one can take a 6th set and make up the missing reps if not adding an extra rep or two. This leaves one in a better frame of mind after making misses.
Another way, especially if one is obsessive-compulsive about making all 25 is to start at lower than 90% such that rep 25 just barely succeeds. This is a more conservative method where perceived intensity is lower at the start but higher at the end.
Regardless of the exact method, the working weights are not increased until the trainee can do all 25 reps at the prescribed weight—this will keep everyone honest.
Using the Drop Set
Yet another way is the “drop set” method borrowed from bodybuilding. When one feels like the last reps will fail the bar can be lowered 5-10 pounds to ensure successful reps. They will still feel like max reps so little is lost.
The only problem is that the lifter will have to stop in the middle of the set to change weights. This can be avoided if one has two assistants that can quickly remove the unneeded plates before the last rep(s). In such cases, those plates should only be floated outside the collars. Finally, the entire last set can be dropped in weight if no help is available.
Keep In Mind the 3 Forms of Intensity
The point of this whole article is for the trainee to realize the differences among actual intensity (actual resistance), relative intensity (% of 1RM), and perceived intensity (i.e., how heavy the weight actually feels to the organism).
When programming, it is the latter that is most relevant with regard to adaptation and recovery considerations.
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All that you have ever experienced, will ever experience, all the exercises or personal bests you have ever pulled off have started and ended in your brain.
All movement, skill, thought, and everything that makes you, you is encompassed in this 3lb organ.
- How does your brain know what to do at any given moment?
- How does your brain gather information?
- And of the information it gathers, how does it decide what to do with it?
- More importantly, does the way your brain gathers information and what it does with it have an effect on your training, performance or recovery?
You bet your arse it does!
Now, this isn’t a neurology lecture but before we get into how important the way your brain gathers information is and how to improve it, we need to, in a very basic way understand how the brain works.
Your brain uses sensory inputs to gather information. These sensors receive input and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and the central nervous system (CNS) sends these signals to the brain which then basically decides the action and then creates motor output relevant to whatever was decided.
At a very basic level that’s it.
The brain has three ways to gather information or inputs:
- Exteroception: monitoring the outside world
- Interoception: bodily awareness and feelings
- Proprioception: awareness of the body and limbs in space
These inputs are then integrated together to build and update the brain’s map of everything. Of you, the world around you and how you are moving through it. The brain updates previous experiences, senses, and predictive processes to make decisions that drive the body’s actions.
Now that we broadly understand how the brain does things, we need to figure out why it does them.
Well, the answer to that one is easy: survival.
Your brain’s goal is to keep you alive. Full stop. Not keep you alive ten years from now but right now, today.
How it does this is through prediction. Our brains are masters at pattern recognition. Every second of every day the 120 billion neurons in the brain are processing information based on previous experience to predict outcomes to actions, this is your brain using pattern recognition to decide actions.
There is a hierarchy to the inputs your brain uses to move through the world:
If these sensory inputs match (i.e. there is clear information from all three systems and there is good integration in the brain) your brain will allow you to function well and perform when it matters. Whether that’s CrossFit, powerlifting, or just picking something up of the floor.
When there is a mismatch is when we run into problems. If there is bad information informing the brain maps and pattern recognition abilities, then I am afraid it is going to try to limit the chances of death—usually by generating pain to draw attention or inhibiting movement.
In this article, I am going to focus on exercises to improve your visual system as 70-90% of all sensory input is visual.
The Role of Vision
There are two classifications of vision in humans:
- Gaze stabilization: A foundational element of all other eye movements and allows us to see objects and to interpret the visual scene to create perception.
- Gaze shifting: This allows us to keep the focus on a moving target. Think that ball hurtling towards your face on the pitch.
There could be any number of things affecting these two patterns and hindering your visual system, which in turn could be dramatically holding your performance back without you even knowing it.
The key to training your visual system for performance is training the musculature of the eyes to function correctly. After all, poor muscular function will cause problems in gaze shifting and gaze stabilization.
We are going to cover one drill for stabilization and one for shifting. Reference my video for a demonstration of each drill.
I recommend you record yourself performing the drill and watch it back to see how you perform. That way, you can adjust accordingly.
Drill 1: Gaze Stabilization
- Stand in a neutral stance.
- Hold a target (pen) at arm’s length directly in front of you. Stare at the target for 30 seconds.
- You must remain focused on the target because an inability to do gaze stabilization usually means very small, fast movements of the eyes off the target and then back onto it.
- When watching yourself back try to notice excessive facial tension, eyelid flutter, excessive blinking, or watering of the eyes as you attempt to keep focus on the target.
- Once you have performed this assessment in a neutral position, you will then perform the same test in each of the other four positions. Up, right, left and down.
- Take special note, as it is highly likely that you will find one or more positions in which you struggle with your gaze stabilization.
- It is vital that the target remains in focus at all times. If it goes out of focus reduce the distance away from neutral, you hold it.
- Do this drill three times through each position.
Drill 2: Gaze Shifting
Stand in a neutral stance holding a pen out in front of you in a neutral position.
Try to smoothly follow the pen as you move it from neutral into one of the eight positions below and then back to neutral:
- Up and Right
- Up and Left
- Down and Right
- Down and Left
You should repeat this test three times in each of the eight positions. You will be looking for two things when you watch the drill back:
- Excessive body sway.
- Badly coordinated movement of the eyes. This will usually be seen as a ratcheting or jumping type of motion that stops them from smoothly following the target.
Each of these can indicate poor visual-motor control.
Get Your Vision Straight
The aim of these drills is to get your eyes functioning properly so the information your brain gets is as clear as possible. That way your brain won’t be afraid to let you move fully in all of your available ranges of motion.
Remember, when the brain can predict, you can perform.
1. Gaymard, B., & Pierrot-Deseilligny, C. (1999). Neurology of saccades and smooth pursuit. Current Opinion in Neurology.
2. Hughes, A. E. (2018). Dissociation between perception and smooth pursuit eye movements in speed judgments of moving Gabor targets. Journal of Vision.
3. Ingster-Moati, I., Vaivre-Douret, L., Bui Quoc, E., Albuisson, E., Dufier, J. L., & Golse, B. (2009). Vertical and horizontal smooth pursuit eye movements in children: A neuro-developmental study. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology.
4. Krauzlis, R. J., Goffart, L., & Hafed, Z. M. (2017). Neuronal control of fixation and fixational eye movements. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
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“The genius is the one most like himself.”
– Thelonius Monk
I was always told to pick one thing. Pick one major in college to define my life, one career to put all my effort into, one way to make a living and carve out my way, one movement practice, or one sport in which to compete. I was told to find one great passion in which I could single-mindedly and relentlessly improve and immerse myself.
I did my best to listen, but it never sat well with me. When I’d dedicate periods of my life to a singular focus, I would ultimately feel as if I was acting against my character.
Those close to me would tell me I was impulsive and easily distracted and prone to letting myself be pulled in several directions. It created anxiety that nearly put me down, but I no longer believe what they said.
While I have more of a hyperactive temperament than many, I don’t think I lack focus or discipline. My scattered, excitable mind has played a role in how I’ve successfully gone in many directions, but some thought should be given to this message of living toward a single course.
Think about it. You’re bombarded with lecturing voices from every direction and channel in lifting and fitness. They say you need to walk the straight and narrow if you’re to improve. This is especially true for specific factions:
Fill in the blank.
First, Be Good At One
There is, in fact, a significant upside to first picking just one subject to grasp if you’re starting with no skill or focus in anything. It’s a fundamental requisite. Even if this first thing is wrong for you, beginning and concentrating your efforts on something is better than nothing at all.
Obsessing over if it’s where you belong or what you should dedicate yourself entirely to will only slow the process. And, it will keep you from learning how to understand and recognize when you eventually are drawn to something specific. That’s all that matters anyway—learning to concentrate. This intention is most important. It doesn’t matter if you become the best or whether or not you are even great at it.
Nobody would say that having many skills across the board is a bad thing and that a well-rounded person isn’t useful. But to be useful in many areas, you have to dedicate yourself and single-mindedly apply yourself to one dominant discipline first.
Create Your Model
Once you learn how to aim your effort in one specialty, you’ll have trained your mind to focus, and you can use this skill again in different directions. You’ve earned something invaluable—the power to become and remain disciplined in whatever direction you work.
With the strength to add more to who you are, accurately, and follow through with your intention, you can be more. You can extend yourself and become utterly multifaceted as you continue to add several subjects of study and practice.
If months or even years from now, you find that whatever you’ve been working toward isn’t what drives you, or the way you’ve been working at it is incomplete to what you feel will help you live with passion and purpose, that’s okay. You have your model, and you can refocus.
Imagine you trained for over a decade to squat the most weight you possibly could. Then you wake up and decide nothing would make you happier than to prepare for long-distance wilderness races. You feel an inexplainable call to go outside and take on that physical challenge.
Your entire approach to physical training will turn on its head. It would look nothing as it did before, but you still gained plenty from your ten years of dedicated strength training that will help in your new practice. All of the leg strength you’ve developed will help with the grueling miles ahead. You’ve acquired insight on how to periodize training for physical qualities from a macro view. Even though the focus is drastically different, you now have wisdom on how to push and rest and adjust instruction and how to do it accurately and promptly.
You’ve created your structure on grasping skills, so when you move into new spaces and scopes, you can integrate it all and become a competent force across many disciplines.
Find Your Specific Genius
If you follow through on this theory, you won’t be the best in any one section, but you may be the best across your particular set of categories of practice and expertise. And, this will be unique to you. It won’t seem like you have a random collection of skills, but instead, like you’ve created an overarching category of skills made up of the whole of you and the unremitting impact you can be.
Once you develop discipline in one thing, you have the rule over yourself, and you can discipline yourself in many practices. You may not have complete mastery over one particular space. Still, you can have mastery over yourself to cover the set of areas and even possibly create a new scope of aim even as an example for others.
There are phenoms in every sport, physical discipline, and study. They rise, sometimes very quickly, to the top of their field. Some of these athletes trade every bit of balance in their lives to improve in their singular pursuit. They sacrifice everything else to be the best in one thing. Many of the best professional athletes, though not all, fit into this category.
- How many stories have you heard of what a mess your favorite ballplayer made of his personal life because he only cared about being the best in his sport?
- How many people have you met who have every macro counted out and are examples of living a life of fitness who have no personal or family living outside the group of people who think exactly like them?
- How many fitness influencers are actually in impoverished financial situations?
Those that make the conscious choice to work only to be the best in one thing may have a particular temperament for this. I don’t think I or anyone else is in a position to say that it’s inappropriate for anybody to live life like this if they choose.
But many, even some who dedicate themselves exclusively to some work, will never reach the peak in that area. It’s hard enough to have exclusive devotion and follow-through, but success also isn’t guaranteed even if you follow the model. This dedication requires a payment of sorts, and you may find that you didn’t want to sacrifice all of the rest to be good at one thing when you could have been good at many things.
Many people would do better to become capable and incrementally and indefinitely improve across several specialties. And, this is where you’ll find what makes you great, your genius.
Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He was featured in main strength and fitness publications. You can read more of his work on his website.
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The off-season is the time period between post-competition and the next event. For bodybuilding and physique enthusiasts it is often termed as the bulking period, a time when you eat and lift heavy with little regard for toning or definition. For people who are not competing or are just looking to meet goals, the off-season is that time when you’re outside of any, typically, 8-week training cycle.
Whatever it means to you, the off-season should truly be considered an improvement-season. It’s time to look at the areas where you may fall short. For bodybuilders, the six to eight weeks post-competition bulk period becomes pivotal for growth. During this time macronutrients need to rise to help rebuild stressed tissues and balance hormones.
For other athletes, the off-season allows for improvement in technique by attending camps, recreational scrimmages, and individual training sessions. Overall, the off-season should be a continuation of your hard work—not a vacation from your prep.
Off-Season Time Management
Don’t treat the off-season as a fixed time to meander or to move away from your commitments or routines. Try setting time to grocery shop, train, meal prep, work, and sleep but treat the off-season as an opportunity to train your scheduling or behavioral patterns.
- Stay on track with training time (no more than 60-90 minutes). If it takes you far longer than 120 minutes you’re idling. You’re also playing a losing battle with cortisol if you do.
- Plan a week in advance for food but take each day individually.
- Focus more on your weaker body parts, lifts, or skill-sets and spend one or two days for your stronger areas.
Your schedule is not based on a specific development cycle and is looser in focus, but still, these 3 key points, keep you on track for your goals and prepare you for more challenging cycles.
Diversify Your Training Portfolio
Coaches will often inform athletes not to try new things during their preparation for competitions or as part of specific training cycles. This is a sound precautionary measure to ensure proper rest of muscle tissue and avoid unnecessary injury.
However, the same doesn’t hold true during the off-season. As you improve your physique by removing things that prove no reasonable benefit, the addition of new rep, tempo, and ROM schemes will prove useful here.
Muscle tissue is highly adaptive and may need a new stimulus to provide differing results. For example, a men’s physique athlete planning to transition to bodybuilding may incorporate more leg exercises. A fencer may spend more time on footwork training or a rugby player may incorporate more explosive deadlifts with band work.
Supplementation At the Optimal Time
Given my history with supplementation, I am careful to recommend things and even more careful to implement them in my planning. In the off-season, this isn’t an experimental free-for-all. Instead, it’s a calculated approach to guided supplementation.
As a vegan athlete supplementation with a protein powder supplement and a multivitamin is enough. However, as athletes, we may be prone to the buy-in to taking three stacks of mass gainer plus a high stim pre-workout and other things that might not be necessary under individual circumstances.
In my off-season I take less things in order to give my body a rest from additives and instead I focus on my meals. Currently, creatine and a multivitamin are staples for me and I cycle off creatine once my prep starts because my coach doesn’t find it as necessary.
With the supplement industry being overcrowded it’s best to take the off-season to do more guided research into what products are useful, and what needs to be discarded.
Off-Season Prep Is In-Season Gain
For some athletes, they have a year-round sport. As previously expressed, others do not. In the off-season as a fencer, my coach Kornel Udvarheyli of NYU Fencing encouraged us to go to fencing clubs and practice. If possible, compete in local meets.
Our coach required us upon return to the season to relinquish a card that we filled out demonstrating the times we did open bout versus competitive fencing. For rugby, we often did intra-team scrimmages between our 15s and 7s teams as per the direction of our coach Russell Lamb of NYU Rugby.
As a bodybuilder, my off-season focuses on challenging my previous weight limits in order to add size and improve the mind-muscle connection between lagging body parts.
Utilize these tips next time you are preparing for your next off-season to streamline your efforts.
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What the Heck is a Deload?
Plain and simple, a deload is a short planned period of recovery. You take your training slightly lighter, maybe workout a little less, and generally just ease things back. A typical deload will last a week.
To the uninitiated outsider, deloads seem like a waste of time or an excuse to sit on your butt for a week, watching TV instead of hitting the gym and shifting some heavy lumps of iron.
Not so fast.
What if deloads could actually be just what your workouts need? The secret ingredient to take your training from good to awesome. Feeling banged up, demotivated, or stuck in a training plateau? Adding a deload will do you the world of good and propel you on to greater gym gains.
How Do I Deload?
The most common method of deloading is just to reduce your poundages. As a guide, all your sets should be performed at around 40-60% of your 1RM. This doesn’t mean you go hell for leather and bust out a ton of reps either. The loads are light and the reps and sets are low. That’s the whole idea of a deload – you just gotta chill and take it easy.
A less popular option is to keep your weights more or less the same, but greatly reduce your volume. Say for instance your regular training program calls for five sets of five squats with 275 pounds. Under a normal deload, you’d probably do your five sets of five at around 155 to 175 pounds. With a volume deload though, you could stick at 275 and hit a couple of singles or doubles, or just go for one set of five reps.
This approach does work better for some people. Particularly competitive strength athletes who find performance suffers when they don’t have a heavy load on their back or in their hands week in, week out.
A more obscure, though equally effective way to deload is to change your exercise selection. This is harder to regulate but definitely has its advantages. As an example, Dave Tate advises taking four to six weeks after a powerlifting meet where you perform no barbell exercises whatsoever. This might sound a little extreme, but it can be particularly beneficial to do this after a long period of intense training and heavy poundages, or after a competition, just to give your body a break.
Finally, individual lift deloads work a treat when one lift is suffering, but the others are going along great guns. Say for example you just can’t get past a plateau on your squat, but all your other main and accessory lifts are increasing week on week and you’re feeling great. Taking a week off everything would be counterproductive, so just drop the weight on your troublesome lift, hit a few easy sets a couple of times and work on nailing your form and technique.
When to Deload
First thing’s first, if you’re following a pre-designed program, you deload when you’re told to. There’s no point following the weight, set, rep and exercise guidelines laid down by the Juggernaut Method, 5/3/1 or any other program you’re performing if you’re ignoring all the advice on deloading.
If you’re planning your own training though, there are a few key signs to look out for as an indication of when you should implement a deload:
Getting Weaker – No one wants to get weaker. It’s kind of the opposite of why we train. When your lifts are suffering, particularly on your low rep work, it could indicate you’re starting to overreach and your central nervous system is getting a little bummed. The solution? Have a week of downtime and take a deload.
Sore Joints – You’re going to get the odd injury from time to time and a little soreness is part and parcel of the wonderful world of the iron game. But being in constant pain, having your knees scream at you every time you squat, your elbows not playing ball when pressing, or your hips giving you grief just from walking up the stairs is not good. You’ll probably need a good dose of foam rolling, stretching and a trip to your physio or sports massage therapist, but combine this with a deload and your body will thank you.
After a Meet – We’ve already touched on this slightly, but if you’ve just competed in a powerlifting, weightlifting or strongman event, or even a CrossFit competition, it’s definitely time to deload.
People seriously underestimate how much mental and physical stress you put your body through in competition, so play it smart and take a deload. A little personal side note here:
I competed in my first powerlifting meet in the summer of 2012. The competition was on a Saturday and I had to cut a few pounds to make weight, which meant cutting water and sodium and going a whole day with virtually no food. Combine that with stressing about the three-hour drive to the venue, my nervousness about it being my first competition, listening for the calls, meeting other competitors and so on, plus the actual physical stress of trying to set PBs, and that’s a whole lot of pressure. After the (fortunately successful) meet, I was pumped and hit the gym the next day for a full-on session. Three days later I was in bed with the flu.
Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m pretty sure not deloading following the meet was almost solely responsible for my illness. Heed my advice, don’t try to be a hero – deload fully after a meet.
Can I Skip the Deload?
In a word – no. It’s horrid having to take things easy. If you’re in any way serious about your training, going a week without hitting the iron with a vengeance and having to take things light is a thousand times more painful than the most grueling Smolov squat workout. In the long run, though, deloading is without a doubt the smart thing to do.
This is certainly the case for beginners and intermediate lifters. When you’re a little more experienced, and know what your body responds best to, maybe you can skip the odd deload, push it back a few weeks, or cut it a few days short if you know you’re fully recovered, but for now, keep it in.
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While chasing the pump is undoubtedly an effective way to stimulate hypertrophy, it’s not the only way to make your muscles grow. Mechanical tension, the force created when a muscle contracts isotonically against a load, is also a potent stimulator of muscle growth and should be incorporated into your weight training routine for maximal development.
This can be done by simply performing heavy, multi-joint free weight exercises, but there are also a number of training variables that can be manipulated to ensure you yield maximal hypertrophic gains from your training. Everything from loading parameters to exercise selection can be adjusted for better results and in this article, I’m going to share three of my favorite techniques that can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your workouts.
Choose the Correct Load
Using progressively heavier weights is the simplest and most effective way to increase the amount of mechanical tension being generated during an exercise. Load and tension are directly related and as the amount of weight on the bar increases, more muscular force is required to overcome the downward force exerted on the bar by gravity. This produces tension in the muscle fibers in an amount that is almost directly proportional to the load being used in the exercise.
The relationship between tension and load has important implications for program design and the intensity of the load (the amount of weight you lift expressed as a percentage of your 1RM) correlates directly with the number of reps you should perform for each exercise. To increase lean muscle mass, it is advisable that you lift weights in the 3-12 rep range. These rep ranges are equivalent to 90-70% of your 1RM and have been shown to produce the highest amount of mechanical tension during exercise.
In addition to selecting the correct loads and rep ranges, it is also important to apply the principle of progressive overload to your training. This can be achieved by simply adding 1.25-2.5kg to the bar every time you train and will ensure that you continue to place more tension on the muscle over time, forcing them to adapt by growing bigger and stronger.
Increase the Range of Motion
Not all exercises are created equal and the range of motion, strength curve, and the length-tension relationship of an exercise can all exert influence on the amount of mechanical tension generated by an exercise. For that reason it is important that you pay close attention to the different exercises that you incorporate into your routine, ensuring that only the most effective exercises make their way into your workouts.
Exercising your muscles through a full range of motion forces them to contract at the same time that they are being stretched. This creates a huge amount of tension and is just one of the reasons why working through a full range of motion is of paramount importance for anyone that is looking to build a muscular and athletic physique. In some instances, it can also be beneficial to deliberately extend the range of motion of an exercise to create even greater levels of tension.
The dumbbell bench press, for example, allows you to lower the dumbbells into a position past where the barbell would normally stop at the chest. This stretches the pecs to their full length, maximizing the length-tension relationship, before forcing them to contract and press the weights back up to the start position. Given the extended range of motion, you will likely have to use lighter weights for such an exercise so it is recommended that you use this technique for your accessory work rather than your main lifts which should be aiming to create tension by using loads that are equivalent to your 3-5RM.
Create Passive Tension
Passive tension is created when a two-joint muscle is stretched at one joint while it is forced to contract at the other joint. This produces a favorable length-tension relationship and maximizes the capacity of a muscle to produce force. It also increases the amount of mechanical tension the muscle is placed under, potentially increasing the hypertrophic response that will occur with proper rest and recovery.
Used correctly, passive tension can be used to target specific groups of fibers within a muscle which can accentuate muscular development and help you to develop a well proportioned, symmetrical physique.
Training the triceps in 180 degrees of shoulder flexion is a good example of how passive tension can be used to develop weak or under-developed body parts. The triceps are biarticulate crossing both the shoulder and then elbow joint however most tricep exercises, such as close-grip bench presses, dips, and press downs are all performed with the humerus starting or finishing in extension. This places the long head of the triceps in a shortened position, reducing tension and diminishing its role in the exercise. Placing the humerus above the head in shoulder flexion stretches out the long head of the triceps to its full length, maximizing the length-tension relationship and creating a large amount of passive tension. This enables you to target the long head of the triceps more effectively, promoting full and even development of the largest muscle of the upper arm. As well as the triceps, this technique can be applied to all two joint muscles including the biceps, calves, and hamstrings.
Use Loading and Tension to Your Advantage
Incremental loading, working through an extended range of motion, and creating passive tension are all effective strategies for increasing the amount of mechanical tension a muscle is subjected to during exercise. While incorporating these techniques into your routine will undoubtedly produce great results, it is important to remember that mechanical tension is just one way we can stimulate hypertrophy in skeletal muscle. For that reason, it is important that you do not get hung up on one particular style of training and instead utilize a variety of different exercises, rep ranges, and training styles into your weight lifting routine. This will help ensure that full muscular development is achieved.
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Getting back in shape is a specific challenge that requires specific mindsets. Trust me, I’ve done it a bunch of times. Back in my twenties, I’d go hard for a year or two with something like boxing or jiu-jitsu, then be a bum for a year, then train for a half marathon or something. Lately, I’m in a much more steady, sustainable rhythm with my workouts. But back then I wanted to try a bunch of different stuff, and one thing that meant was getting back in shape—and getting in different kinds of shape—relatively often.
It’s been on my mind again recently because my older brother and I are planning to climb Mt. St. Helens this August. It’s not that tough of a climb, but it’s not that easy, either, and I’ve been in the process of helping my brother get back in shape so that the whole thing feels nice and easy. He’s a very physical guy. We both played football a couple of years apart in high school and he was an Ultimate Frisbee champ at University of Oregon. But he’s got four kids and manages a bar, so he hasn’t had much free time to stay in shape. The goal has been to aim for our climb about 9 months from now, knowing that we’ll have limited time and a couple of chaotic schedules to work around.
As we get started on our first short trail runs, I’ve been very aware that we’re in the most delicate part of getting back in shape: the beginning. This is where you can burn out by going too fast, fizzle out by going top slow, or stall out completely by just not going. It’s where you can overwhelm yourself with possibilities, discourage yourself with comparisons, or get shut down by other peoples’ negativity. It’s a minefield, strewn with the remains of countless false starts, negative self-images, excuses, broken promises, and unrealistic expectations. And this is why, if you want to traverse it without getting blown up, you need to treat it like the unique challenge it is and program your mindsets accordingly.
A lot of great fitness advice is about how to fly the plane once it’s up in the air. But first, you have to get the plane moving from a dead stop, accelerate down the tarmac without bumping into anyone, and make an ascent. That’s a different game. But if you take a little time to “download and install” the right mindsets into your mental software before getting started, it’ll be a lot easier, a lot more fun, and a lot more rewarding over a long period of time. You’ll have more confidence and the ability to embrace and achieve your fitness goals, whatever they may be. And ultimately, that will translate into more power and potency to fuel your achievement in all other areas of your life as well.
To make things a little more immediate for you, I’ve phrased the mindsets in the form of first-person statements. They’re what you’ll say to yourself. These aren’t just affirmations, though, and it’s not enough to simply repeat them to yourself. They have to take root, and you have to take action.
Mindset 1: What Type Of Person Are You?
“I’m the kind of person who can get back in shape.”
Note that I didn’t say, “I can get back in shape,” but, “I’m the kind of person who can get back in shape.” This nuance makes a big difference, and it taps into the foundation of everything: your self-image. All your specific, individual goals are anchored to and governed by your self-image—the fundamental set of ideas and emotions you have about yourself. If the goals don’t match the self-image, it won’t matter how hard you work or how much you focus. Your “master program” will be working against you, and will eventually sabotage your efforts.
Most people’s self-images are almost entirely unconscious and contaminated with all sorts of negative and unproductive elements—but they don’t have to be. You can consciously re-program and rearrange your self-image to support your goals, and that means eliminating any ideas you may have that go against them. For example, you may find yourself thinking something like, “I’m the kind of person who used to be in shape, and then got out of shape.” Once you identify in that way, it’s easy to focus on the “got out of shape” part, as though it somehow precludes getting back in shape now. But why not choose to focus on the “I used to be in shape” part? If you did it once, you can do it again.
That’s just one example, but the more you examine your old, crappy self-images, the more you’ll be able to examine and replace them. You can also boost your overall self-image by focusing on successes from other parts of your life, and apply them to your current goal of getting back in shape. Maybe you got out of shape because you were focusing on other, more important things (like my brother with his job and family), and maybe you have been successful with them. Hence, you’re the kind of person who succeeds; you just happen to not have made fitness a priority until now. See the difference?
No matter the state of your self-image, you have one, and it’s at the controls for most of your behavior. But if you consciously address it, and work on making it the most productive possible, then it’ll work for you rather than against you, both in your current goals, and all your other goals in life.
Mindset 2: How Do I See My Goals?
“I will be mindful of how I talk about my goals, both to myself and others.”
In these early stages, your intent for getting back in shape exists mostly in how you think and talk about it. So, naturally, how you choose to think and talk about it is deeply important. Your self-image and goals are new and vulnerable, like a newborn baby, and they can easily be infected with negativity. At this stage, every interaction you have with yourself and other people will help shape the intent and the likelihood that you’ll follow through.
The mindsets I’m giving you cover a lot of how you’ll talk to yourself about your goal of getting back in shape. But how you talk to others maybe even more important, since you have far less control over how they respond. Self-image is an intersubjective thing, meaning that it’s partially your creation, and partially the creation of the people around you. If other people, especially the people close to you, see you as the kind of person who cannot get back in shape, then you have a much more uphill battle. For them to see that you are that kind of person, they need to be shown.
I’m sure you surround yourself with the most wonderful people. But the fact is, some people will react negatively to your goals and try to discourage or sabotage your efforts, either directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Now’s not the time to go into the psychology of why that might be, but it’s a reality you’ll probably have to anticipate dealing with. You may say to a friend, or coworker, or significant other, “Hey, I’m thinking of getting back in shape,” and then they may say something snarky, or off-handed, or dismissive, and that can be enough to make the whole thing a much bigger challenge in your own mind. Or worse, they may give you unsolicited advice that starts to pile up and make the whole thing seem more complicated and overwhelming. You already have enough to work against within yourself. You don’t need to pile on other people’s resistances.
There’s a lot going on here, and people are complicated. They’re probably not trying to be negative, and their reaction probably doesn’t have anything to do with you. Still, you’re going to have to deal with it. Everyone’s situation is different, and the real key here is to just be mindful.
Don’t go blabbing to everyone you know, or put it all out there on social media. Keep a sealed container early on, and make it your own thing. After all, you’re doing this for you, right? There’s something extremely powerful and satisfying about having a private goal and simply doing it. Other people will see it when you’re doing it, and they’ll be much more impressed (and much less likely to discourage) when they realize you’re just doing it instead of just talking about it.
Mindset 3: A Self-Check On Accountability
“I will give myself the right kind of accountability to reinforce my goals from the outside.”
Being mindful about who you share your goals with also means being sure to actively share them with the right people and in the right way. You want to give yourself every possible advantage and set up your environment so that it supports your efforts, and that includes other people. You just have to choose carefully.
One way to do this is to find an accountability buddy—someone with the same or similar goals. Ideally, this will be someone you can actually go workout with. Having a set time with another person is an incredibly powerful type of accountability. For some reason, humans seem to be better at showing up for other people than we are at showing up for ourselves. You can leverage that tendency here: you’re not just helping yourself get back in shape; you’re helping someone else do it, too. And they’re helping you. You’ll also have the added dimension of encouragement, camaraderie, and fun (as long as you make sure this is someone you actually like). Sure, you may have to move the time or cancel every once in a while, and you don’t want to become too rigid or harsh with the whole thing. But this way you’ve made it into something solid and interpersonal, and it’ll feel much more real.
Another mode of accountability is making a specific goal, like a 5k, or a half marathon, or whatever it is you feel drawn to. The key here is to have something specific, at a specific time—even better, something you have to sign up and pay for. There’s something about that process that demonstrates a powerful intent and helps you show yourself that you mean business. I remember signing up for a half marathon when I first got into distance running. I made sure that I signed up for one that was far enough in the future that I’d have time to train properly and thoroughly. From there, I was able to work backward from the goal and keep myself on track, far more easily than if I had said to myself vaguely, “I want to start running more.”
My brother and I are combining these two types of accountability with our St. Helens climb: we’re working towards it together, and we have a specific window of time when we’ll be doing it. You can figure out what makes the most sense for you in terms of your specific goals. But the key is to solidify your intent by connecting your goals to the world—another person, a specific goal, or both.
Mindset 4: Acknowledge Your Wins
“I will just get started, and consider every step forward a win.”
Now that you’re pointed in the right direction with your intent, get a quick win. Don’t wait until the exact right moment to get the exact right first workout. Just break the seal. Do a few push-ups. Run around the block. Don’t be too precious about it, because the first goal is to go from holding totally still, to being in some sort of motion. Once you’re in motion, you can adjust. But the first step is to just charge through that membrane of resistance and get started. Then you will have officially moved from wanting to get back in shape to having started to get back in shape. It doesn’t have to be a huge start. It just needs to be a start.
From there, make sure to register every step forward as a win, no matter how small. Did you get outside and run at all? That’s a win. Did you eat or drink a little less the night before, anticipating the next day’s workout? That’s a win. A win is a win. Size does not matter. Especially because later, as you gain momentum, what seems like a big workout from your current perspective will feel easier than getting these early wins. Really absorbing each and every step forward will help shift the momentum of your self-image, too. You’re moving now, you started. You are the kind of person who can make a goal and stick to it. Now it’s just a matter of turning that dial-up.
Think about a plane on the tarmac, and how much energy it takes to get it from moving totally still to moving an inch. Gradually it’ll build momentum, and before long it’ll be soaring through the air. But goal number one—the pre-condition for the entire flight—is that first inch. Get it however you can. Don’t feel self-conscious about congratulating yourself on what might feel like a small workout. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, or even yourself back when you were in better shape. The better you let yourself feel about your last step forward, the more incentive you’ll have for getting the next one.
There’s another element to this, too, that I’ve seen in myself many times. When I’ve been out of shape for a while, my brain seems to actually forget all the workouts and mindsets I’ve learned in the past. It’s like when you’re healthy, you can’t remember what it feels like to have the flu, and when you have the flu, you can’t remember what it feels like to be healthy. But when I broke the seal and just got started with something, my brain and body would start to be flooded with memories. I’d remember all sorts of bodyweight exercises I used to do, sequences of exercises, techniques from boxing and jiu-jitsu, and even whole attitudes.
The point is until you get started, you’re not even playing with a full deck. Once you get moving, all your memories will kick in and help add juice to your overall plan for getting back in shape.
Mindset 5: Keep It Simple
“I’ll keep it simple and steady, and resist the urge to do too much.”
Once you’re in motion and feeling good about it, it’ll likely be tempting to start doing too much. You’re moving past the “false start” stage, but you still need to get past the “burnout” stage. The goal is to establish a steady rhythm over time that will give you a sustainable fitness regimen. There will come a time to up your dose, but the early stages are more about consistency. Right now you have that initial burst of motivation that comes from novelty and a fresh start. But you won’t have that in a few weeks from now. At that point, you’ll have to rely on momentum and the structures you’ve created for yourself with your rhythm and your mindsets.
The most basic thing here is to avoid overtraining. This may seem obvious, but the temptation to overtrain is often strong, even (or especially) among those who “know better.” If you end up hurting yourself or getting so sore you have to take time off early on, you’ll end up having to start all over again later. Worse, you’ll have to counteract any excitement and positive motivation you may have generated in order to get yourself to rest. Overtraining can take the form of simply doing too much, but it can also come from jumping to more advanced exercises before you’ve regained foundational strength and mobility. Whatever form of exercise you’re doing, make sure to retrain the fundamentals before going on to anything more advanced. This can be a little humbling if you used to be comfortable with more advanced exercises, but it’ll be absolutely critical to getting past this initial threshold as you guide yourself back into shape.
It’ll also be easy to get overwhelmed with all the possible directions you can take your workouts. There are countless avenues for getting back in shape. But at least at the beginning, the key is to stay simple. You don’t want to overwhelm your body with overtraining, but you also don’t want to overwhelm your brain with possibilities. Your life is probably already busy, and your workouts should be a sanctuary of simplicity. Don’t give yourself the chance of being overwhelmed, because part of you is probably looking for any kind of excuse to tell you, “This is too much, you don’t have time, put it off for some other day.” It’s a cliché that your brain is a cognitive miser, but it’s true, and you have to take that into account.
As you gain momentum, you can add novelty and mix it up so you don’t let your brain get bored. But right now your goal is to get that momentum in the first place, and the best way to do that is to keep it simple and make it easy for yourself to stay consistent without having to reinvent the wheel every time you plan a workout.
Mindset 6: Build Your Foundation
“I will dedicate time to training my mindset to build the foundations for my goals.”
This is the meta-mindset you need to make sure the other mindsets work. As I’m sure you know from experience, it’s a lot easier to know what to do than to do it. It’s not always easy to reprogram your mindset. Even if you look at these descriptions and say, “Yes, this makes sense,” that conceptual acceptance is not enough to translate into real reprogramming and real change. In all likelihood, you currently possess plenty of less-than-productive mindsets already taking up space in your mind that will try to override and reject the new ones. But without really retraining your mindset, the best you can hope for is a pleasant epiphany that will fizzle into nothing as soon as you stop reading.
I’ve bumped up against that barrier countless times in my youth, and you probably have, too. You may know exactly what to do, and exactly what mindset would be the most positive and productive, and yet you can’t seem to win the inner war against the mindsets you already have. They’re too deep down in there, too rooted in your unconscious mind to just wish away. But if you work at it, you absolutely can switch out your mental software and transform your mindset. Even more to the point, you can program different mindsets for different goals as you move through life and your objectives evolve. You just have to train your mindset like you train your body. That’s how you achieve the total self-mastery that’s a prerequisite for consistent success in whatever goal happens to be in front of you.
Just Get Started
These six mindsets for getting back in shape may seem basic on the surface, and in some ways they are. But the basics, the foundations, are what people usually ignore and skip past, and then wonder later on why they crashed and burned, or never really got enough momentum to get started. Like all mindsets, these ones will shape and direct your energies in a powerful and reliable way. But you still need to put energy into them, and you still need to anchor them deep in your mind to make sure they’re really doing their job. Once you learn to do that—to master your own mindset—you’ll gain the fluidity and inner resources to dominate your goal of getting back in shape, and any other goal you may have in the future.
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No better way to kick of 2020’s podcasts than with one a coach who has gained worldwide respect because of the effort he has shown in pursuing and realizing the best in strength and conditioning training.
James Fitzgerald has over 20 years of experience as a strength coach. He was also the CrossFit games champion in 2007 and is the founder of OPEX, the education provider for coaches seeking career success, longevity, and fulfillment.
In this episode, we discuss:
- Controlling the chaos of training for CrossFit
- Why you should not do energy systems work if you want to build muscle
- The importance of the gut in gaining muscle and strength
- Why a cyclical approach to your trading and diet is wise
This is part of a set of interviews with some of the leading minds and thought leaders working in the industry today. I am your host, Tom MacCormick, a personal trainer and online coach.
A few things make these podcasts unique, and I hope enjoyable and inspiring: I am trying to curate the greatest hypertrophy experts on the planet. I think we have gotten off to a good start with the experts we have interviewed so far, and you can find a full list with their interviews on The Six Pack of Knowledge page.
Find this and other Breaking Muscle podcasts on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, YouTube, Stitcher, PlayerFM, and PodBean.
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Ask half a dozen seasoned lifters about what belt they wear and why, and you will probably get back just as many different answers. In fact, you will probably get back more answers than the questions you asked, as many lifters will have more than one belt to cater to different lifts and situations.
The belt for lifting are a personal preference, and the purpose of this article is not to talk about the pros and cons of various types of belt. Instead, we will spend our time looking at how to make the best use of this simple but very effective training aid.
I would like to trust that you all believe in wearing a belt, but in reality, I know that some of you may need a little more convincing. Let’s try this line of reasoning. To get better (at anything – your sport, your life, your lifting) you need to get stronger. To get stronger you need to lift heavier. To lift heavier you need to wear a belt. Therefore, wearing a belt allows you to lift heavier, which builds overall strength, which makes you suck less. Pretty simple when you think of it like that, right?
And for those of you thinking that your core won’t get stronger by wearing a belt, we’re going to address the issues of the core and intra-abdominal pressure below.
Building up overall strength in this manner through the use of a belt means that even when you take the belt off, you can lift heavier than if you hadn’t worn the belt in the first place. This all leads to lifting more weight more frequently. Plugging this right back into the logic above means that you continue to build strength to your ultimate advantage.
If that doesn’t convince you, this is probably not the right article for you. However, If you’re now wanting to know how to get the most out of your belt (read: how to get stronger, quicker), then read on.
1. How to use your lifting belt effectively
Let’s clear up a misconception here. A belt’s primary function is not one of supporting your back per se, as commonly believed. Instead, it aids you to increase intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn acts as a brace to support and strengthen your spine. To use your belt effectively, you need to use the Valsalva maneuver. This involves taking a large breath of air into your belly (not your chest), and trying to exhale forcefully with a closed throat. This will push your belly out into the belt, which will help increase the pressure build-up around your midsection.
2. When to wear a weight lifting belt
When the going gets tough, the tough wear a belt. I’m not suggesting you wear a belt for all your warm-ups sets. But when it starts to get hairy, add the belt. In fact, I would advocate wearing the belt prior to the sets that matter. Breathing hard against the belt is a skill that needs to be practiced, especially when performing continuous repetitions.
3. How tight should a lifting belt be tightened
As we have discussed, a good lifting belt is designed to increase intra-abdominal pressure and stabilize your whole midsection. To create this pressure you need to contract your abs against the belt. To make this possible, wear your belt one hole looser than as-tight-as-it-can-go. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to get your hand between your belly and the belt.
4. How do you position a lifting belt on your body
The basic answer to this is, where it does not impede your lift. The bottom of the belt should not get wedged into your hips when they are flexed. Neither should the top of the belt push against your ribs. Wear it in a position that is comfortable, whilst allowing you to create the necessary pressure against it. You may find this position is slightly higher when pulling from the floor.
5. When is the best time to use a lifting belt
In terms of movements, we are talking about the big compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, and presses), and also the Olympic lifts along with strongman exercises such as the yoke and farmer’s walks. All these movements are fundamental to building strength. Any movements that can be classified as such, as we have seen, are best performed with a belt for maximum weight and maximum benefit.
Whatever your ultimate goals, it is worth knowing and understanding how to make the best use of this highly effective tool to aid you on your journey. Buckle up!
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