Million Pound November Challenge

Volume is the driver of strength training. Not only that, but volume is the driver of all training. You know how I get better at skydiving? Moar skydiving! Want to build more muscle? Moar volume!

MOAR

Volume is the foundation that you build all the levels above upon, as well as the mortar that goes between the bricks. While certainly not the only important metric in strength training—you can’t increase volume indefinitely, and to do so would be ignoring the other directions you can make progress in—it is immeasurably important to your progress.

The surprising truth about training volume is that most people don’t do enough of it, and most people can handle much, much more than they currently do. Don’t believe me? Add up your daily volume from your past five workouts and find the average. (Don’t have a training log? Shame on you.) My money says the over-under is 8,000 pounds and I’ll take the under.

I’ve been precisely tracking training for myself and every member of The Movement Minneapolis for over four years, and have over 500,000 rows of valuable data. Sifting through this confirms a pattern that experienced coaches will find familiar – the people who make the most progress are moving about 15,000 pounds per workout with an average weekly volume of 50,000 to 60,000 pounds.

At the risk of oversimplifying: want more strength gains and better physique improvements in less time? Do more volume.

Yes, the intensity (the absolute or relative weight you’re lifting) with which you lift matters, as does the density (pounds per minute), but both my data and the body of scientific evidence available points to the same conclusion: neither matters as much as total volume.

Equations_resist

Greg Nuckols discussed this phenomenon in his episode of Evil Sugar Radio. The Russians’ blunt tool to solve training problems is more volume. Based on results, this tactic seems to be working for them.

Three years ago, I took on a personal challenge to lift a million pounds of volume over the course of one month. I wrote about that experience here.

My challenge to you is to take on Million Pound November yourself. As a gym, The Movement Minneapolis has created a team challenge. Teams of members from the gym will be attacking this challenge collectively, pooling their volume to reach a total of a million or more by the end of the month.

Accomplishing this task alone is no small feat and is not for beginner or even intermediate lifters. You need both a solid foundation of strength, as well as a keen understanding of your own physiology so that you reap rewards from the challenge instead of it leaving you worse off than before.

For a bit of perspective, if you train three times per week for a total of 12 workouts, you would have to perform 83,333 pounds of volume per workout. Most people average 8,000. Training twenty times still means 50,000 pounds per workout. Training daily with occasional breaks leaves you with a more reasonable per-session volume.

Million_Pound_Hash

Here are a few suggestions of ways to tackle #MilPndNov:

  • By yourself, for the truly daring, and those who are ready for the challenge.
  • In a small team of two or three training partners as a realistic and achievable goal, as well as a target on which to focus a month of training together.
  • In a larger team of eight to 10 people, be they local or spread across the globe, to stay accountable and chip away together at a mountainous achievement.

No matter how you tackle it, the #MilPndNov will net you several rewards:

  • Setting a habit of consistently getting to the gym and putting in the work.
  • By and large, more volume equals more results. If you put in the work, your body will respond and adapt. You’ll like what happens.

A few guidelines are in order, but this isn’t a strict challenge and you’re welcome to interpret as you see fit:

  • The main drivers of training volume are the big, compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, ballistics such as swings, rows, pull-ups, and pressing. Heavy partials can massively inflate your training volume, and certainly have your place, but would skew the data. Stick to whatever variations test best for you, but don’t try to game the system by just doing partials just to rack up volume. You’re just cheating yourself. Or do, I don’t really care.
  • Be reasonable with how you count your bodyweight exercises. Unless it’s in a handstand, you’re not pushing full bodyweight in a pushup, so estimate and adjust accordingly.
  • You are the only one who stands to gain or lose here, so keep it easy and stay in a eustress state (i.e., don’t push through lifts that feel awful). Pushing to hit an external number might feed your ego, but it’ll break your body.

Throughout the month, I will provide resources to help you stay on track, keep you inspired and motivated, and also throw out the occasional door prize to keep it fun. And possibly a million pound meme or two.

dr-evil

 

How to Lift 1,066,554 Pounds Without a Crane

Several years ago in late October I decided to undertake a personal challenge. I was already planning to participate in Movember the following month, but that wasn’t the real challenge. I figured as long as I am growing a mustache I might as well attempt a heroic feat of strength that can be accomplished only by someone growing a wicked ‘stache.

I failed at one of those tasks, but I succeeded spectacularly at the other. On a cold, dark night in mid-November, I had to cut short (pun intended) my goal of growing a wild and wooly mustache because of a photo shoot that came up.

But, I did lift a lot of weight.  In fact I lifted:

399,280 lbs of Sumo Deadlifts in 1550 reps
152,989 lbs of Kettlebell Rows in 2513 reps
97,539 lbs of Push Presses in 2694 reps
51,483 lbs of Chin-Ups in 272 reps
59,220 lbs of Push-Ups in 329 reps
14,580 lbs of Pull-Ups in 81 reps

Those lifts and the many others I did added up to a grand total of 1,066,554 pounds in 22 workouts from November 1st to November 30th.  In fact, I hit the one million mark on the 27th.

I will discuss the role of volume in training a bit more in a blog post announcing something exciting tomorrow, but suffice to say that volume is one of the main drivers of strength training. If there’s one thing you can do to see better results, it’s just simply do more work.

What did this do to my body?  From November 3rd to December 5th I gained 5 inches from head to toe:

Bodyweight: +5lbs

Waist: .75″
Neck: .1″
Shoulders: .8″
Hip: 1.25″
Thigh: 1.25″
Arm (Bicep): .63″
Forearm: .5″
Chest: .25″

During this period I maintained a body fat of around 7-8%.

What did it do to my strength? I didn’t specifically test any strength quantities directly before and after, but I can tell you that a few months later I hit my best-ever triple-bodyweight deadlift of 603 at 195. In addition to that, I was over all probably the strongest I have ever been.

What did I eat?  Pretty much whatever I felt like.  A couple times we went to Axel’s Bonfire and crushed bull bites, a half a chicken, sides, and the epic chocolate chip cookie with ice cream dessert.  I probably drank 4-5 quarts of chocolate milk during the month, usually a quart at a time.

Other times I just wasn’t all that hungry, so I ate when I got hungry.  That’s it.

Supplements?  Just creatine.  Jack3d on occasion.  I don’t think I had a protein shake all month.  Maybe a couple.  Nothing worth writing home about.

Did I feel crushed all month: no.

Did I feel tired all the time: no.

Was I sore: no.

Did I get hurt? No.  (In fact, I resolved a shoulder issue that crept up beforehand.)

Every movement I did tested well and I stopped all sets before the elements of effort set in.

Would I recommend to everyone that you set an external goal: NO.  It is too easy to get focused on the goal, and break your body when you stop listening to it. (But if you do tune in, it just might be possible.)

One more thing to consider is what was going on in the rest of my life at the time that I did this. In short, very little. I was able to direct much of my ability to resolve stress towards my training because I had much less stress in other parts of my life. While none of the training was distressful, it is likely that it wasn’t because of how much extra stress I could handle. I’ve attempted this amount of volume in a month one other time and I had to shut it down because I just couldn’t handle it, so context matters.

Stay tuned for an exciting announcement tomorrow.

The 1.5 Cent Muscle Solution

Walk into any GNC or nutrition store (which is in itself sort of ironic in that they don’t sell any actual foods, the best source of actual nutrition) and you’ll find a bright-eyed reasonably muscled twenty year old standing in front of a wall of pills, powders, and potions happy to tell you what supplements you’re totally missing to actually get results from working out.

Cover-Photo1

By and large none of these do anything worthwhile.

But there is one supplement that is so overwhelmingly positive that I think every man, and some women depending on a caveat I will mention later, should be taking it.

That supplement is creatine. It is likely the most studied sports supplement on the planet, and is not in any way shape or form a steroid. Creatine is a naturally occurring organic acid that is synthesized from amino acids in the kidney and liver. Creatine is, at the risk of over-simplifying, used in the formation of ATP which is the actual energy source your muscles use directly to contract.

Creatine is not an essential nutrient, although you likely get a sufficient amount of it if you eat a balanced diet including animal protein, because it can be synthesized from L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. That being said low levels of supplementation, on the order of the typical dose of 5g/day, have shown numerous positive effects that indicate that dietary and intrinsically produced amounts are not sufficient to gain as much benefit as you can get from supplementation.

While creatine doesn’t make you magically gain muscle, in concert with a strength program you can improve your gains by a measurable margin. A 2012 review in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research of almost a hundred papers concluded that creatine supplementation effectively amplifies the effects of strength training for strength and hypertrophy, improves quality and benefit of of high intensity speed training, improves aerobic endurance performance in trials lasting more than 150 seconds, seems to produce positive effects on strength, fat free mass, daily living performance and function in young and older people, demonstrates a long-term up regulation of gene expression when creatine is administered together with resistance training and basically makes you a sexier beast as long as you actually lift when you take it.

In 140 characters or less: you can get a little more work or volume out of every training session.

tips-for-using-creatine

In terms of fat loss, NY Times Bestselling Author John Romaniello says: “People often avoid creatine while they’re dieting because they believe it’s a muscle building supplement only and it’ll prevent them from losing weight. This is true in an obtuse way, where only the weight on the scale matters. It’s true that creatine might prevent you from having that “boner-inducing” experience of losing 10 pounds in the first week because you drop so much water weight. But I don’t care about water weight, I care about my clients losing fat. Creatine helps in a number of ways with this: The first of these are obvious in that it allows you to perform better in strength training. However, a secondary benefit is that it helps in the retention of lean body mass under a caloric deficit.”

In terms of sport and athletic performance the data so far is astonishingly conclusive: creatine works and it works well.

But that’s not even the biggest reason I think you should take it.

A growing body of evidence is showing that creatine may have as many benefits for brain function as it does for skeletal muscle. For example, an Australian study using vegetarians (they tend to have lower creatine levels and as a result provide better test subjects – yes, you might be getting enough for these effects from eating meat) showed that in a working memory test people taking creatine were able to recall an average of 8.5 numbers compared to 7 for those taking a placebo. The groups were flipped after , washed out for 6 weeks, and then tested again and the effect persisted.

For those athletes playing contact sports that lead to inevitable concussions, a 2000 study showed that creatine may have neuro-protective effects in the case of traumatic brain injuries to the tune of 36% in mice and 50% in rats.

All of these benefits come at an exceptionally low cost. The European Food Safety Authority, which is significantly more stringent than United States regulators when it comes to food additives and supplements, published a memorandum stating that long-term intake of creatine at 3g per day is risk-free. While I don’t necessarily believe that anything is inherently risk-free, these are strong words from an authority with extremely high standards for safety and evidence.

The biggest risk from creatine seems to be in that it sucks a little more water into working muscle and may affect hydration in high heat – but this is easily mitigated by maintaining good hydration.

You get all of this for under two pennies per day. Creatine monohydrate, the only kind you need, is one of the cheapest supplements out there. From True Protein you can buy 500g in bulk, roughly a 3-month supply, for $7.45. (Or a kilo from Amazon for $19 and free shipping with Prime.) You can buy even more and get it even cheaper, or drop the dose to 3g/day and stretch it even further to under a penny a day. Especially relative to the amount of benefit you can’t find a better deal.

ThumbS3.ashx_I mentioned a caveat with regards to women. The main issue is that due to creatine causing an increase in water retention some women may feel “bloated” or that creatine causes them to look puffy. This is an individual thing in both effect size and reaction to it, so the best thing to do is just to try it out and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, simply discontinue taking it and you’ll return to your normal physiological levels of intramuscular creatine in a few days.

None of this is to say that it is impossible that some body of evidence in the future won’t reveal some unknown and long-term non-linear effects. Anything is possible. But as the evidence stands right now, creatine appears to be both the safest and most effective, both in terms of sports performance and other cognitive and neurological benefits, supplement available. And it’s pretty damn close to free.

In a world full of junk supplements, creatine is a shining beacon of truth and light. I strongly recommend testing it out and reviewing your training logs to see if you notice a bump in performance. If you use a cognitive training service like Lumosity you may be able to track the cognitive benefits there, although I would argue that the benefits are on the order of long-term small percentages that matter but may not be measurable. Either way, I think creatine is a solid “why would you not” supplement.

 

You And I Will Never Beat Baccarat

Baccarat is a game of chance. There is no skill involved in the game, which consists of betting on whether or not your hand or the dealer’s hand will add up to 8 or 9. Players’ strategy generally consists of betting on streaks, but given that each hand is an independent event the streaks are purely random chance.

So how did one of the best poker players in the world take a casino for $12 million dollars? Remember that it is not up for debate that baccarat is purely a game of chance and the house retains an edge.

Perhaps only by a stroke of chance, while poker legend Phil Ivey was playing baccarat in a storied London casino, Crockfords in Mayfair he noticed that there was a flaw in the deck of cards the casino was using. The flaw in printing and cutting the deck allowed him to tell one edge of the card from another. Returning the next night and playing up his belief in superstition by asking the casino to play the same dealer, with the same cards, and with his same lucky hat Ivey and his compatriot asked the dealer to turn the 7s, 8s, and 9s (the best cards) 180 degrees before returning them to the shoe. In this way, Ivey could see when they were going to be dealt and use this edge, no pun intended, to beat the house. The casino couldn’t imagine why this would matter, so they agreed.comp_baccarat48__01__630x420

When I heard this story I found it fascinating. Not because it’s a way of beating the house – that ship has sailed and Ivey is suing Crockfords because they won’t pay out his winnings – but because of the sensitivity to the cards required to pull this off.

Think of it this way: Even if I told you what to look for, that the razor-thin edge of some cards would have a slightly different pattern than others it would still take a serious effort for you to be able to perceive that difference and play on it. And even then you would have to do it nonchalantly without looking like you’re inspecting the shoe for differences in the cards. Only someone who has spent the better portion of his life in card rooms could pull this off.

Ivey was in the enviable position of preparation meeting opportunity, or luck as Seneca called it.

This sensitivity, or this eye, can only be developed over tens of thousands of hours. It’s the exact same thing that amazes people the first time their trainer says, “What’s going on with your right hip? You’re walking differently.” Great trainers have developed this eye for movement that can’t be taught – it has to be practiced.

You and I are never going to beat baccarat by edge sorting. But, there is something you’ve been doing for a long time that you do have the eye or the sensitivity to. You know it intimately and you can take advantage of an opportunity or an edge when it’s presented to you.

What is it? Will you know the opportunity when you see it?

And for god’s sake, if there isn’t something you’ve got the sensitive eye for you’ve got work to do.

Biofeedback Training: How to Get Started

When I go to a conference or workshop I hear two types of feedback from people. Either they’ve implemented biofeedback in their training and gotten the best results (whether that be pain resolution, or performance) of their life, or they can’t figure out how to get started. Jen, too, hears the same thing often.

Here’s the deal: This is not something you can think your way through. You have to take action, and you have to implement. In nearly every conversation I have with someone who reports that they haven’t been able to figure out how to get started they have tried to think their way through how it might go instead of simply trying it and going from there. What you need to understand is that this is a paradigm shift in how you train and you can have no idea how to wrap your head around it because you’re coming from an existing, and incompatible paradigm.

The vast majority of exercise programming is based on you following the program. You just do what it says. Biofeedback or intuitive training involves completely flipping the operating system and following where your body leads.

What do you need to implement biofeedback training? Three things:

  1. Stimulus
  2. Response
  3. Test

That’s it, at it’s core. You need a stimulus, a response, and a way to test or measure what the response is. Of course in any exercise protocol you have a stimulus (the exercise) and a response (the recovery, regeneration, gainz, etc.) The piece that is lacking is the test.

Is this good for me to do?

Exercise isn’t automatically and universally good. This is too complex a topic to hash out here, but if you’re struggling with this concept consider this: is it good to do deadlifts if they cause you pain?

Response to exercise can take weeks and months to be able to quantify. At the very shortest, you don’t know if it “worked” until you do the movement again and do better than before. The response is so far out into the future you could be doing the “wrong” things. So the question you want to be asking is, what would be good for me to do? Is this good for me to do right now?

Enter biofeedback testing:

Testing Flow ChartWe use range of motion testing as our test. Click the link for a walk-through video. Other methods can be useful, but in the interest of keeping it simple let’s just stick with ROM. The idea being that we can test to determine, on a very short time scale, what the response is right now. Based on the response of the stimulus, you can decide to continue it or not. Do things that garner a positive response in the short term, and over the long term you have an accumulation of positive responses.

One source of confusion is the baseline testing before the movements or exercises. Testing your baseline is like calibrating your measuring stick. If you don’t figure out where you’re starting, all the measurements that follow it are useless because you have no basis for comparison.

How to put this into practice:

  1. Test your baseline.
  2. Perform a movement.
  3. Test again.
  4. Based on the result of the test, continue or do something else.

As I mentioned before this must be put into practice. Stop thinking it through and do it. Here’s how you can implement it in your own training immediately: Take your existing program, and test everything before you do it. Test the movement; Do it if it tests well, and don’t do it if it doesn’t. Either skip it or test a similar variation. Test your weights. After each set test to see if you should continue to increase the weight. If you’re at your working weight then stop doing that exercise when you get a negative range of motion test.

While this does represent a major shift in how you approach your training sessions it is absolutely elementary in practice. Try it – then

 

 

 

Taking Back Function

It’s time we take back function, and not just in terms of the bastardized word everyone loves to hate. When it comes to the word “function” and “functional training,” most intelligent trainers roll their eyes and imagine someone standing on a BOSU ball shaking some heavy ropes. They know that just because it’s difficult to remain stable while doing something ridiculous doesn’t mean it’s developing core strength, stability, balance, upper body strength, etc. To the uninitiated it may seem like a good idea but in reality, it doesn’t do any of those things. Many of my peers have spilled words (12, 3, 4) on this topic, so I’m not going to rehash them here.

bosuropes

The impetus behind functional training — the idea that you should train movements that make you more able to complete tasks in sport and life — is sound and commendable, even if it may have risen in popularity only in response to the weight-machine-driven bodybuilding trends of the 70s. The devil is, as they say, in the details.

I’m not going to speculate as to what went wrong with functional training — it’s water under the bridge, as far as I’m concerned. What I’d like to do is take back the word function and tell you why it’s the single most important word as it relates to your training.

If you’ll forgive me for dragging out the old dictionary definition trope, I think it will be instructive:

define function

 

 

 

 

 

A function is essentially an ability or  capability to do something. You are a collection of cooperative functions at any level of magnification from which you care to look. Starting at a high level with a few examples: You are able to integrate socially at work or in school, you’re able to procure sustenance and necessities like food, water, and shelter to keep you alive, you’re (hopefully) able to provide some sort of value to the rest of the world with the work you do, and you are able to maintain yourself physically with exercise. Within each one of these enormous categories, you have functions that make up the higher-level function. Socially, you may have functions for meeting new people and functions for maintaining existing relationships. In terms of physical maintenance, you have this whole subset of functions we spend so much time talking about.

Knowing how and being able to lift weights in general is a function. The ability to deadlift is a function. The ability to extend the hips (hip extension) is a function, as is the ability to maintain spinal alignment against resistance. Along with the function of knee extension, shoulder retraction, finger flexion, thumb flexion and adduction. And further to that the ability to produce muscular force is a function consisting of a series of chemical reactions and processes inside the muscle.

Guess what happens when you lack a function? Let’s say, for example, you lack the function of insulin secretion to moderate an influx of sugar. That’s a disease called diabetes, and it causes lots of problems.

Sometimes a lack or failure of a function causes serious repercussions and a cascade of failures or hyperactivity in other systems that rely on the missing function. In other cases, a lack of function can go completely unnoticed.

As I said earlier, you are a collection of cooperative functions. Some of them are incomprehensibly specific (operating at a cellular level, for example) and others are so high-level and obvious that they don’t seem to even bear mentioning, such as breathing.

Everything you do or need to do is a function.

There are two general directions you can take this perspective on function. The first is perhaps the most obvious and that is to acquire new but not necessary functions. For example, strength or the ability to accomplish a particular strength feat. In these cases, it can help to think in terms of the functions that are required. For example, if one wanted to successfully lift the famed Thomas Inch dumbbell, he or she would need all of the associated functions to a 175-pound one-arm deadlift, and in addition they would be wise to train the adduction function of the thumb, given that it is a primary limiting factor when it comes to picking up the ol’ Inch.

It’s not critical to your survival to acquire or gain these functions, but it might make you a more capable or useful human. Personally, I’m a fan of collecting more useful and cooperative functions and I enjoy being a sort of Renaissance man rather than being incredibly specialized in one specific thing. I’m happy to be a jack of all trades, but I digress.

The other, and I believe more interesting and more important path is the resolution of missing functions that are causing problems.

If you think it would be a good idea to deadlift, but you lack the function of hip extension (hypofunction in hip extension) it may not mean you lack the function to perform a deadlift but that you’re going to find some other way to perform the deadlift, probably to your detriment when your spinal muscles (hyperfunction) do all of the heavy lifting instead (pun intended.) If that sounds like a compensation to you, well, sure. I’d refer to it as hypo (under) or hyper (over) function.

Pain, especially chronic pain, is a hot topic and while I won’t claim to have definitive answers, I will tell you this: In my experience, there is no clearer association to pain than loss of function. And, in the vast majority of cases I have worked with, a restoration of missing function comes with a concomitant reduction in pain. Could it be that otherwise unexplained pain is an action signal to restore lost function?

When there is a problem, the first place to start looking is what functions you’re lacking. When looking for missing function it’s important to look no smaller than necessary. For example, if someone is missing hip extension I am not going to go looking for problems impeding myosin and actin at the muscular level until I have ruled out getting the numerous moving parts levels above that moving first.

On some level, you are missing functions. Whether or not they’re critical to your daily pursuits varies, but it’s not a question of whether or not you have hypo-functions. Oftentimes the things you do the most often result in hypofunctions in the things you conversely don’t do often enough. This isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. When it is a problem, I believe you’ve now got the paradigm to fix it.

Let’s take back function. Both the dirty word, and the functions we’re missing in the pursuit of better.

 

 

Get Better Sleep

If there is one monumentally important thing you can do for your health and wellness it’s to get better sleep. That’s right, not eat better or exercise but simply get adequate sleep. Not a minimum of sleep, but adequate sleep. Here is something that will hopefully put into perspective the physiological need for sleep:

Sleep-Infographic

It’s certainly a false dilemma to say that just one of diet, exercise, or sleep is more important for your health but it is a reality that people will often trade sleep for one or both of the other. To the best of my knowledge none of my clients have ever skipped a workout so that they could prepare a healthy meal, but I recently turned away a new client because he told me he would “sacrifice sleep to make it in to class.” Nope, nope, nope. Not going to happen.

Problems with sleep generally fall into two categories. There are people who don’t prioritize sleep, treating it as something they can do when they’re dead. Which they will be able to do sooner than later as the cumulative cost of  chronic sleep debt is a shorter lifespan in addition to poor quality of life. The other category is someone who dedicates adequate time to sleep but has problems getting good quality sleep. Allow me to first address the former.

Sleep is such a critical and auto-regulated function of the human body that to the best of our knowledge it is actually impossible to die from sleep depravation. The reason for this is not that it couldn’t kill you if you could actually achieve it, but that the body will begin a process of micro-sleeping within the gaps between whatever stimulus is keeping you from actually sleeping. In other words, you can try to stay awake by any means and you’ll still fall asleep.

If you are:

  1. Going to sleep by 10pm, preferably around the time of sunset.
  2. Allowing adequate time to sleep, about 8-9 hours.
  3. Sleeping in a completely dark and quiet (not necessarily silent, white noise can help) room.
  4. Turning off electronics and minimizing light use by 2-hours before sleeping or around sunset.
  5. Not more than 50 pounds overweight.
  6. Exercising regularly.
  7. Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon if you are a slow-metabolizer. You probably know. If you’re a fast-metabolizer, it probably doesn’t matter.
  8. Use an app like Sleep Cycle. The accuracy of these apps is debatable, but the fact that it brings focused attention to your sleep is not. They help.

And you still can’t sleep you have a problem akin to not being able to swallow water or breathe air. That is how serious it is and how much attention you should divert to addressing it.

The above 8 keys are by no means an exhaustive list, but a damn fine start and will be comprehensive for the vast majority of people. In fact, doing just 5 or 6 of these seven things will probably remarkably improve your sleep. 

If you’re not covering all of the above bases, start there. If you have a problem with starting there because there just aren’t enough hours in the day and sleeping isn’t a high priority I’m here to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. I couldn’t possibly do a better job than former Navy SEAL Dr. Kirk Parsley has done in the following video. After leaving the SEALs (BUD/s class 164), Kirk went to med school and later became the team doctor for the west coast teams.  If you can’t take it from someone who has suffered through orders of magnitude worse sleep deprivation than you will ever even think about enduring then you’re not going to listen to anyone so you can stop here.

TL;DR? While you think you’re pushing forward and trading productivity for sleep you’re actually selling yourself short and operating at a low level of function compared to what you’re capable of. You might as well be drunk all the time.

Either way it’s time to do the work and fix it. Working too hard to just scrape by barely paying your bills? Go read some Ramit Sethi and make more money with less effort. Making plenty of money and still think whatever you’re doing is more important than sleep? It’s not.

Doubt at 140 MPH

I was flying through the sky at 140 miles per hour, looking over my left shoulder at my coach just a few feet away from me. He had just given a big nod. That signal meant I was in the right spot and it was time for me to leave the comfort of flying belly-facing-earth, do a half barrel-roll onto my back, and continue flying in that new back-facing-earth position – a position that just two days before I had never even attempted and wasn’t capable of flying in.

Luis Prinetto

Looking over my left shoulder at my coach, Luis Prinetto, flying comfortably on my belly.

I wanted to take the next step in improving my skill, but doubt was rearing its head. I could just keep flying for the rest of the jump, telling him later I just didn’t feel like I was in the right position to make the transition.

Doubt keeps you comfortable. It keeps you in the safe zone where you know everything is going to be Starbucks-consistent and predictable. There’s no chance of being embarrassed or taking a hit to your ego when you let doubt control your decision.

Doubt also keeps you stuck, however. You don’t get better, you don’t move forward, and you don’t learn something new. You do get to experience regret, wishing you had gone for it when you had the chance.

Doubt is the thief of novelty.

Here’s the test: If you really want to do something, then you go for it. Push that doubt deep down inside so far and so hard you make a diamond out of it. If you don’t want to do it and you also happen to have doubts, don’t do it.

Don’t talk about it, don’t ruminate on it, don’t ask for people’s opinions on what you should do. No one else can do this for you.

Look, this isn’t an encouragement to recklessly go out and do things far beyond your capability — skills that you haven’t put in the work to earn, or that are just plain stupid and dangerous. You should be pursuing goals that are logical next steps or progressions from where you are now to where you can go next.

But when it’s that bullshit nagging self-doubt that’s paired with desire, you owe it to yourself to go for it.

I paused for a moment, and then dropped my left arm by my side to initiate the roll. It wasn’t perfect, but I stuck the transition and was rewarded with a new skill and a big smile on my coach’s face.

Luis Prinetto

The huge smile on Luis’ face as I nailed the belly-to-back roll.

Make it Harder, Make it Easier

Rat-Race-1912I’m steeped in the world of behavior change. I spend a lot of time reading, researching, and experimenting with what makes changes stick. As a coach a small part of my job is helping people tweak their deadlift form, and a huge part of it is helping them make changes. It seems that everyone wants to change something, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. I think it represents progress and a self-awareness that you’re not perfect and there’s room for improvement. But, hey, change is hard, and the reality is most people get stuck on in a rut.

One of the best frameworks for change is something I learned from my friend and colleague Mark Schneider, also known as Cardigan Mark. The method is simple and effective.

With something you want to do less of – make it harder.

With something you want to do more of – make it easier.

Let’s say for example you want to stop eating so many snacks and junk food. You make a rule for yourself that you can eat all the snacks and junk you want, but you have to go to the store to get them. When you’re satisfied you have to throw everything away and repeat the process next time. If you adopt this process and you’re still eating more junk that you like, you can make it even harder by enacting a rule that you can only buy one type of snack per trip. The exact details are up to you, but the general idea is to make the habit you want to extinguish incrementally harder until the cost just isn’t worth it to you anymore.

On the other hand, if you want to do more of something you find ways to make it easier to establish the habit. For example, if you’re following an eating plan that calls for a certain amount of protein, fats, and carbs on a daily basis it would make it easier to plan your meals ahead of time so that you know they meet your macronutritent ratios. This handy website called Eat This Much (free to use, cheap for more features) makes it super easy to do that, simply asking you how many calories you want to eat and in how many meals. The meals and recipes may not win any awards, but they’re trivially easy to make and meet the criteria of making eating appropriately easier.

If ever there was “one weird trick” to making changes easy, this is it. Use it.

How to Start Bending Steel Like Superman

There are several traits that Superman has that, sadly, you’ll never be able to acquire like x-ray vision, flying, or changing the course of mighty rivers, but there is one you can learn: bending steel with your bare hands. This old-time strongman feat is not only an impressive way to display strength and power, but is also a great way to take your strength from average to imposing. Last week I posted a video on Instagram of myself bending a nail which generated a lot of questions and emails. I asked my friend Robby Sparango, a coach at P360 Performance in Mission Beach, CA and avid bender to outline how to get started bending steel.

Bending metal with your bare hand seems kind of stupid why would you want to do this?

Asks the guy who routinely jumps out of airplanes! Two reasons stand out more so amongst dozens that come to mind. First and most imperative, it strengthens your lower arms. The hands, wrists and forearms are undoubtedly the weakest link in most people. Even those who train consistently are likely neglecting these areas, inhibiting their potential. Our hands have a monumental work capacity that has been reduced to dormancy in the age of pencil pushing and button tapping. The requirements to wake those monsters up are daunting. This is why high caliber benders are so impressive and are typically very, very strong in many arenas. The second reason is associated to the first, they carry over to your lifts. Hand strength is correlated to nerve force. If your brain thinks your hands can’t handle something it pulls the emergency-brake on your entire system. Bending is an excellent tool to find your force boundaries, then train accordingly to increase that nerve force progressively. As your hands/wrists get stronger, your lifts will feel easier.

What kind of base level of strength do you need to get started bending?

I’d say a double-bodyweight deadlift is a minimum prerequisite. Seems arbitrary but my rationale is this, bending requires an elementary understanding of creating tension, muscular recruitment and mental fortitude to grind through lifts. There is  easier steel to start with but it will not teach you much, if anything. You must have awareness of what true resistance feels like, a lockout where seconds seem like minutes is a great precursor. Presumably those interested in bending are already somewhat versed in strength training, so this shouldn’t be much of an obstacle.

What is a typical progression in terms of difficulty starting from something a beginner could do towards a bend that would earn you a bro fist bump?

Most beginners will get their hands on some light stock ranging between 5-7 inches at 3/16 thick. Pretty much anyone is gonna blast through that, so up next would be a 6-7 inch, 1/4 grade 2 bolt. These make for good technical instruction and positional awareness without taxing your joints. This would be a beginners first pride inducing bend.  A spectrum of stock thus ensues ranging from 40d nails, “yellow”, “blue” nails and spiral 60d’s. A beginners first “bro fist-bump worthy” bend I’d say, would be a 6 inch long, 1/4 grade 5 bolt. Many would say a 60D nail but I’ve seen plenty of dudes hit a 60D on their first try, only to get their ass handed to them by the grade 5. As a beginner you’ll be thrilled to get a 60d no doubt, but once you get a grade 5 under your belt you’ll know it’s another level entirely, and confidently smash every 60d without hesitation. Once you become a bit more experienced a 1/4 grade 8 bolt is highly respectable and well deserving of a fist bump.

1516707_685628414803860_525221781_n

If someone wants to get started right away what should they pick up?

Without a doubt, Jedd Johnson’s (DieselCrew) Nail Bending eBook and/or Nail Bending DVD are indispensable. He has done all the homework for you. Progressions, technique, safety, training, you name it. The bending stock however will depend on your access to steelyards or the legitimacy of your local hardware store. IronMinds “bag of nails” will likely be a beginners first purchase as well. I don’t know if Fat Bastard Barbell Co [editor's note: sadly, it does not appear that they are.] is still up and running, but I would routinely purchase bolts from them as my local hardware stores don’t carry the specific stock I require. You will also need wraps. Naturally, IronMind has their own IMP’s (IronMind Pads) which you will need if you plan on certifying on the red nail. Suede wraps are also great for volume training as they will help you develop your strength without chewing your hands up. I get my suede wraps from David Horne. [Editor's note: you can usually find various leather scraps at a fabric store that work well.]

Let’s say you were coaching a beginner through their first cycle of bending what would you have them do?

Test the movements! Bending is an entirely different animal than most are accustomed to, even strong folks. I think testing in this discipline is the best way to maintain proficiency and prevent injury. I never bend on a day it doesn’t test well.  There are also an array of bending  “styles” that work better for people, so we’d want to determine which style will be the most effective for the individual. My bending style is double overhand, I have very long, mobile arms and can generate a lot of force this way. However, I am also much, much smaller (5’7, buck fifty soaking wet) than most who take to bending, they tend to be larger men with whom mobility may be limited due to muscle mass, so another style may be better suited, such as double underhand or reverse style. Most important, videotape yourself! this is the best way to gain awareness of your technique, as your eyes will likely slam shut during most bends.

Anything new benders should watch out for that you’ve learned the hard way?

Be patient and keep the volume low to start. Benders will tell you that they age in dog years, so be sure prior to your sessions you are fully warmed up. Expect a bit of tendonitis around the elbows early on, but there are great preventative measures to keep serious injuries at bay. Also, treat the bends as you would any other lift.  Don’t think because you got one bend once that you can scratch it of your list. If your goal is a 6 inch grade 8 bolt, be sure you’re hitting grade 5’s for triples. Once you know your optimal bending style, practice the other ones with lighter stock as well to compliment your strength. For example I pull conventional for deadlifts, so I consistently pull behind the back and sumo as well. As such, I practice reverse and double underhand bends whenever it feels appropriate. And of course listen to your body, if it doesn’t feel right then let it go. Hit it next time.

1391210_426776840782321_1147147808_n

What are good resources if someone wants to dig deeper and learn more?

DieselCrew’s Nail Bending eBook by Jedd Johnson for certain. [Editor's note: Robby mentioned this book twice because it's that good, pick it up if you want to bend.] It’s the one and only comprehensive “how to” for bending out there. You’ll also find that nearly every grip guy has delved into bending at some point, so another resource would be the gripboard.com. It is a forum where any and every detail is covered regarding grip and bending by fellas who’ve been there and done that.  Just as beneficial would be Youtube. Nearly everyone who bends has a channel with instructional tutorials, technical advice and of course PR / Certification attempts. I could drop a dozen names here, but Daniel Reinard is a cyborg with the training cleverness and strength to match. As we’re both in Cali I try to hit any grip competition he’s at to get some face-time with him. Which brings me to the best resource, training partner(s). As in any strength training regimen, find yourself some pragmatic grunts who’ll not only push you, but who also understand that bending isn’t merely brute force. There is skill, technique, and an unyielding willpower required that may easily send big guys egos packing if they can’t get a bend the first time. Surround yourself with like minded folks and accelerate your progress exponentially.

Robby SparangoRobby Sparango is level 1 Performance 360 coach, gripsport competitor, practitioner of oldetime strongman feats and recent arm wrestling noob living in Mission Beach, CA. He’s a strength enthusiast obsessed with lifting heavy who actively seeks out the most experienced folks for competitions and workshop they hold, wherever in the country they may be. Y’all can see the stuff he bends or lifts or plays with when he’s not doing those things on Instagram or Facebook of course.