Is This Good For Me To Do?

Is This Good For Me To Do?

If you come train with me either at my gym, The Movement Minneapolis, or via online coaching you’ll have to adopt a new paradigm for their training – but once you do you’ll find that it permeates the rest of your life.

The classic paradigm is essentially one of prescription. Your program says to do this so you do this. Maybe you make some small adjustments. If you’re working with a good coach they definitely make some tweaks. But generally speaking you’re going to do what is planned.

I teach a different approach. I only want you to do things that are good for you to do – right now. If it’s going to make you better, you do it. If it’s going to make you worse, you don’t do it.

Mark Fisher calls it “everything is optional” at their place. I like that.

So how can you know whether it’s good for you or not? Surely deadlifts are always good for you, right? No, not so fast.

The state of your body, mind, and all of the pieces and systems that are parts of the whole are in constant flux. Your tissues are constantly adapting, remodeling, and changing and your brain and nervous system too is always in flux.

So what would be a bad day to deadlift? Well a day in which you’ve created a lot of tissue damage with another workout probably wouldn’t be ideal to add more heavy deadlifts to your recovery load. Or, on the “softer” side of tissues, a day that you’re perhaps physically fresh but mentally completely exhausted from strenuous mental exertion might not be the best day to add more nervous system load.

But how can you know?

When it comes to movement, this is where biofeedback is extremely useful. You can simply test how you respond to the actual movement. If you respond positively then great it’s good for you to do right now, if you respond negatively it’s probably best to push it out until the next time. The question is, “Is this good for me to do right now?”

But what about things that aren’t so clearly movement based. That perhaps you can’t test so easily.

This is where the big picture of asking “is this good for me to do right now” comes into play.

If you’ve ever worked on learning a skill you know that there are days when you feel like everything is clicking, and days where no matter how hard you try things just aren’t coming together. And yet, you can come back to something you were really struggling with and a day or two later it just clicks.

What I try to do is make the most of the times when things are clicking, and cut short the sessions where everything feels off. Even if it doesn’t feel great to give up or stop doing something you love to do when you’re feeling frustrated. Obviously there is a wide gray area between putting in the work and the inherent struggle of learning and when things aren’t going well, but as I’ve written before, the better you get at predicting the better your results will be.

What you’ll find is that if you stop the poor practice prematurely, your brain will integrate when you’re away from the practice itself and when you come back you’re better than before seemingly without having done anything.

We’re going to talk more about speeding up and supporting that process of integration in a follow-up article, but the main point to keep in mind is maximizing the good practice, and minimizing the bad.

As you probably know, one of my passions besides lifting is skydiving. Since the advent of indoor vertical wind tunnels skydivers can turn money into noise and skill faster than ever before. But flying in the tunnel can be as frustrating as it is mentally exhausting. Because a single 15-minute session in the tunnel can easily equate to a month of skydiving you can see the skill improvement measured in minutes in a way that really is unparalleled by anything I can think of. By the same token, I know that if something isn’t clicking it’s best for me to either move on to a different skill or to stop completely for the day. Usually when I come back in a week whatever I was struggling with comes to me almost instantly.

Of course, this paradigm doesn’t just apply to skill acquisition, motor learning, or training.

The two sectors of peoples lives most often affected by this mindset shift are their job and their relationships.

“Is this good for me, right now?”

If you are going to work every day and answering no, this is not good for me, I would wager your days at that job are numbered.

If almost every moment or engagement in a relationship results in a “not good” rating, I’d wager that relationship is coming to an end.

And why shouldn’t it? Time is your only non-renewable resource. It’s almost indisputably your most valuable resource. If what you’re doing isn’t good for you, it means you’re wasting time that could be spent on something that is good for you to do.

 

It’s Running Season, Don’t Make These Mistakes

The balmy spring weather we’ve been having this week has, in part, reminded me that it is again running and race season.

The other part of the reminder is that I’m starting to see the social media posts from people who are getting a hurt a week or two before the race they’ve been training for all spring. Not good. And I’ve learned, mostly preventable.

The single biggest mistake that I see runners make is overdoing their training mileage. There are many ways this manifests but the net net is simply too much training stress for the available recovery ability. Lifters are guilty of this too, but at least in recent years the understanding of sub-maximal training has become more prolific and I don’t see it as often.

To use a lifting analogy, you don’t ever need to pull 600lbs in training to pull 600lbs in a meet. In fact, you might not even need to dip into the 500s.

So for runners you’ll see runners training for a marathon running upwards of 20 miles before the actual race, and it’s totally unnecessary and usually results in injury.

Here are three articles with you that go over both theory and application of a better way to train:

Endurance Training with Gym Movement is a high-level overview of how to usebiofeedback in your endurance training.

Tapering, You’re Doing it Wrong explains why many people and many programs approach tapering incorrectly and it leaves you flagging on race day instead of fresh and ready to accomplish a new level of performance.

The 5-run Marathon is an account of how, under extreme circumstances, I prepared a runner for a marathon with only 5 runs over 16 days.

If there’s one idea that I want you to take away from each of these is the idea that all you need is the minimal effective amount of stress to induce adaptation – any more and the cost is too high, any less (not usually the issue) and you don’t see improvement.

Even if you have no interest in ever running a marathon or anything like it these ideas can still be applied to improve your overall cardiovascular health and adaptability.

How Constraints Help You Make Better Decisions

How Constraints Help You Make Better Decisions

In the early 1970s the United States Air Force issued a request for defense contractors to design and a new advanced lightweight fighter jet. A team from General Dynamics would go on to design the F-16 Fighting Falcon which is still in use today by over 25 countries and is widely considered the most effective and best-designed air combat fighter ever designed.

Long time readers will know what a fan of military strategist and engineer John Boyd I am, and may recognize him as the originator of the O.O.D.A loop, a model for approaching decision making in everything from design to combat. What you may not know is that John Boyd was one three members of the Fighter Mafia that made the F-16 what it is.

If there is one way to summarize how these three men designed the greatest fighter jet the world has ever seen it’s to understand how they constrained the design and decision making.

The first contraint that Boyd introduced was that it had to use a particular engine. That simplified a lot of their design decisions, but it also meant that certain parameters like the amount of power available were fixed from the beginning. If they wanted more speed, they’d have to make a lighter and smaller aircraft. The result contributed to incredible power-to-weight ratio that made it extraordinarily maneuverable.

The second constraint was that they wanted it to have long range, but refused to do what you typically would do to increase range which is to increase the amount of fuel it can carry. Instead they again focused on making it more aerodynamic, lighter, and smaller. Think of this in a way like the difference between a super-heavyweight lifter and a weight class lifter. The weight-constrained lifters are shredded and boast incredible strength-to-weight ratios. The unconstrained lifters have extreme strength, but they’re encumbered in nearly every other way by their size.

The third important constraint is that this wasn’t a blank-check project. They were to design a $3 million dollar plane, which is a hell of a lot of money, but in terms of a combat aircraft it is pennies. As a result they couldn’t add all the bells and whistles that would add size, weight, and complexity – they had to keep it simple.

Ultimately these three key (and other smaller) constraints allowed the designers to stay on a path that resulted in this legendary aircraft.

Setting constraints is counter-intuitive – you might think that limiting your options or freedom will make it harder to reach your goals. On the contrary, appropriate constraints make it easier make good decisions.

– Setting daily caloric or macro targets makes it easy to lose or gain weight, but still gives you the freedom to eat whatever you want. Or, flipping that, constraining the types of foods you eat usually limits your intake as well as a result.

– Having a training program planned out ensures that the unlimited variety of options in the gym doesn’t overwhelm you but still gives you the flexibility to make adjustments on the fly.

– Planning your day out with specific activities at certain times virtually always ensures that you get more done than a day when you have nothing planned and you could have done anything. Bumpers keep you out of the gutter.

Take a minute to look at what you’re trying to achieve or create and whether or not you’ve put appropriate constraints around it so that you’re setup for success. If you haven’t, time to limit your options.

Stop Trying to Get Fit

Stop Trying to Get Fit

I see them almost every day. Articles with titles like “10 Reasons You’re Not Fit Yet”, “If You Want to Be Fit, Do These Things” , and “The Surprising Reason You Aren’t Fit”.

Fitness as an objective state of being does not exist. It’s not a thing. It’s not real. There’s your surprising reason.

No matter where you start and no matter what you do there is not a situation in which you wake up from one day to the next, look in the mirror or jump on the scale or go for a run and go “I did it. I am fit.” My friend and comedian Joe Larson does this little bit where he talks about the gym not working because he keeps going and he never gets fit.

Fitness enthusiasts and people who work in this space love to have discussions and arguments on Facebook complete with lots of hand-wringing and responses formed in such a way that you can tell the author is pretty sure they’ve made their argument so eloquently that they’ve finally found the perfect way to define it.

But it doesn’t mean anything. I can give you some arbitrary definitions, like being able to deadlift twice your body weight, do a few pull-ups, run 3 miles in under 30 minutes and then I can promptly find someone who I would consider “fit” who can’t do one or more of those things. I could then abstract it totally away from exercise movements and say something like you’re fit if you can go for a several-hours-long hike without getting winded or carry a couch up a flight of stairs but it would still be arbitrary and ultimately meaningless.

Which wouldn’t be such a big problem if the idea of “achieving” fitness wasn’t sold as such an objective end point. Something you can succeed or fail at and once you’ve achieved it somehow things change for you. It becomes a thing that some have and other’s don’t. I don’t want that for anybody.

Time For A Language Change

I’ve written several times before about how changing the language you use can change your frame of reference and frame of mind. Here’s another one for you:

Out with fitness, in with better.

You’re only one day away from better.

When you make the pursuit of better your goal, instead of the pursuit of “fitness” then you are winning every single day. Every workout, every lift, everything you do that moves you forward and makes you better.

In changing the entire frame of the conversation to being about better you do away with the idea that fitness is a video game to be beaten by mastering all the levels and defeating the end boss to rescue the princess. You just get better, you get more capable, you get to do more things with more ease. And you never have to wonder if you’ve arrived yet.

Why Does This Even Matter?

Because this matters so much more than most of the stuff we spill gallons of digital ink on in the fitness and training world. Beyond covering the absolute basics of doing productive exercises and making it progressively harder your actual sets and reps don’t matter that much, the minutia of your program probably doesn’t matter, the movements you choose don’t make much difference, it doesn’t matter if you combine your lifting with your cardio, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. It’s all splitting hairs.

But the fact that humans need movement and to be physically challenged is not up for debate.

What matters is whether or not you’ll actually make the effort on a regular basis to challenge yourself physically with some kind of stimulus. And what will have the most profound impact on whether or not you do that is your frame of mind towards it, therefore the language you use to talk and think about it.

Sleep – The Ultimate Performance Enhancing Drug

Sleep – The Ultimate Performance Enhancing Drug

Sleep is the ultimate performance enhancing drug. If you could bottle up all the benefits of sleep in a side-effect free drug you’d have the first trillion dollar drug. Most people only get about four-fifths of the sleep they need. Which doesn’t sound so bad until you think about the chronic cumulative effects. What if your salary was cut by 20%? The immediate effects would be bad enough, but imagine what it would do to your retirement savings.

Lack of sleep can even affect your genetics. One recent study showed that people who slept for less than seven hours per night had an increased genetic risk for obesity. But how is this possible, aren’t your genes encoded at birth? Yes – and you can modify the interpretation of them with your lifestyle choices.

I protect my sleep fiercely. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a 9-10, sometimes 11 hours of sleep a night guy. Despite my best attempts I usually get to bed around 10, which means I’m usually up around 9. I take quick naps in the mid-afternoon often. While I’d love to be one of those people who can get away with 5-6 hours, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen for me, it’s just not in my genetics. But on the flip side, I reap the myriad benefits of all that sleep.

Sleeping better is accessible to almost everyone, but you’re going to have to do the fairly mundane work of basic sleep hygiene that you’ve been ignoring in the hopes of finding a sleep hack.

Environment

First let’s talk about your bedroom. You need a comfortable mattress. Sure you can buy one of those hip mattresses advertised on Facebook, but I think it’s worth taking it a step further considering you will literally spend a third of your life sleeping on it. Consider calling my friend Casey at Wildcat Mattress and telling him about your needs and preferences. Next you need to darken your room significantly. Buy room darkening roller blinds if you don’t already have blinds that block all outside light. They’re dirt cheap and incredibly effective. Finally, you need to be able to get your room down to a good sleeping temperature – between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your situation getting an extra window unit or wall-mounted air conditioner might be the most efficient and effective way to do this. Our current house has central A/C but I still have a Haier ultra-quiet window unit because it’s both more effective and more efficient than trying to chill my entire house down to 60º. Temperature, light, mattress – fix these things.

Habits

Next you need to address the behavioral habits surrounding your sleep. If you watch TV or use electronics immediately before going to bed, you should probably stop. Research has shown that the predominantly blue (in terms of spectrum) light emitted by modern electronics is double plus ungood for sleep and may in fact cause other pathologies including eye issues. Amber-tinted glasses can help with this. Big picture though, it’s also best to wind down before sleep in a more natural manner.

Getting to sleep before 10pm is ideal, as most people will experience a bump in cortisol levels around that time if they’re not asleep yet – experienced as the well-known “second wind” you get late at night. This cortisol coming at the wrong time could be the cause of many downstream deleterious effects.

You’ll have to experiment and figure out for yourself if caffeine late in the day (or at any time of day) is a problem for your own sleep cycle. Between self-experimentation confirmed by genetic testing I know that I’m a caffeine “fast metabolizer” and it doesn’t affect me negatively if I have caffeine even as late after dinner. Your mileage might vary, and you might have to cut it out after noon.

Apps

Most (all?) sleep apps don’t truly measure your sleep, they sort of approximate it based on things that are easier to measure like how much you’re moving. Zeo was a company that actually measured your brain signals, but unfortunately they failed. BUT, I still think it’s worth using a sleep monitor app, even one as simple as Sleep Cycle because it brings your focus and attention to improving your sleep. It can also help you sort out variables that affect your sleep – such as when you’ve had caffeine or worked out.

Talk to Your Doc

If you’re more than 50 pounds overweight and/or snore significantly you should strongly consider asking your doctor for a sleep study. If you need a CPAP you’re probably not going to sleep well without one, so get it checked out.

Supplements

There are some supplements that can help with sleep. ZMA is one that could be beneficial, is pretty cheap, and is unlikely to have any ill effects. Melatonin is the most popular sleep supplement, and it’s worth experimenting with but you can become dependent on it so it’s best to back it out once you’ve normalized your sleep rhythm. Plus, supplementing with melatonin doesn’t do any good if you’re not covering the other basics first, and in fact it can totally backfire.

Ultimately, these steps are mundane. You’ve probably heard them before. If you were hoping for some sleep hacks you are disappointed. The good news is that means you haven’t done moved the simple and effective big rocks to improve your sleep, and you still stand to gain from the most effective actions.

Your Diet Needs To Be Different, No Matter What It Is

I don’t hope to convince you that the Paleo diet, the Atkins diet, a Precision Nutrition style model of eating, Primal eating, or vegetarianism is the best diet. In fact, I’d like you to believe that no matter what your current diet is you should change it – at least eventually.

If you’re a fitness enthusiast (and maybe even if you’re not) you will have noticed that trends in diet come and go in cycles. A decade ago, low-fat dieting was all the rage both in mainstream media as well as in bodybuilding circles. It seemed to pass the common-sense sniff test, “if you don’t eat fat, you won’t be fat.” This cycle lasted for many years, until a wide enough swath of bodybuilders realized they were trading major biological functions (mildly important things like, you know, sex drive) in exchange for keeping their fat intake so low.

Then the tide shifted towards predominantly low-carb dieting, with much higher fat intake. Naturally, this worked exceptionally well for a while as people learned that body fat is much more closely linked to carbohydrate intake (and the associated hormone responses) and that dropping carbs very low created rapid fat loss. Most recently, formerly low-carb evangelists have realized that carbs, too, are needed for healthy metabolic function. Having nowhere left to turn, with protein being sacred and realizing that neither fat nor carbs can be injudiciously eliminated from a diet, these folks are turning to more of a “everything in moderation” approach. But they’re still wrong.

A few years ago a couple bright, innovative authors and researchers proposed a very controversial idea. Brad Pilon and Martin Berkhan suggested that maybe, just maybe, you don’t need to eat the widely accepted 6 meals per day. In fact, these guys recommended fasting completely anywhere from 18 to 24 hours per day. People who have implemented this strategy have reported exceptional results, especially in fat loss. Those who came directly from a habit of eating meals every 3-4 hours often observe the most pronounced positive effects.

The shift from carbs to fat, and eating often to taking large breaks from eating has one major thing in common: change.

It’s not, contrary to the flawed understanding of many of the premature evangelists of these ideas, that any one of these macro dietary trends is necessarily better than the other. For example, when you’ve been eating low-carb for a long time and you begin to reintroduce carbs in your diet you will likely experience marked improvements in performance, body composition, and health. Your clone in opposite world will experience the same level of improvement when they reintroduce fat into their low fat diet. The point is that when you let the pendulum swing too far in any one direction, you can expect that a change of direction is going to happen – whether you like it or not. The people who try to maintain stability in the face of impending change are in for a world of pain.

Life, in a very real way, is chaos, change and the response to it. What separates you from a rock is that when a pick splits the rock in half the rock will never be whole again, much less bigger than whole. When you lift weights, your muscle is (figuratively) split in half and then put back together again – not only whole, but better than before. Nassim Taleb wrote what I consider to be one of the most important books of our time on this phenomenon, coining a new term for it: antifragile.

A champagne glass is fragile. A short fall from a low ledge will shatter it to pieces. It can’t handle any disorder.

A pint glass is still fragile, but a bit more robust. A fall from a ledge may not break it, but a fall from a table will create more disorder than it can ever recover from.

Your body is antifragile. If you looked at muscle and blood markers of distress after a workout, you would assume the body had suffered an injury. Some time later, everything would be back to normal and measurably better than before. An antifragile system does not suffer when disorder is introduced — it benefits from it.

Relentlessly sticking to a very specific and stable dietary philosophy is fragile. You will experience disorder and you will not be able to react to it. The disorder will be greater than your body can handle, and you’ll break. A recent and common example, that you can verify with a few minutes on Facebook or reading blogs in the fitness industry, is the extremely high prevalence of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Chronically low carbohydrate intake, as seen with rigid ideological low-carb dieting, often combined with high stress, is associated to serious thyroid dysfunction.

In nature, things move in waves – changing direction when they crest and trough. Biology can be explained by chemistry, chemistry can be explained by physics. An oversimplification to be sure, but it is our current understanding. We know that the very foundation of physics is the movement of matter through space in the form of waves. Waves carry energy. In a very real sense, change or lack of change carries energy. At a certain point it will take more energy to resist the change than it does to move with the change. The longer you resist the change, the bigger the correction will be when the change of direction finally occurs. Anyone who has seen a figure competitor binge after a contest like they just go out of a concentration camp can attest to this.

Perhaps you have experienced this yourself. You may have eaten a certain way for quite a while with either positive changes you wanted to see (such as fat loss) or no change at all if you were happy with your current state. Whatever you were doing, you might say it was working for you. At some point though, it stopped working. You stopped losing fat, maybe even started gaining weight even though you were eating the same way. This gets frustrating, so you increase the compliance with whatever you’re doing. If you’re eating low carb, you cut your carbs even lower. If you’re fasting, you fast even more often. If you’re eating many meals with high protein you eat even smaller meals and up your protein intake. Essentially, you apply more effort (no different than the first topic in this book) but it doesn’t work. It won’t work, because the entire system has changed. You don’t need to go further in the same direction, you need to go in an entirely different direction.

Whatever you are doing right now, whatever “works for you” in this moment, is not going to work forever. You should be prepared to change it, and in fact you have to be prepared to anticipate the change and shift before you’re forced to. The longer a system has been stable, the more unstable it is. Change will happen. Will you be ready to surf the wave, or will you be drowned by it?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are you eating the most of?
  2. What are you eating the least of? Could you eat more of that?
  3. How many different things, in different categories, do you eat?
  4. Are there things you can’t eat at all? Can you find a variation, or something close to what you can’t eat that you CAN eat? [Ex: You can’t drink milk, but you can eat hard cheese. Can you eat softer cheeses?]
  5. How often do you eat? Can you eat less often? More often?
  6. Can you eat large meals?
  7. Can you eat many small meals?
  8. Can you go 12 hours without food? 18? 24? 36?
  9. Can you operate at your highest level of performance eating low levels of carbohydrates?
  10. Can you operate at your highest level of performance eating low levels of fat?
  11. Can you operate at your highest level of performance eating low levels of protein?