Thursday, March 29, 2012

Body Image

We all know that eating disorders and exercise disorders are pretty common. These get a lot of attention because of their prevalence in society. A less well-known subject, however, is Body/Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder. Body Dysmorphia certainly plays a role in both eating and exercise disorders, but it can also be a stand-alone disorder.

Who has body dysmorphia? I'd suggest damn near everybody has it on some level (mostly mild). People seem to often think that it is something that only afflicts adolescent females, but I'd beg to differ. In fact, one of the biggest populations of body dysmorphia is the bodybuilding group. I know that I deal with some light dysmorphia on a nearly daily basis.

What is Body Dysmorphia? It's a mental illness that is caused by a combination of factors: biological, psychological and environmental. It generally manifests itself as an excessive preoccupation with ones appearance, especially focusing on one particular "defect" (whether real or perceived). On the extreme end you can get someone who, as a result, suffers from severe depression, social anxiety and even suicidal tendencies. On the mild end, you get guys like me. Someone who just tends to be unhappy with the way their body looks.

I used to just think that I was a "perfectionist", and that it was good that I was striving towards something. I've realized recently that it's probably something a little more than that. How does my issue manifest itself? It's a little complicated, really. I'll see myself sans clothing in the mirror, and be happy with myself, proud even. I'll see myself in a mirror in clothes, and be happy with what I see. In the mirror while I'm working out? Happy again. So far so good, right? The problem arises when I think about the way that people must see me. Suddenly I feel like this guy:

In my head, I have a fat gut, no chest and bird legs. Intellectually, I know this isn't true. I'm 6 feet tall, 200 pounds and about 13% body fat. I know I'm doing ok for myself. Why, then, do I constantly have a negative image about myself in my own head? What is it that I think I should look like? Who are the people that a fairly strong, educated personal trainer looks to as "ideals"?

Obviously, athletes and Alphas!

King Leonidas
The Rock
Todd Duffee
What do all these guys have in common? They are built for performance. Their bodies are built to work, they aren't dealing with the "All show, no go" syndrome. 

I know I'm on the right track, and I know I'm doing well. I'm not unhappy with my body, I just have a skewed view of it sometimes. I wrote this post specifically so that people would know that it's not just them, we all have some little obstacles in our way. Teenage girls who want to look like Posh Spice aren't the only ones dealing with this stuff.

Have a good day, and please go lift something heavy!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Catch up on life

I stopped blogging for, like, a week. So sue me. I'm only a human, after all, and every now and then I lose my mojo. Shit happens, right? The important thing is that I'm back in the saddle.

First things first; you may have read in another post, but I have a new nephew!! Drew was born Saturday night (what a lucky partially Chinese/Irish kid, born on St. Patricks day in the year of the Dragon). He came out at 9.5 pounds of pure Man, and both he and my sister are resting and recovering very well. I am extremely happy to have him be a part of my family's life now, especially since my sister and I are so close. I'm very proud of her; she has been doing a beautiful job of being a mom!

Next topic: my training. Dan, my training partner, and I have started up a program using the Advanced German Volume Training template. This is a moderately advanced program, and it's been brutal so far. I won't go into the boring details, but essentially we train 3 times per week. Two upper body days and one lower body day. Each day we do one superset of exercises (example: incline barbell bench and bent over row) and the superset is 10 sets of 5 reps. It's a butt-load of volume with a pretty low number of reps. This means the benefits we should see from the program will be mostly strength oriented, with some added size being a bonus. This programming feels more sustainable than some of the stuff that we have done in the past. I think it has found the gray area between hypertrophy and strength training that is applicable to us right now.

To go along with the lifting program, we are also trying a pretty popular/trendy style of eating right now: Intermittent Fasting. Intermittent Fasting is a nutritional protocol that was researched and popularized by Dr. John Berardi, a pretty well-known name in this industry. He certainly did not create this protocol; it has been around in one form or another for quite some time. In other time's it has been known as the Warrior Diet, Leangains and Alternate Day Fasting. These are all variations of the same theme, but Dr. Berardi put, arguably, the most detail into his research and application of Intermittent Fasting. For our purposes, we will be doing a 14-16 hour fast (including sleep) which usually puts my first meal at noon-time. I then go into a 4 hour "under feed" time where I get in a meal with some protein and fat and green veggies (think scrambled eggs with spinach and cheese). After this 4 hour period (usually this is when I train), I go into a 4-5 hour "over feed" time when I really just load in the calories; this is the feast portion of the fast. I load up on carbs and protein and good fats, and will even allow for some delicacies not normally eaten (dessert??). I've just started to explore this style of eating, so I don't have a lot of information to report yet. Soon enough, though.

Spring has sprung here in Boston, and that means more time outside, which I love. My walking time with my pup Lexi will be increased exponentially, and hopefully I'll get to spend a few weekends down the Cape before the house gets rented out. All in all, things are ok. No complaints out of me (complaining doesn't do me a lick of good anyway.)

Thanks for reading, have a great day. Go lift some heavy shit, please!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Decline of Men

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about how weakness and mediocrity are suddenly acceptable and even emphasized in today's society. I now can't help but wonder about the amazing decline of Men themselves. How did we get to this point?

This whole idea of what really makes a Man took on a whole new meaning for me this past Saturday when I became an Uncle for the first time. My sister is my best friend, and I couldn't be happier for her and her husband. They have blessed our family with a beautiful baby boy, and we are all very grateful that Mom and baby are happy and healthy. One of my own Uncles' played an enormous role in my upbringing and helped shaped me into the Man I am today. He was essentially a second father figure to me, even though my own father was always around. I was blessed to have two great male role models in my life, and I know that I am a better Man because of it. I'm going to do everything that I can to instill the values into my nephew that I hold dearly.

Society, as a whole, is breeding an inferior Man than we used to. The number of Men I know and meet are fewer and fewer; the number of babies and boys I meet are increasing at a rapid rate. What makes a Man? Self-respect (as well as respect for others), personal responsibility, loyalty, a sense of humor, humility, passion as well as the ability to be compassionate and communicative. Read this list, understand it. See if you can understand why I think that is what makes a man a Man.

What kind of men do we have today? We have men who care more about their kill:death ratio in Call of Duty then if they are making their relationship work. We have men who will remain jobless for months on end, rather than try to do something with their lives and risk failing. We have men for whom family is such a small concern that they can brush them aside like someone they barely know. There are men who are too scared to fight for someone or something they are passionate about. 

Society today coddles these "men". We provide unemployment for people that don't need to be unemployed. We give them loans so they can buy nice cars and TV's so they can continue living a comfortable lifestyle. It's no longer important that a man try and be the best he can be; we allow him to be just mediocre. It's easier to not try then to give it your best shot and risk failing. As a society, we have become accepting of that. 

Back to my list; why do I think these are the things that qualify you as a Man? First and foremost is self-respect. I think this is a pretty all-compassing trait. If you have self-respect, you won't end up weighing 500 pounds. You will have healthy relationships. You won't let yourself waste your time on things that don't matter. You won't let yourself accrue a huge amount of debt. You will have goals and the ability to achieve them. Next comes personal-responsibility; to me, this means that you understand everything that happens to you is because of you. You are exactly where you are as result of your own actions or inactions. It's not anyone else's fault. You didn't fail that class because of the professor. Your boss isn't the reason you didn't get that promotion. It's no one else's fault that the girl didn't want you. It's all on you. Loyalty is not necessarily the act of being loyal to a person (people come and go), but also being loyal to a value. Whatever it is that is important to you in your life, you have the ability to be loyal to it. Your diet, your job, your family, your wife: if it means that much to you, you're going to do whatever is necessary to protect those things and stick by them. 

What Man could be complete without humor or humility? You need to know when is the right time to relax and have some fun, and more importantly you need to know when is the right time to admit that you don't know something, or need help with something. Everybody needs help once in a while; being a Man means being able to ask for it. Finding the ability to be both compassionate and communicative means that you will always be able to understand someone else's path, and be able to help them navigate that path when they ask you for help. I think that the ability to help someone else is even more important than being able to ask for help.

Finally, we come to passion. This is something that I see lacking in the vast majority of men nowadays. Nobody has enough passion for something to be willing to fight tooth and nail for it. If men today spent as much time working towards their passion (be it a career, a woman or just a goal) as they spend on their leisure activities (video games, drinking) then we would find our society in a different place. I've said it before and I'll say it again; passion trumps everything. If you're passionate about your career, you'll be a success. If you're passionate about the woman, she'll believe in you. If you're passionate about a goal, you'll attain it.

How does all this translate into what I see in the gym every day? Guys are too scared to try something they aren't good at it. They want to do whatever is safe and easy and won't make them stand out. Since everybody else is doing it, it must be right. The current generation of 20 and 30-somethings have been so coddled that they don't know how to work hard for something. Beyond that, they have been filled with this God-awful sense of entitlement that makes them think they shouldn't even have to work hard. Working hard is the fun part. Making mistakes is how you know you're getting better. 

I know I'm not the best Man out there, but I'm working on it. I'm making a conscious effort to do what is necessary to be as good a Man as I am capable of. Frankly, I think I do a pretty good job of it.

Do something special today. Be the best Man, or (wo)Man, that you can be.

Future Alpha Male

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Road to Glory

Interestingly, I don't know that I've ever written about how I got to where I am today. It's been an interesting journey for me; one that is not without its share of bumps in the road. Want to find out how I got here? Read on.

I was always a tall guy, but physically my body fell somewhere between mesomorph and endomorph. I was always an athlete, and played any sport that was available. Just like every other fitness guy, I spent lots of time on the back porch dicking around with my sand-filled weight set; doing endless reps of bench press and biceps curls with very little to show for it. When I was playing a lot of sports, I'd stay pretty lean without trying, and when I was being inactive it showed. When I left UMass Amherst and worked in a greenhouse, my walking-around weight was probably around 175. I was very active at that job, and all the food I put into my body got burned up right away. After a few years of that, I took a desk job for the first time in my life, but didn't make a great adjustment to it. My then-girlfriend and I had a once-weekly ritual called "Fat Thursday". We would, along with my sister, get Thai food and Coldstone's ice cream and sit on the couch and watch Thursday night TV. It was our pre-determined time to hang out together and relax, and it got us fucking fat. This ritual got me up to my heaviest, about 230 pounds of chewed bubblegum. I looked gross and felt awful. There was some time when I would go see my parents, and my dad would make fun of me for being fat. I thought he was just being a dick, until one day I was in the car and realized that I could feel my stomach fat hanging over the seatbelt.

We made changes. We cut the Fat Thursdays and started eating better. The company I worked for was subsidizing 50% of the gym membership for the place downstairs, so I joined up. I read a little bit here and there on-line and got some ideas about the right things to do (although, in retrospect, I did all the wrong things). One of the things that I did do well was interval training. Four or five times a week, I would go downstairs and crush 20 minutes of 30:90 intervals. I'd go back upstairs to work and have a salad with a bunch of chicken for lunch. Within a few months I was down to about 200 pounds. At that point, one of my best friends asked me what I was planning on doing with life. I had no idea. He was at Bridgewater State College doing there Physical Education program, and suggested I look into something similar. I checked around and found out that UMass Boston had an Exercise and Health Science program. I applied and got in. I knew what I wanted to do with my life? I left my 9-5 job and went back to school, spending the first semester just doing school and not working; ultimately having a very successful first semester back. I then got a front desk job at the new gym opening up in my neighborhood, which would allow me plenty of time to work and do school. Everything was going just perfectly...then she dumped me.

I went on the whiskey diet for a few weeks and got pretty skinny (skinny, not lean). During the dark weeks, plus the ensuing exercise binge, I got back down to about 180 pounds of skinny-fat goodness. This is when my education really began. I found some sources of information on-line about the right way to do things. I found T-Nation, which led me to the demi-Gods of strength and conditioning; Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, Charles Poliquin, Dan John and Mike Boyle. These guys and their seemingly endless supply of articles were the resource I needed to get things on the right track. I started deadlifting and squatting and sprinting. Gone were the biceps curls and tricpes kickbacks, replaced with loaded chins and close-grip pressing. Scap wall-slides and foam rolling replaced arm circles overhead triceps stretches as my go-to warm ups. I made progress; not a lot of progress, but I was moving forward. I was eating better and doing the correct lifts. Over the course of some time doing my own "programming" I managed to work my way up to a 340 pound deadlift, while pretty much maintaining my bodyweight at 180. I was getting stronger, but my body composition wasn't changing very much. I was kind of doughy. That's when I got my golden ticket; Cressey's blog was asking for volunteers to be guinea pigs for his new program. Did I want free programing from one of the top names in the industry? Does a bear shit in the woods? I've posted these pictures before, but they are worth posting again.

I went from 180 pounds to 190 pounds while doing Show and Go, and ended up being able to see my abs. I also added 50 pounds to my deadlift, maxing out at 390. I would've hit 405, I think, except I planned out my attempts poorly. Pretty good gains, if you ask me. I also learned quite a bit about programming through Show and Go. It taught me the importance of creating physical balance through unbalanced programming, as well as providing a very clear understanding of the importance of varying volume and intensity throughout the course of a program.

The next stage was a little tougher, I had a few training related injuries there were tough to work around. I did something to my right bicep while deadlifting, and it rendered me nearly useless for almost 3 months. I came back to the gym and started getting in some pretty good work, getting strong again little by little. I was sort of homeless at that point, not doing any one program, but utilizing strategies by a few different coaches. I finally came across something to try, and spent some time doing The Superhero Workout, by John Romaniello. It was a pretty cool program, and there were some things I liked about it and some things I didn't enjoy. I, embarrassingly, didn't finish that program, but jumped right into a few months of hypertrophy programming from Christian Thibaudeau. I saw some results, and enjoyed it for a little bit, but was thrilled to return to some strength programming.

This all brings me to my current point; I'm doing some programming written by my training partner Dan, and seeing some good increases. We have been spending a lot of time working on our mobility as well as our Olympic lifting. My most recent maxes are: 415 deadlift, 275 front squat, 265 bench (with pause) and 205 push press at a bodyweight of 200 pounds. Nothing amazing, but nothing to sneeze at. I'd like to get all these numbers up, but as it stands I can walk into most gyms and not be the weak guy; I won't be the strongest guy there either, though. I'm still a semester away from graduating (finally) and I know that I still have a lot of work ahead of me. A recent seminar that I attended did a good job of humbling me and lighting a fire under my ass to spend more time learning about things I suck at. I have a pretty good idea of where I want to be and the road that I need to take to get there. It's not going to be easy, but nothing worth having ever is. I've made some mistakes along the way, and there are some things that I wish I would have done differently, but I understand that it was all just part of the growing process, and that I still have a lot more growing to do.

Now you know my story; go do something worth remembering today.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Yeah, I took a few days off from blogging. I had no muse; nothing was inspiring me. I realized what I wanted to write about just this morning as I was getting ready to start my day. 

One of my classes this semester is called "Practicum in Adult Fitness". What it comes down to, is allowing the students in my concentration (Fitness Instruction and Management) to actually get some experience training someone. One of the things I think my program is missing is more hands on classes, so this is great. Another reason it is great is because I've been training people for almost three years at this point, so I'm fairly confident that I'll be successful with this course. I had to mentally get over the little hump of doing something for free that I normally get paid for; but whatever. It's part of the class and there is nothing that I can do about it. I met my client, a faculty member, last week and we set up our times to meet. Turns out the time that works best for her is 8 a.m. on Monday and Wednesday. No big deal, I do morning sessions all the time. The thing that sucks, though, is that I don't have class until 1, sometimes 2 in the afternoon. So I end up stuck at school for 4-5 hours with nothing to do. Yes, I know that I can use this time to do homework (Who are you, my Mom?)  but to be honest, there just really isn't that much homework for me to do this semester. I can fill the time pretty easily; work out, reading blogs, writing blogs, hell I can even bring my headphones and watch some Netflix. But the real killer for me is food.

Now, I don't necessarily buy into the "eat every 2 hours" idea; but the fact is that I get hungry about every 2-3 hours. I'm a big man, I have a big hunger. "So go to the cafeteria and stop whining" you are probably saying. Well, if I go to the cafeteria to eat, that means I have to eat the dogshit that they serve. Not that it tastes bad, but it's just garbage food. Even if I do choose the best options there, it's going to cost me fifteen bucks to put a reasonable amount of food into my body. That's just not kosher with me. So, I have to pack food. I bring a nice little cooler with me and leave it in the car. Last week I tried bringing a meal that I would have to go heat up, and that didn't work well. That's a pain in the ass. So today I brought all stuff that I can eat cold. I had coffee on the way to my session, and then right afterwards I had a second coffee, with a big thing of greek yogurt with fresh blueberries and frozen cherries with an apple. My second "meal" will be a protein shake (made with whole milk), a package of cashews/almonds/dried cranberries and a Larabar. Not ideal, but certainly not bad. All in all, it's a little higher in carbs than I would prefer, and a little low in protein. My biggest source of protein, until I get home, is my protein shake (coming in at about 50 grams). I should have hardboiled some eggs last night, but I got lazy. I'll have to do that tonight or tomorrow so that I can have some of those Wednesday morning when I come in for my session. All in all, it's really not a big deal. I have to change my eating habits for a few weeks, but it bugs me. I get very set in my routines. God forbid I don't get to eat my 6 scrambled eggs and bacon. 

Thanks for listening to me rant. Go be awesome today, do something you're proud of. Lift some heavy shit!