Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Eating Strategies for Everybody

There is an absurdly overwhelming amount of information out there regarding nutritional strategies to follow. You can do cleanses and smoothies, eat raspberry ketones, shake some fucking powder on your food or drink the blood of a young cobra during the peak of the harvest moon.

Plain and simple: that stuff is all bullshit. People have known for a very long time that there is a pretty simple way to manage both your weight and your body composition. The buzzword for this that I'm going to throw at you is "carb manipulation". You may be familiar with other names like the ketogenic diet, the warrior diet or carb cycling.

This is more or less the idea that gave birth to the famed Atkins Diet. You eat more carbs and you get bigger/fatter. Eat fewer carbs and lose weight/get leaner. Simple, right? Well how did people start messing it up so much?

Mainly, because people are lazy and usually want to take the easy way out. "Well, I can just sprinkle some of this fucking powder on my loaded cheesey fries and boom I'll get my beach body!" Nobody wants to hear that they have to limit their delicious food choices because they "earned" those treats via some convoluted system in their brain.

Ok, so you're committed to changing your eating habits. Through some internet research you've figured out that there's approximately 42 different ways to manipulate your carbohydrate intake. They range from the simple variations such as carb backloading to the more aggressive carb nite. You can find a ton of information on both and see what you think for yourself.

The nice thing about carb manipulation is that it can truly be tailored to fit anyone in any situation. There are a myriad of benefits about managing your carbs during a day/week/month, but the most obvious one is your body composition. I'd love to tell you about your insulin levels, testosterone, inflammation and the effect on your autonomic nervous system but we both know you don't actually give a rats ass about it. And that's ok.

Let's say you usually eat carbs 4 times a day, every day, and your carb intake at each meal varies between 50-100g (we'll use an average of 75g). That's 300g of carbs in a day and 2100g of carbs in a week. That's a lot of carbs. If you were to follow a carb backloading style of eating and eat a whole buttload of carbs in one sitting at dinner you'd probably end up consuming 150g of carbs for the day and 1,050g for the week. A pretty substantial difference.

An even more aggressive strategy, Carb Nite, allows for 30g of (incidental) carbs per day for a week before you get one night of going HAM on whatever you want. Even if we don't consider the hormonal benefits of this, you'd probably end up consuming 600-700g of carbs that night which would be it for the week.

If you're interested in tailoring a carb manipulation strategy to your own eating, you can start off as slowly as you'd like. Limit carbs to two meals a day and only a set amount of carbs. Then start limiting your carbs to just one meal, or just after you exercise. Stay honest with yourself and don't stray from your strategy for several weeks (enough time to see some changes). Find out what works for you, your schedule and most importantly your personality. Trying to start an eating strategy that will be impossible for you to maintain is just setting yourself up for a failure that you don't need.

If you're one of the assholes lucky ones who is having a tough time gaining weight, then hold tight. I've got something for you too.

Start slow, be successful and see some progress. Then tailor your eating to meet your new goals!

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Willpower vs. Desire

One of the things that I personally think that I'm good at is the psychology of stuff behind fitness and strength and conditioning. I'm pretty good at getting inside peoples heads and knowing what it will take to help them succeed in achieving their goals. I spent 5 years working as a personal psychologist trainer and had to learn a ton of different tricks to employ when people were standing in the way of their own progress.

One of the things that I've been thinking about a lot lately is the difference between someone having the willpower to do something and having the desire to do something. It may seem like I'm splitting hairs to some of you, but I think there's a clear and significant difference between them.

Willpower, as I've come to see it, is a passive emotion. You can have the willpower to not eat the apple pie sitting in the fridge, but that is simply not doing anything about it. The pie will sit there and you will see it and say "nope". This is well-and-good for a short period of time, but eventually willpower will run out. That delicious concoction of apple and cinnamon and pastry will continue to sit there until you finally say "fuck it" and end up balls deep in in while watching Game of Thrones some night after work. Willpower works in the short term, but you can't trust it in the long run.

This is one of my favorite shirts from EliteFTS. Reason 1 is because it's a tri-blend and they hug your traps and lats in all the right ways. The second reason is because of the quote on the back: The will to conquer is the first condition of victory.  It's simple: in order to succeed, you have to be willing to do what you have to do.

This is when I first made the distinction between having the will to do something and having the desire to do it. When you desire to do something, it's an active emotion. You are consciously thinking "no, I'm not gonna eat that fucking pie". You're not just telling yourself "ok, I'm going to get to the gym today and that will be good", you're saying "I'm going to go to the gym and fucking crush it and make some changes".

Just having the willpower to do something isn't good enough. Find motivation (either intrinsically or extrinsically) that you need to go out and actively chase your fitness goals. You're not going to get leaner and stronger by sitting back and waiting for it to happen.

Have a good day and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How Strong Does Your Core NEED To Be?

Core training is obviously a very important aspect of a training program. Without a strong and stable core your athletes will have a tough time transferring power from their hips into any sort of ballistic movement. Instead, they will end up flaccidly flopping around and looking like a turd rather than an athlete.

I will finally concede that simply doing your basic barbell lifts is NOT adequate for core training. I will tell myself that doing heavy front squats, presses and pulls will help you develop a strong core (they will) but at the end of the day you need more than that ::sigh::.

So now that I will admit to needing more core training, what should you be doing? I've written before about my thoughts on core stability training rather than training your core dynamically. You should be training your core with standard planks, bodysaws, various anti-rotation presses and isometric holds, stir-the-pots, heavy farmers walks and long farmers walks (uni- and bi-lateral, overhead, etc). I could go on and on, but I don't want to. The point is that there are a ton of appropriate exercises to be doing, you just need to pick the right ones for you/your clients and athletes and apply them. If your athlete can't hold a standard plank without a ton of lordosis then they probably shouldn't be doing a stir-the-pot or ab wheel rollout quite yet.

This brings me to the actual point of this post: how strong does your core NEED to be? I'm asking an actual question, not setting myself up to make some grand point. Is there an upper limit to the efficacy of some of the core exercises that we can all see out there? Does training yourself to go from a bi-lateral standing rollout to a contra-lateral standing rollout significantly increase your performance in any fashion? Or is it just fucking cool? I feel like once you've increased your core strength and stability to being able to do a hand walkout on two PVC pipes, you should be pretty much good to go regarding your core strength, right? I've seen some circus tricks being passed off as core exercises and just can't find a time or a place that I'd ever actually consider putting them into a program for someone.

As I sit here and right this, I wonder if I'm not approaching it with too much of a civilian attitude. I use Mark Bell's phrase "strength is never a weakness" pretty often, and maybe I just need to remind myself that it applies to core training as well. If you're still able to make your core stronger through exercises that look ridiculous, then maybe it's still worthwhile.

I'm conflicted. Once athletes are able to perform certain core exercises without any level of difficulty I often find it difficult to continue programming any serious amount of core work. I'll still include a few exercises, but I'd much rather use that time to focus on something else that they can continue to see solid improvement with (conditioning, body comp, power, technique).

It's a question I've been pondering in my head for quite a while, and I've mostly made up my mind. However, I love learning and I'm interested to hear anybody's thoughts on the subject! Let me know what you think! Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!