Thursday, March 31, 2016

5 Training/Diet "hacks" that work good AF

Control your environment for diet control - 

When I was working in IT, much like the movie office space, we all had cubicles.  And because you can simply walk up and down the aisles and peer into co-workers cubes, I always felt like I got a little bit of insight as to their life.  Or at least, a snapshot in time.

For the co-workers I was good friends with, it never failed that when they were struggling with problems at home or otherwise, their cubicles tended to be messier and far more cluttered in that time.

This is just my own personal observation and nothing more than some anecdotal evidence, but I feel the correlation is strong.  Kinda like the woman going through heartache is likely to sit at home and eat a whole pan of brownies and throw discipline right out the window during that time.

While not always being the case, our environment that we control like our house or workspace, is often a reflection of our headspace and emotions at that time.  After all, it's hard to clean up and get everything neat and tidy while your personal world is being turned upside down.  So you literally turn everything around you upside down, or leave it in that state while your mind and emotions are occupied in a similar manner.

There was a study done a while back on this very thing.  100 women were asked to come in and sit down in either a messy or cluttered kitchen, and write an essay about either a time their life felt in control, or out of control.  The women who sat in the cluttered kitchen were asked to write about a time they felt out of control in their life, and the ones that sat in the clean kitchen were asked to write about a time they felt in control of their life.

The women were given snacks to eat while they wrote.  The ones that sat in the cluttered kitchen ate more than twice as many cookies as the ones that sat in the clean kitchen.

Some might dismiss this study because of all the quality control or blah blah blah, but I think it's right on point.

When your mind is occupied by feelings of having your shit together, and your environment is a reflection of that, discipline tends to easier, and willpower will be strong.

When your mind is occupied by feelings of chaos and discontent, and your environment reflects that, our other habits will reflect that as well.

As humans, it seems, whatever is at the core of us...whatever is driving our thoughts, emotions, and controlling our mind tends to reverberate throughout every other aspect of our behavior.

Fuck it, might as well eat all the cookies

Focus, or lackthereof, tends to cascade off into every direction of what we have control over.  Our words, actions, thoughts, and habits.

So it shouldn't be of any surprise that the women who were writing about feeling out of control sitting in a messy room would be more inclined to loosen the reigns on eating, and throw more caution into the wind.

I can tell you from experience that when life is really in the shitter it's very hard to find the mental energy or desire to clean everything up around you.  But I can also tell you this; when my own house is very neat and tidy that I do in fact work more efficiently, and seem to have my "shit together" better.

The next time your life feels out of control, remember this - there are still things you have control over.  And the truth is, those are the things you should be putting your energy into.  Because what's the point in sitting around worrying about things you literally have no control over?  All it does is keep you from being as efficient and organized in your life as you can be.

So if you are trying to clean up your diet, and be strict in your eating, literally stop and take a look around at the environments you are spending time in.  If your house is a mess, clean that fucker up.  If your workspace is a mess, clean that fucker up.

Take back control over the things you have the power over, and try to let go of the worries about things you cannot change.  I know this can be hard to do, but actually focusing on the things you can change, will help you find clarity in regards to the things you can't.

Listen to relaxing music while doing lunges -

I've written about this many times, but of course lots of people don't see everything I write, so here it is again.

I love lunges.  I think they are one of the most underrated movements you can do.  They have been hi-jacked by women trying to build glutes and legs and get "toned".  But the fact is, lunges are a great economy movement.

By economy I mean they do a lot of great things all at once.

They improve mobility, create balance throughout the lower body, stretch the hip flexors, and are great for pretty much every muscle from the hams to glutes to quads.

Many moons ago, I somehow ended up having some easy listening ballad type shit come on my Pandora during the end of my leg session.  This would normally be something I'd thumbs down during training as my usual selection is hard, fast paced metal.

But this shit came on during the middle of my set of lunges.  And I found myself lunging, and lunging, and lunging.  After my set, I actually added an easy listening/soft rock station and went back to lunging.  And sure enough I could do far more lunges than I had usually been doing.

It made total sense to me afterwards.

Adrenaline driving music, the kind that helps you "get up" for a big set of squats or deadlifts is great because naturally, you tend to get tighter all over and feel that rush of "crush-kill-destroy" while it's playing.

And this is good.

You need to be amped up and tight as fuck during those big movements.

But for lunging, the fact is staying tight as hell tends to zap you of energy a lot faster than if you're keeping the rest of your body very relaxed.

I likened it to fighting.  When you're sparring, the tighter you stay the faster you're going to gas.  You only  "turn it on" for a split second during a combination thrown, a punch or kick here or there.  But you must learn to stay relaxed if you want to have the energy explode when the moment calls for it.

Lunging isn't much different.  If your upperbody is tight and tense, then that's energy expended that has nothing to do with the part of the body you're actually trying to work.

You should stay upright during lunges, of course.  But you need to stay upright in fighting as well.  I mean, I've never seen someone fight bent over with floppy spaghetti noodle arms.

The key is staying upright, but keeping the torso mostly relaxed.   And what I found was, with the easy listening type music (and no I don't give a shit what kind of easy listening you use), I relaxed better, breathed better (instead of holding my breathe like in squats or pulls), and was able to do about twice as many lunges as usual than I was doing before.

Much like how we reflect our environment and how it's a reflection of us, music in training can and does play a big part in where our mind goes.  If you've ever left your headphones at home and had to listen to awful gym music you're very aware of this.  Your own music that resonates with you, and can give you that surge of focus and adrenaline can help drive you to a PR or to power through a hard set.

In this case, back off the head decapitating stuff, and throw on some relaxing shit and you'll notice a big difference.  I've had multiple people try this and they always laugh at the difference it makes.  So give it a whirl.

Put all of your big movements last in the workout - 

I've been doing this for quite some time, and without fail when someone checks my Instagram for my training log for the day, I will get asked why I am doing my squats and other big movements after all of the other stuff.

Their retort to my "why not?" response is generally the same, not-well-thought-out one.

"Because I have more energy at the beginning of the workout when I can use more weight."

This is true.  However, my stance on muscle growth is that training frequency may be the biggest player in the paradigm of intensity, volume, and frequency.  The more often you can get into the gym, and stimulate growth - and recover from it- then faster you're going to grow.

Of course, this means you have to train very hard.  You can't just go into the gym and do some bullshit sets a bunch of times a week and expect to get mad gainz.  But doing your big movements first, where you're using as much bar weight as possible, tends to play havoc on the systemic recovery curve.

Whether you believe this or not, growth is not determined by how much you're lifting, but by a myriad of other factors that can and do impact hypertrophy.  You can grow off of sets of 5, and you can grow off of sets of 20.  Obviously the intensity (weight on the bar) is going to be much lower during a set of 20 than a maximal set of 5, but do three months of hard as fuck 20 rep squats and tell me if your legs don't grow.  In fact, I'd bet money they grow more than during all the months you did sets of 5.

With all of that said, if I want to train hard more frequently, then I have to weigh in the intensity, frequency, volume factors to meet the demands for recovery.

I've covered this before, but here it is again....

Two of these can be high, but the third needs to be down regulated.

If volume and frequency is high, then intensity needs to be lowered.

So if I want to train often, with a high degree of volume, then the weight on the bar needs to be lowered so that from a systemic standpoint, I'm recovering enough to meet the other variables.

And this is why I have moved almost all of my big compound movements into the end of my training sessions.  Because I still believe they have the greatest amount of value from a growth perspective, but if I want to be in the gym often, doing a lot of work, I can't be suffering from workout hangover because I went heavy on everything.  Remember, there is localized muscle recovery (which is fairly fast), and systemic recovery (the various nervous systems involved in training).

What I have found is that when I move my big movements to the end of my training, I can use far less weight, yet still bust ass on them and benefit from them.  So while using 405 for squats may seem "inferior" than using 500-600 for them, all my legs know is they are having to work exceptionally hard to move that 405 pounds.  At the same time, it's still 405 vs 500-600 pounds, and I wholly believe that from a systemic standpoint the impact on recovery is far less.

Another great example of this is front squats vs back squats.  You can take a maximal set of front squats to failure at 8 reps, but if it's at 365 pounds vs doing back squats to failure with say, 500 pounds, don't you think there is a difference from a systemic recovery standpoint?

I do.  I don't need a study for this.  I've seen it in my training.

So if you want to train hard, and often, be mindful of these factors, and do some pre-exhaustive work before your big movements and you will notice a massive difference in how you "feel" each day recovery wise.  You should be able to train more often, without feeling run down all the time.

To add, I don't care what you pre-exhaust with.  Just think in terms of more single joint movements, or "small" movements that put more tension on a very direct area than spreading it across a large degree of musculature.  So before you ask "what are your recommendations for...", well there they are.

Go in and experiment.

Avoid temptation one time at the grocery store, instead of every night at your house -

I wrote this on my Facebook page last week, but hey let's cover it one more time (and props to the guy who gave me the bolded title for this part).

I can't tell you how many messages or e-mails I get a week from people who blow their diet, or have trouble staying disciplined to what they are supposed to eat, and it's not always the weekend binging (but I will get to that as well).

It's not always the going out to eat on the weekends, or getting wasted at Bob's big kegger that weekend.  It's most often, shit they are eating out of their own pantry.

And my first thought when I hear this "how is that shit in there in the first place?!?!?!"

"I get it for my kids."

Oh so you feed your kids junk all the time.

"No, it's just for snacks!"

They can't snack on fruit or some yogurt or something somewhat "healthy" rather than Oreo's or Twinkies?

Hey look, you are the parent of your kids and if you want to feed them that shit, that's your call.  But here's the thing, if you're trying to drop weight or bodyfat, and you cannot refrain from eating your own kids junk food, then maybe it's best not to have it in the house all together?

I know, it's an Earth shaking revelation but if shit food isn't in your house, it's really hard know...EAT IT!

Here is a better option - Make a list of the shit on your diet, and JUST BUY THAT.  Nothing else.  Just what's on your diet.  Throw away all of the foods that call out to you like the devil asking you to participate in smoking meth and having orgies with two dollar hookers.

If you have kids, it's my SUGGESTION (I'm not telling you what to do here, so gear down, big rig), to buy them healthy foods like nuts, fruit, greek yogurt, etc.  You can also turn them on to chocolate rice cakes, which I personally find delicious and will eat 500 of them when I refeed and they are very low calorie.  It's hard to really fuck yourself up diet wise, by binging on rice cakes.  And there's a lot of flavors.  I'm just throwing it out there as an option.

Have your cheat meal mid-week by earning it on the weekends -

Everyone loves their cheat meal planning.  I swear it's become such a staple in dieting now that it's almost always one of the first questions I get when new clients come aboard.

"When is my cheat meal?"

First off, let's clear something up.  You don't even need planned cheat meals.  It's actually better to NOT schedule them in my opinion, and listen to when your body needs a refeed, than to believe that because some arbitrary day of the week has rolled around that it's time to have one.

If you're not already lean, I am going to stand by my stance that you don't need one at all.  If you're insulin sensitivity sucks nuts, and your body cannot partition your macros very efficiently then it's going to do a very poor job of moving those nutrients into the places it should be going, rather than right to your love handles or saddle bags as fat.

The former seems better than the latter doesn't it?

I know, I know, you need the mental break from dieting.


What I propose in regards to cheat meals, or refeeds, is to eat a high carbohydrate meal with very little fat involved and a moderate amount of protein.

Now that I'm consistently in single digits I have a much better handle on what my body does in regards to food variation.  When I refeed on "clean" food that is low in fat and loaded in carbs, I will wake up the next morning very full, and feeling awesome.  When I eat a bunch of shit that is loaded with high amounts of carbs and fat, I turn into a water buffalo for a few days until that water comes off.

I also "feel" shittier during that time as well, and my joints tend to hurt and I feel sluggish as fuck.

But back to planning cheat meals/refeeds if you happen to be one of those people.

Outside of the people who can't control themselves at home, eating all of their kids snacks, the people without kids who do indeed buy only what is listed on their diet tend to quite often blow their diet on the weekends.  Eating as much as 20% more calories than they did each day during the week.

So think about this - your diet could be on point all week.  You did awesome.  Only ate what you were supposed to.  Then the weekend rolls around and you have plans on Friday......and eat out and think "fuck it, I had a great week.  I deserve to splurge."  No biggie for the most part.

Then Saturday rolls around, and you have some friends over, and hey you have some finger food or they bring some dishes.  Well fuck me, you don't want to be rude, so you eat........all of it.

Sunday comes and you're sitting around in your pajamas until 3 P.M. and all discipline has gone out of the window at this point, and you're tired AF, and lying in bed all day watching bulk TV (this means 17 episodes of Breaking Bad in a row) and there is no "plan" in regards to eating.

You know why?  Because that shit feels good.  Let's decompress from life for an afternoon and eat some spaghetti with 9 loaves of bread dipped in olive oil and butter with cheese on it (ok that does sound delicious right now).  Evening hits and well, fuck, you realize the whole weekend has been one big food indulged binge.

Your week of discipline has basically been all for naught at this point.  And from my own observation these kinds of weekends tend to take about 10 days for most people just to GET BACK to where the were the week before they decided to go off the rails.  That's right.  You're looking at something to the tune of three weeks of being disciplined just to get back to where you were before.

So here is a better option.  Do NOT scheduled your cheat meals for the weekend.  And I will tell you why - If you've been strict, once you cheat, there is this huge urge to eat more food, or eat more shitty food than when you were walking down the straight and narrow.  Anyone who has dieting for a long period of time can identify with this feeling.

The urge to cheat again, becomes much stronger after a refeed or cheat than before.

If you look at your weekends as the "earning time" for your cheat meal mid-week, then at least you've set something in place mentally, to help keep you on track.

Second, when the mid-week refeed rolls around, my other suggestion is not to go out to eat, but to buy and cook your cheat meal.  Once it's eaten, if there are leftovers then bring them to your neighbor or throw them out.  Don't leave it in the house, dammit.

If you go out to eat, at least have SOME guidelines.  Like you can't order three fucking desserts (and yes I've done this and am being a total hypocrite, so kiss my ass...I'm still saying it's not a good idea) after two main courses.

The entire purpose of a refeed are a few.

1.  Replenish depleted glycogen stores
2.  Give a mental break from dieting if you need one
3.  Spike leptin so that your metabolism gets a bit of an upwards shift again

When you factor all of these things in, you can easily come to the conclusion that a refeed or "cheat" meal doesn't have to mean you eat a bunch of shitty food.  In fact, you can still use the same foods you're dieting on, and simply move the portions around.  So if you've been going very low carb, you can just dramatically increase your carb source (like rice or potatoes or whatever), while lowering fats and protein.

Or you can eat a butt load of sushi or plain pasta with some grilled chicken and marinara sauce, etc.  Point is, it doesn't HAVE to be a time where you shovel down a bloomin onion along with half a cheesecake.  In a lot of ways, that can indeed set you back, rather than spur you forwards towards your goals.

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  1. Good, solid advice on the unscheduled cheat days. While the tendency to eat more "unclean" foods once you've had it is there, I think the unscheduled cheat days, when you need them do tend to boost your metabolism and can push you through the rest of the week.

    An article I came across a while back stated the reasons why women have a harder time when they diet than men. On average a woman sees her cheat meal as blowing it and mentally gives up because they feel defeated. There's no need to beat yourself up (which is the average male's perspective according to the article) but it's true. Don't be so hard on yourself.

    The whole, "I deserve this" needs to go. When your body is screaming I NEED THIS, just try something in moderation (carbs, sugars, etc).

    Anyway, great article Paul. A lot of ground covered here.

  2. cheers, timely post with regards to point #3. having crossed over into my 50s, frequency has become hands-down my no.1 input modality, as i've found that as i age, my strength & conditioning can start to fade as quickly as it is gained/maintained if i let up. as per ingrained habit, i get the hard'n'heavy work in first in order to maximise on my energy levels, but for some time now have felt that something was clicking right afterwards as my recovery was becoming a bit impaired at times - not in a debilitating way, but just enough to be aware of it. your pointer made instant sense and i'll work with your recommendations to see how things pan out in the long run, but already i have the sneaking suspicion it'll go a fair way to address my issues.
    an outstanding article as always, much appreciated!

  3. From all the silence coming from the blog. I thought a millennial must have come along and managed to knock you off... somehow. Good to see that isn't the case. Thumbs up to the music change while lunging example.

  4. Paul, Always enjoy your insights. Especially as a guy who can share his passion with his kids. In case you haven't seen it yet check out this article about another guy who brought his daughter into the iron game, scoliosis schmoliosis:

  5. Paul, I've seen you recommend in a few of your nutrition posts getting 20% of daily calories from fats. I'm a 145 pound male sitting at around 15% bodyfat looking to build muscle. My maintenance calorie level is about 2,100. At this level, 20% is about 45 grams of fat per day. I've read that if fat intake levels are too low, it can start messing with your hormones. Is 45g sufficient fat intake to avoid any negative effects?

  6. Hey Paul, what are your thoughts on RPS diet and their stance on only doing a cut phase for a max of 3 months because the body will begin to break down a higher percentage of lean mass vs adipose tissue?
    I know you've leaned up a lot. Did you do any maintenance phases during your cut?