Slave to Hunger

“Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.” – Voltaire

It was a conversation about food and an observation about both ourselves here in Guinea and the local population. When my partner goes to work, she is there all day. No shocker there, but her schedule really doesn’t lend itself to being able to eat between her classes. So, she doesn’t eat until she gets home. I simply decided to follow suit. But the conversation we had was about her colleagues who also teach full loads and never seem to have time to grab a bite to eat. In fact, at her institution, she hasn’t seen anyone eat, or really drink that much for that matter. They just carry on. But what we have discovered is that we really don’t experience hunger pangs as frequently. When we do, it isn’t a drop-everything-and-eat. We can eat later. What we have now is a weird feeling or sensation of freedom. We can eat when it’s convenient or when we want, but not because we are uncomfortable, cranky, bitchy, or all-out miserable. How often have you experienced that? Or do you know someone that becomes a real pain in the ass because they’re “hangry”?

It goes along the lines of one of my earlier posts regarding the curse of abundance. In the West, it is so easy to stop and get a meal, or a snack, that we have come to expect our needs to be met immediately. Teachers get lunch hours and labor forces get their allotted breaks in the day. I’m not against contracted schedule breaks, but I am aware of how we behave when we don’t get them. In doing so we have become a slave to our needs. When our needs aren’t met, we become irritable, cranky, and demanding. Even as adults, we can become quite childish in our behaviors when it comes to feeling hungry or thirsty.

It isn’t that people in the bottom billion don’t get hungry or thirsty. They do. What I have witnessed here amongst them, and myself, is that you can carry on normally and eat when the time comes or the food is available. I now eat when I want to, not because I must. There is a difference, and it is a rather liberating feeling to have. My partner and I no longer get cranky just because we are uncomfortable feeling a little hungry.

Some cool tricks that will help, if you realize you get cranky when you are hungry, is to begin a practice of intermittent fasting. Also, by cutting out a large portion of the junk food and other sugar-rich foods and switching to a nutrient-rich diet (vegetables, some fruits, some nuts and meat, etc.), will cut those cravings and pangs considerably. One of the chief reasons for the discomfort and “hunger pangs” in our society is in fact not real hunger, but withdrawal symptoms. You’re “nic-fitting” and in truth, because of the abundance of food in our society, I’m willing to bet we don’t know what real hunger even feels like. Experts say we can go weeks without food, but have we ever gone a full day? Probably not. So, this will be about not being a slave to your food cravings. It will be about, over time, overcoming those cravings completely and getting to the point where you eat, not because of an addiction, but because it is necessary to our survival; eating to live, rather than living to eat.

Being Uncomfortable

“Hunger forced me to try things I’d never seen before” – Benjamin Ajak

This will be a cold painful truth. But if you seriously want to lose weight, or build muscle, or make any change you must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is cliché and lots of people say it. But it’s true. If you want to get in better shape, you need to experience real discomfort when you are working out. I mean, it sucks! It burns, your arms and legs will feel rubbery, you might be sore the next day or two, but if you are not willing to pay that price and feel that discomfort, your body has no reason to change.

The same holds true for diet. There is so much out there about dieting and doing it without starving yourself.  In some ways, they are right, we don’t want to starve ourselves. But we do need to be uncomfortable. To lose weight no matter what the fad diets promise you, you must take in less. You do need to eat whole and nutritious foods, but compared to what you used to eat that got you fat, you need to eat quite a bit less. This means you will feel hungry and you will want to satisfy those cravings. If you are serious about losing weight, you must get comfortable with feeling those hunger pangs.

I don’t expect you to be training to be a world-class bodybuilder competitor, but contrary to their poise on stage and in the magazine shoots, to get that lean for competition, they dial back the calories. They feel hungry most of the time. Dorian Yates talks about how miserable you can feel and how much it can suck to feel that way and know you still have a work out to do. These guys must make sacrifices to get that lean! It is this stage in the training that is what often separates the true champions from the other would-be victors. Could they get this phase of their diet right and stick to it?

Again, this is not about starvation; that never works. But if you are serious about losing weight, you will need to go through a period of discomfort. This also should not truly go away once you reach your target either. We have all seen people yo-yo. (Been there myself.) Once we reach our targets, it does not give us permission to then give in to every food and drink desire we have. It is amazing how fast you can undo all that hard work.

There it is: the secret to losing fat. Cut out the crap, eat less than what you have been used to, and get used to feeling uncomfortable with doing so.

Now, if only figuring out the equations for warp drive were this simple….

The Curse of Abundance

“Victory has defeated you!”  – Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)

I moved to Guinea in West, Sub-Saharan Africa. So for the time being I have suspended my private training studio while my partner and I have the adventure/experience of living over here for the next 10 months or so.

We’ve only been here two weeks and are already losing weight. More accurately, inches from around our waists. Admittedly, I had fallen into the all-too-common trap of indulgence this summer. It began with farewell parties in Puerto Rico, where I was drinking more than I’d like to admit (as a fitness professional), and continued on in Canada as we lived with my parents while we got all of our paperwork and vaccines taken care of. We also went to Italy for a wedding, where I consumed large amounts of Tuscan food and wine. I also went to Ireland to visit friends. That holiday was wonderful, but every venture to go and sightsee ultimately turned into impromtu pub crawls and vast amounts of Guinness.

I tell you this because my slick 32.5/33-inch waist turned into a 35.5-inch waist as I finished my last-minute packing and prepared to move here. In other words, in only the span of about 3 months, I had put on approximately 10 (or so) lbs. and it was not the lean and mean kind.

I’ve been here now 2 weeks and I’m already back down to a 34.5-inch waist. Why? I am drinking much less. And I am eating less. There is less here! Less at the shopping market. Less space to store it here in our apartment. We have not seen a “fast food” restaurant since we have arrived and, despite it being a third world country, our food is not at all cheaper than what we had in Puerto Rico. Also, because we cannot drink the tap water, a much larger portion of our grocery expense is on buying water. It is not expensive, but we have basically had to plan out what we buy to try and last us a week for drinking water, water to cook with, and water to brush our teeth with. It would be easy enough to call our driver and just go whenever we needed something, but it’s a half hour (when the traffic is good) to get there. So that makes it an hour roundtrip to grocery shop. I honestly don’t feel like doing that unless I have to.

Anyways, the ultimate point I wish to make is that our own abundance back home is, to a huge extent, our downfall in the weight management department. My folks had a ton of food in the house, and it got eaten. While in Puerto Rico, my lady and I bought less, had less in the house, and as a result, were in pretty good shape right up until the end. Then, we went home, and food was everywhere. Despite being totally aware of it, we ate too much and could see ourselves getting pudgier. Again, moving here and having to “ration” a bit more and shop smarter, we have already seen some big changes.

I suppose my solution would be to buy less at the store, take the time to plan each meal you are going to eat in the week, and purchase accordingly. But that is easier said than done. Once you get there and see how much food is available, it’s hard! I know. It’s been easy here so far because our market is about the same square footage as a typical 7/11. Our options for snacks are very limited.

So, as Bane says to Batman in the third installment, “Victory has defeated you!” Our very success as a “first-world” society is defeating us. Statistically, only about 5% of the population would fall under the category of being overweight here in Guinea as opposed to the 35-40% in North America. I doubt I will see anyone obese here. Most here are very slender, lean, and – truth be told – most seem to just naturally have bodies that most Americans would love to have and many spend hours in the gym trying to obtain. Yes, race and other genetics do play a factor. But they also just eat less. They are certainly not on a “2,000-calorie” diet. Since living here, neither are my lady and I. We have a couple of eggs for brunch. We may have a can of tuna for our afternoon meal. Dinner has consisted of 1 can of vegetables with some chicken or lentils and some rice all stewed up in the pot. We add some seasoning (curry) and that seems to do the trick. I bought a bag of chips for the weekend, had some Friday and Saturday, and finished the bag on Sunday while watching rugby. I’m out until the next time we go shopping (Friday).

Living here has imposed moderation on us. We are already seeing the results from this.

Possible Solution to Knee Pain

Specifically those who are suffering from osteoarthritis. As the study illustrates (included below) they found that improved muscle power was a better predictor/indicator of reducing or preventing the pain and effects of osteoarthritis.  Having strong legs is, according to them, not enough by itself.  To avoid making this overly complicated and getting lost in trying to explain the differences between strength and power and also not forgetting the two are highly related. We will use the Russians definition. What we describe as power in sport/strength training, the Russians simply referred to it as speed strength. As in how fast can you move said weight.  Therefore, it is not only enough to push said resistance, but also be able to do so relatively quickly.

Power/Speed strength, is also a function of exertion and how much force you are able to generate. A good example would be watching power lifters do heavy squats or bench presses. If they are pushing 500lbs, they may be pushing it as hard and as fast as they can, but because of how heavy 500lbs is, it may not travel all that fast.

So now knowing these things we can actually tweak, or more aptly, reinforce Arthur Jones’s and Dr. McGuff’s approach to strength training. The trick will be that as you do a set, in the spirit of keeping yourself safe and not causing more harm to the joints, begin under control and moving the weight reasonably slowly, as in 3-5 seconds up, 3-5 seconds down etc. But as you become fatigued, you will have to push harder and try and push faster in order to keep going. This will, if you really focus and push to failure, put you in a great position. Though the movement will not be unsafely rapid, but still slow, you will in fact be training power because of how much force, because of fatigue, you will be trying to exert just to get the bar to move for those final few reps.

So give it a shot and see how it feels.

Knowing your Why

“People do not buy what you do; they buy why you do it!” – Simon Sinek

Personally I’m not into the fitness model competitions or bodybuilding competitions. I will likely never run a marathon or even a 10K. But I love my rugby, and always trained hard for it. The reason I mention this is that lots of gyms will promote these types of events and send members/teams and enter them in these competitions/events. Now this is great! But it’s just not me. It actually left me doubting if owning a studio was such a good idea. If I’m not really into the whole fitness industry and all the “fitness” conventions, why would I own a gym?

But I also realized that without being “into” that sort of thing, I have also consistently trained my whole life. It is as much a part of me as anything else I do. In fact it is one of my fundamental pillars. If I’m anywhere for more than a week I want to know where a nearby gym is so that I can squeeze in a hard strength session. Now again it has always helped that I was training for something. In my case rugby. Before that it was football and track and field. As much as I would like six pack abs and hulking biceps. That in itself has never been enough on its own to get me to the gym. It might be for you, it might not be.  Either way success will come if you have a why and know your why.  Doing it for purely health reasons, although important, tend not to serve as enough motivation. Over the course of this year I have experienced with clients, those who have come in because they would like to lose a few pounds, or their doctor has told them they need to lower their blood pressure, have honestly not been my most reliable or consistent clients. However, on the other side I am experiencing clients who play tennis, or who enjoy other activities like Salsa dancing, who have seen real advancement, or achievement, or progress as a result of experiencing some HIT every week. Those clients hardly ever miss.  In fact with those clients I have more of my energy goes into making sure we are not over-training.

I bet if you really looked around you see this to be quite apparent.  Almost all of us know exercise would benefit us, but we just don’t see everyone doing it or sticking to it for those reasons alone. So I encourage you to have that why, whether it be because you are into dancing, or soccer, or running that 5k, or triathlons, or having the best physique you can build. I will forgive you if it is not rugby, as long as you know why you are going to the gym. Doing so will help you keep that discipline. Remember motivation and inspiration can and will get you started. But it does take discipline and habit to keep it going. Knowing your why will help you do that.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Downhill

“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.”       – George Orwell

Earlier this month I was coming down the stairs in my building where my studio is located. In front of me working his way down was a gentlemen who had finished his appointment with one of the other professionals who work upstairs. He was struggling and moving quite slowly. I of course was in no hurry and upon seeing me slowly moving behind him he apologized. I said it was fine and don’t rush, I am in no hurry. But I am sure it is natural to still feel self-conscious and try and pick up the pace. Now whether he felt more rushed or not doesn’t change the fact that after stepping off the last step, he did lose his balance, miss-stepped and fell. Pretty hard to, I might add. Fortunately, he seemed okay and I helped him to his feet. But here is where this turns from just a discussion about an accident to something more poignant, or dare I say tragic. His first response was to blame the building and the builder who built it. He blamed my landlord for not building better steps and building it in such a way that would make it more accessible for older people like himself. This gentleman is in his sixties, nothing really wrong with him that I could tell, except for what I can only perceive as being overly weak and not strong enough, on top of being over-weight, to be able to go up and down stairs. I handed him my business card and asked him to seriously consider letting me help him rebuild his strength so that what just happened doesn’t continue to happen with more regularity. We will have to wait and see if I ever get that call, but my point to this blog is that the majority of the ailments and conditions we experience with age has nothing to do with age. Except that in our society we stop doing the very things that would keep us young, strong and healthy. We blame it on age, but its laziness! Stop it! Now granted a guy who deadlifts 500lbs in his 20’s might not be able to do that in his 60’s, but if he stays active, he’ll still be able to do pretty much everything else. His age and the building, is not why this gentlemen (senor) fell. Not having sufficient strength and flexibility is. Don’t let that become you.                                     While I’m on this age related topic a study has been released proposing that lack of sleep may set the stage for Alzheimer’s. Now researchers are always careful to never make steadfast conclusions, but I think once in a while it is okay for us to say “yep that makes sense!” “Nailed that conclusion.”                                                                                                                              Here is why I’m going to sound far more confident. We need sleep, we need adequate sleep. In the same way we need nutrients and adequate amounts to enjoy a long healthy life, we need sleep. So if you go the majority of your life not getting enough, should we be surprised that we will break down and fall prey to degenerative age related diseases? No I don’t think so. So a few highlights of the study. They found in mice that those sticky amyloid plaques, which are associated with Alzheimer’s develop more quickly in the brains of sleep-deprived mice. Also an amazing thing happens when we sleep, our brains has a system known as the glymphatic system, which allows our brains to go through a cleansing process to remove and clear out all the bad toxins. Including the plaques and toxins associated with Alzheimers.
Anecdotally I will say this; my grandmother went the bulk of her life getting enough sleep often going to be around 11 and getting up between 7 and 8 am. My grandfather didn’t sleep much. He’d go to bed around 11, but he always woke up around 4, and he did that for decades. Bragged about it, was really proud of it. Now I will admit there are other factors regarding his health he experienced (cholesterol medication for the ticker being one major factor) But he didn’t sleep very much and he developed Alzheimer’s. My last point is just to remind everyone that with age related degenerative diseases, is that they do not come on suddenly. You don’t wake fine one day and then wake up the next day with this problem. These diseases are years in the making and take decades to develop and get to the level where we can no longer cope without extensive medical interventions. Doesn’t mean you have to avoid “all-nighters” and the occasional red eye flight or really fun party staying up all night dancing to Salsa. But if you habitually have trouble getting a full night of sleeping. This study just adds another scientific reason to try and solve it.

Built to Run

A new study came out this month which concluded (in rats, which usually translates well to humans) that long distance running versus strength training and high intensity training) proved to be the best for our brains. They based this on looking at what happened to the brain after it experienced the 3 different forms of training. What they discovered in the rats is that the long distance running produced much greater “neurogenesis” than the other 2 forms. Second place was high intensity training followed by strength training. Actually, according to the study, the resistance-trained rats’ production of neurogenesis was not much better than a couch potato, although these rats were quite a bit stronger at the end of the study.

Again, this study was done with rats and doesn’t in any way rule out the benefits of strength training or high intensity training. On the contrary, there are plenty of other studies that have shown the benefits for the body and the brain in other ways, but this particular study looked at neurogenesis of the hippocampus and the production of the substance known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It is this compound which is largely responsible for the regulation of neurogenesis. According to the research, long distance running seems to lead to the most production of BDNF.

After I read the blog post (link below) which described this study in great detail, I thought really hard about it and realized that this just makes a lot of sense. So I won’t rehash the study here; it is included below for those of you interested. Instead, I want to talk about why, again, maybe we should not be surprised by this study or its results.

Speaking from an evolutionary point of view, we are, in fact, built to run, and are actually built for endurance. When compared to the animal kingdom, we are by far not the strongest, nor the fastest, compared to most creatures on the planet. Physically, we really don’t measure up at all except in a couple of very crucial areas, and it has nothing to do with our big brains; that was actually more of a by-product of what did occur. We, as a species, took an alternative path to become one of the most successful hunters. Instead of becoming stronger and faster and have sharper claws and teeth, etc., our ancestors ended up going in the direction of the tortoise, not the hare. For humans on the plains of Africa, slow and steady proved to win the race in matters of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Unlike other mammals, we became bi-pedal. Not only did this give an advantage in vision by extending our horizon, but it made it better for the dissipation of heat. We also sweat; most mammals do not, they pant. In car terms, we became a water-cooled engine vs an air-cooled one. We know how well Volkswagen did with their air-cooled engines, and this proves true as well for mammals. We evolved to withstand and endure the heat much better than the animals we hunted. We also developed another unique feature. Unlike hoofed animals, our legs were able to develop into springs. Our joints and soft tissue, as in muscles and tendons and ligaments have, when used correctly, a great capacity to store and release elastic energy. This other feature also gave us an extraordinary ability to use less energy than the prey we were chasing. In a head-to-head foot race, we would never be able to catch such prey; they evolved to outrun lions and cheetahs. But if we could keep them in sight and force our prey to to run away from us over and over again during the course of  a hot day, we would outlast them; they would literally collapse from heat exhaustion. A possible reason for why our stone tools didn’t change much for thousands of years is likely because they didn’t have to. By the time we got to the collapsed animal, we would have performed nothing more than a simple mercy killing, and then only needed the stone knife to carve the meat.

We actually still see this exact form of hunting today, and it is called “persistence hunting.” This style of hunting has been long held by anthropologists as likely being the oldest form of hunting and what helped give us our big break. So in this, we can start to see the pattern. If nature offers rewards for hard work, then we can now see why the brain would go to so much trouble to reward us for running long distances. This also, then, explains why runners get the “runner’s high,” and why they seem almost cult-ish and certainly obsessive about running so much and running every day – which is now what leads me to my next point.

We are built to run (a certain way), but we still need to consider over-training in modern terms. Even the persistence hunter did not go out again the next day; his buddy would, then the next member of the tribe would take his turn. In fact, it would be days, or even weeks, before that specific hunter would test his metal again. He would be allowed to recover, and this has to be true for our modern jogger as well. Jogging a couple of times a week will still offer great benefit to your brain, while at the same time minimize your risk to overuse and wear and tear injuries.

This brings me to the final point I wish to discuss, and it goes back to our ability, versus our prey, to be able to capitalize on our bodies’ adaptation to be more springy. This only occurs if we do it a certain way. If we don’t, we can actually cause more harm than good, injuries being the biggest culprit. We only get the elastic effect from our legs if we land and strike the ground correctly. Nowadays, it is being referred to as barefoot running and it is starting to gain in popularity, largely because most who turn to it have hurt themselves running incorrectly and have been looking for a way to continue running without the injuries. I won’t get into the whole no-shoe-or-flat-shoe-versus-traditional-shoe debate, but I will say that even if you are wearing the traditional running shoe, you will still want to be sure you are landing on the the ball of your foot and not heal striking. It is heal striking that slows us down, wipes out our capacity to utilize our tissues’ elastic properties, and leads to the injuries which result from the constant pounding. Heal striking also makes it more difficult to have the faster cadence we want in order to maximize the elasticity in our tissues.

Below are the links to both the study and two videos on barefoot running that I found to be really good at explaining and demonstrating the technique, as well as a neat video on persistence hunting.

Some key things I wish to highlight from the videos will be, of course, where you land on your foot; posture; cadence/tempo; and that you will definitely want to allow for an adaptation period.  As mentioned in the Terra Plana video, if you run 10km, don’t go and immediately run 10km the new way. Run one km and allow your body to make the appropriate adaptions as it learns the new technique and the right muscles start to strengthen and become more engaged.




Little Changes, Big Results and Shoveling Snow

A month ago, we penned it to paper, or announced it to others, or simply made up our minds that we were going to go to the gym and start working on our strength and overall condition. That was the only thing I wanted us focus on.  But now that it has been a month and you have hit the gym 4 or 5 times, and have already seen your strength numbers going up, we can make the next small change in our lives that can have a huge impact on what we are doing. I’m going to give you a list of what I think are the common trouble areas when it comes to diet:

  1. Drinking calories – whether it’s sodas, or juices, or alcohol. If you can’t give it up completely, seriously consider reducing your consumption by 50% to start.
  2. Pasta
  3. Bread
  4. Donuts
  5. Pancakes
  6. Pastry

For the above, try and limit consumption to once a week.

  1. Add a couple nights of walking or riding your bike or other fun activities.

Again, just to be clear, we are in this for the long haul, so I don’t see a need to try and make all of these changes all at once. Just make one change. Focus on sticking to it, and give it a month or two before you make another change.  It will be leveraging these little steps that will yield greats results down the line.

The other issue I wanted to address is the reality that the snow storm that smashed the East Coast of the U.S. did, sadly, leave deaths in its wake – car crashes, etc.  These come with the territory regarding inclement weather. But so do heart attacks.  The media, and I’m sure every other trainer, has been hammering this to death regarding why and how it happens, and how to limit your risk. For example, push the snow, don’t lift, which is of course sound advice.  However, one thing that was not addressed in this is what we call your heart rate maximum. This is, literally, how fast can your heart beat in a minute before it’s forced to quit, give up, explode, or simply stop.  The general rule of thumb for determining our heart rate max is to take 220 minus your age.  So if you are 15 years old and healthy, your heart rate max will be approximately 205. If you are 85, your heart rate will be (again, these are approximations) around 135. They are approximations, because, of course, there are many factors that will affect this number; physical condition and overall fitness being the biggest.  So can you spot where the problem can creep up? For the 85-year old, his/her maximum is where a 15-year old would like to be just for his/her warm up. Now, let us put this into the context of risk when it comes to shoveling snow.  You are 55, and you work 40 – 50 hours a week in an office in the financial district with a rather frustrating commute to the suburb on the north side of town. When, and if, you are not at work, you’re likely taking the kids to some practice or lesson. Your diet isn’t bad, but it also isn’t great. You can’t remember the last time you set foot in a gym, and your community on one of these gorgeous suburb side streets just got smashed with 24 inches of snow. We haven’t seen this since 2003 (I was there when it happened). Now you are going to man-up (or woman-up) and shovel that snow. And you are not going to stop until the job is done. Your heart rate max is 170 at this stage in your life, and it might be even lower because of your poor conditioning. As many of you are well aware, shoveling snow can be hard work – especially wet, heavy snow. It can take very little time to get to the point where you’re huffing and puffing, and can feel that ticker of yours banging away in your chest. We have fail-safes set in place to help minimize our bodies’ risk of reaching our maximum, but this type of work, for all of the factors that others have mentioned, do come into play, on top of the reality that this has likely been the most our case study has had to physically exert himself since his college football days. This is a huge stress and a big shock to the body. He pushed himself too hard, too soon, and got too close to his HRM, which is much lower than what it was when he was a teenager. It literally cramps and seizes up. Any other coronary risk factor he may have already had comes to fruition when the heart becomes this stressed.

So this won’t be the last time there is a major snow storm that shuts down schools for a week and gives teachers like me an awesome second Christmas break, so what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?

Well, firstly, the obvious ones have already been lamented over in the media, right? Shovel less snow more often; be proactive during the storm; push, don’t lift; if you have to lift, be sensible about how much you load the spade, etc. But we also need to do higher intensity forms of training on a regular basis to work our hearts and achieve a strong level of global metabolic conditioning. A good friend of mine trains using our approach. He is 61. He also has a 10-unit apartment complex with a good sized parking lot. He had some help from the Mrs. and shoveled the whole thing a few times. He had no problem! He’s kept his body in great shape, didn’t “overdo it” trying to prove anything. Then, after 3 days of clearing out from this whopper of a storm, he went to the gym, and called me pissed off that his chest press was disappointing and wanted to know if the shoveling would have affected this performance. Yes, it did. Shoveling is intense work and your recovery, after you’ve finished, will also need to be managed.

I Finally Saw Star Wars!

Can you be a Trekkie and a Jedi? Well thanks to J.J. Abrahams we can be! I love both and I think it is cool he has worked with both franchises. But this post is not about me finally seeing the film, what I thought about it, or accidentally triggering any spoilers. It is however about being a Jedi in real life!

A little background to begin. When George Lucas originally set out to make the first Trilogy, he originally wanted to make a Flash Gordon film, but couldn’t get the rights. So he made his own. Now it is very clear and no secret that he borrowed a lot of his ideas for the saber dueling, the Jedi and Sith, from Japanese culture. Specifically the Samurai, Aikido, and the modern sport Kendo. Now unless you live under a rock you will be aware that in the films our heroes and villain share a power that is called “The Force.” With training it not only allows them to be exceptional fighters, but they also can do really cool telekinesis tricks from crazy choke holds to reaching for dropped or lost lightsabers to lifting a spaceship out of a swamp. What I want to discuss here is the concept of the force, or to bring it back to Earth, and not in a galaxy far, far away, the notion of Ki/Chi.

It is a real thing! Now it can be explained via physics and relaxation. But speaking from experience, as when Ben Kenoki tells Luke he has taken his first step into a much larger world, it still feels pretty cool! There is a level of awe that comes from learning how to apply the principals of Ki into your activities. And like with a lot of journeys, despite what the true limitations gravity and the laws of physics might impose, you will have this feeling that you will only be limited by your training and skill development.

My first real introduction to Ki, aside from martial arts movies and of course Star Wars was a few years back when I took a 10 week T’ai Chi course. It was in taking the class where my instructor who weighed all of 140 lbs was able to toss me around like a rag doll and when it came to being my turn to try and push or throw him…  I couldn’t budge him. So needless to say I was impress as such this led to more studying and ultimately reading Ki in Daily life by Koichi Tohei.

So what is it? Well to put it simply it is a meditation practice/exercise/technique where you focus on your center of gravity, also known as your one point. It is a little different for everyone, but it is roughly located a couple inches below your belly button and 3-4 inches inside. It is from here you learn to relax and generate movement from. There is also the idea of “extending Ki” from your one point outward through your body and beyond.

Of course it is not the scope of this short blog to rehash his entire book, but I will say in using this technique it helps build a tremendous mind body connection. As it pertains to sports performance I have found this approach remarkable in consistently achieving the ever so elusive “Zone” as what many athletes and coaches call it.  Again Ben Kenobi pretty much sums up the whole philosophy of Zen and Ki and of course the force when he tells Luke to let go of his conscious thoughts and trust his feelings and act on instinct. One point Ki meditation/training has worked for me in helping that happen. Another way of stating it would as Maverick does in Tom Gun when he tells Charlie, “If you think. You’re dead!”  At any rate, I have found it remarkably helpful in my athletic endeavours, as well as other pursuits, and strongly recommend the book Ki in Daily Life. You can also google/youtube it to learn a great deal more about the inspiration for George Lucas’s Jedi.

Really? Only Once a Week?

Yes really!  Only once a week, now you can’t be a couch potato. But if you really want to see some great gains in strength, reduce over-training and dramatically reduce your risk to injury as a result. If you also want to increase your chances of really sticking to a strength training regime. This is remarkably effective. Is it the only way. No of course not, but for the majority of the population, if we could shift the paradigm, many would really benefit.

I have noticed an interesting thing since I’ve opened up shop down here in Puerto Rico and have been advertising “Change your life, once a week.” Friends of my clients are asking, and they will ask my clients. Is it really only once a week? They’ll say yeah! I only go and see him once a week. I’m the strongest I’ve been in years!  If ever! Experiencing this approach helps with creating that shift in attitude, but despite my clients success, I also do not have people lined out the door clamming to get in and train with me. I sense that they just can’t wrap their brain around it.

Ironically, or sadly, there are many who may have never picked up a weight, or done intense exercise, but thanks to the Industrial Fitness complex and its permeation throughout the culture, still have been brainwashed to believe that you just can’t get the results you want without training multiple times a week. The result is that there are so many who just are not willing to even experiment and give this approach an honest shot.

Now I’m also not surprised by this. Arthur Jones experienced this battle his entire career, so did Mike Mentzer. Even Dorian Yates, despite all of his success, still seems to work with a lot of trainers, coaches, and other various athletes, who just struggle to believe that one hard, intense working set is all that is required to really trigger the stimulation we are looking for to build more strength and muscle.

What is often forgotten in this debate is that the lads I mentioned above, didn’t just make this up. It came from years of experience and discovery. When I was certifying in I.A.R.T. We read Arthur Jone’s notes and published work on nautilus training and his biography. What was great to read was over the years, he gradually reduced the frequency of his client’s training and often surprised himself that despite the reduced volume, and frequency, his clients would see even better gains/improvements.

In fact pretty much all of the trainers and athletes you meet who are advocates of this approach came upon this largely because they had experienced some setbacks or plateaus and started doing this because they literally had tried everything else. They also, if they were anything like me really struggled to dial down the frequency of their strength training. I have written before how it took a while before I finally settled on once a week, and being okay with occasionally having to miss a week.

I’ll conclude with a couple great stories I read in the book titled “The Sport Gene” by David Epstein. In it he recounts the story of Danish shot putter Joachim Olsen. In it one of his coaches, So Jasper Anderson, after testing Olsen’s fast twitch to slow twitch fiber ratio, had discovered in fact that he had a much higher ratio of fast twitch fibers than many others he was competing with and against. Now some brief science.  Your fast twitch fibers are powerful! They are the fibers that can grow in size when stimulated and take much longer than your slow twitch fibers to recover/heal. They are chiefly there for your fight or flight response and are therefore used sparingly by your body. As in even in an “all-out” power effort they are the last to fire. So what did they do?  Coach Anderson, reduced Olen’s frequency and volume of weight training. Dramatically! Instead infrequently having him lift really heavy weight. The result?  Joachim Olsen’s muscles ballooned and he won bronze at Athens in 2004.  He had a stellar career, becoming something of a celebrity in Denmark, so much so that they elected him to the Danish Parliament in 2011. Now strength training, using weights, is designed primarily to force you to work your fast twitch fibers. Regardless of those ratios in your own body and genetic limits, the reality is that it requires more time for them to recover. These fibers simply cannot tolerate as much training as the other fiber types. This means that athletes who have higher ratios of fast twitch fiber, simply can’t tolerate as much training as other athletes. This has been pointed out as an issue for the Danish soccer team as well. In soccer, speed kills, but where are Denmark’s speedsters? Amazingly most end up washing out early in their careers from injury. “The guys with a lot of fast-twitch fibers that can contract their muscles very fast have much more risk of a hamstring injury, for instance, than the guys who cannot do the same type of explosive contraction but who never get injured.” – (The Sport Gene)

With these new insights into fiber type and genetics, Denmark’s soccer federation is slowly coming around, but the changes are slow. It is the old school training paradigms and the “doing as much as possible” philosophy which is very difficult to override. But there are more intelligent ways of training and these ideas are slowly filtering into the mainstream as more and more experience the resulting success of using these approaches.