Sunday, 27 October 2013

Problems with getting fat to get strong

There seems to be a trend that those involved in strength training or strength sports should simply eat as much a possible to get stronger. That getting fat is part of the game and a sacrifice you have to make to be big and strong. And you know the extra fat improves leverage or something like that. Worrying about your abs or physique is pretty boy bodybuilding crap and is looked down upon. The internet doesn't help with articles like This actively encouraging you to become as fat as possible.

I want this to change. Not only does fat not improve your strength it is massively detrimental to your health and self esteem.

Powerlifting originated in America as did strongman and I wonder whether the culture is partly responsible. In America everything must be big. Big cars, big trucks, big guns, big roads, big people, big eating, big lifting. Since strength sports are more popular in America and a lot of the information you read online is from american websites I wonder if this is at least some of the reason that strength athletes feel they have to eat their faces off to succeed. Now I'm not hating on America in many ways it is much cooler than the UK. But America knows it has an obesity epidemic and the UK is not far behind.

Strength sports are divided into weight classes. Even strongman has under 105kg and under 90kg. To be successful in any weight class sport you want to maximise your body composition. You want to have the most muscle and least fat possible in your weight class to give you the potential to be as strong as possible. If you have two lifters weighing 100kg, one is 10% body fat while the other is 20% who will likely be stronger? The 10% will have more lean body mass and so with have more potiential strength than the other, as well as a more impressive physique. Some people think you should just eat your way into the heaviest weight class. This is completely idiotic since any one can be an obese 140kg person. Unless you have the bone structure to be able to handle the higher weight classes the only way you will get there is become incredibly fat, in which case you will likely lose to the guys who are ment to be there. If you are a lean 80kg you are not going to gain 60kg of muscle to be a super heavyweight without using some serious assistance.

In the good old days of physical culture strength used to be synonymous with health. The first major muscle magazine was called strength and health. If you have ever read any old time strongman books such as The Way To Live by George Hackenschmit you will find that health is greatly emphasised probably more so than lifting is. While the advice might be outdated they were on the right track. This emphasis on health has been completely lost to either steroid abuse or guys gaining so much fat in an attempt to get strong.

 There are a multitude of health problems associated with being over weight. Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Since I work first hand with people with many problems like this let me tell you they are not pleasant. If these aren't enough there are a few problems of particular importance to lifters. Being overweight puts a lot of stress on the joints. Knees, ankles and back seem to be the worst culprits. Add weightlifting on top of this and your joints are not going to be in good shape. If you are injured and aching all the time and can't train was the sacrifice of all that weight gain really worth it.

Another problem is the hormonal shit storm being overweight creates. The hormone insulin which is responsible for shuttling nutrients into muscle and fat cells becomes less responsive due to being constantly elevated from poor dietary habits. This can lead to diabetes down the line but if health doesn't bother you it will also make it more difficult to build muscle and lose fat. If you body is constantly in fat storage mode there is little left to help you build muscle and therefore get stronger. Next comes testosterone and estrogen. Being overweight increases your estrogen levels while suppressing testosterone. Obviously this is not a good thing as it can lead to decreased muscle and bone mass, depression, Lack of sex drive and also potentially prostate cancer. Finally there is leptin. This is a hunger hormone which tells you that you are full. By constantly eating leptin becomes suppressed similar to insulin so that it takes more and more food for the body to realise that you are full. Many lifters recommend going on a massive bulk when you first start lifting. That you should follow a see food diet and drink a gallon of milk a day. They say you can easily diet the fat off later. But here's the problem. How many truely lean guys do you see? I don't mean on the internet but in the real world and in the gym. Often when someone becomes fat they end up staying that way. Its the hormones which wreck havoc with your system, making it more difficult to lose weight. The other problem is that they also make it more difficult to gain muscle as well.

Another factor at play is that of psychology. No one gets into lifting weights because they want to look worse. I understand not everyone wants to look like a bodybuilder myself included but I would argue everyone wants to have a good physique even if they area the most hardcore strength athlete. Human beings are essentially vain creatures doing the vast majority of things to try to appear attractive to the opposite sex. We associate strength with the look of muscles. When someone is fat they don't look strong because you can not see the muscles. Contrast that to someone who is very lean even if they aren't incredibly strong they see themselves looking in great shape which in turn makes them feel strong. When you can see every muscle and vain, when you can see how defined your back is looking or how thick your abs are looking from all the strength training it really gives you a psychological boost.

It was Jim Wendler who remarked that when he was a 275lbs powerlifter all he could do was woddle up to the monolith and squat. By becoming so overweight he had made his body only good at one thing: static strength. It seemed this sickened him as he soon embarked on improving his conditioning and losing weight. To the point where he could actually use his body for other things again such as playing sports and sprinting up hills. By letting yourself become fat you lose all aspects of conditioning, making yourself only capable of a one off specific strength test. There is more to being strong than just a one rep Max. Look at strongman. Not only do these guys have incredible static strength but also the conditioning and muscular endurance to back it up. I recall seeing Britain's strongest man a couple of years ago. It was down to the last event of two competitors. Jimmy Marku a 140kg beast who still manages to look lean and Glen Ross a typical fat strong guy who weighed close to 200kg. The two were close on points and it was down to a head to head loading race of heavy awkward shit. Things like giant anchors, massive metal changes used by tug boats, and heavy barrels. It was no surprise that the massive Glen Ross lost that day because he was gased out after the first implement. Marku had the conditioning as well as the strength to finish loading everything and be named Britain's strongest man. The thing is how strong are you if you can't apply your strength after I only a short period of physical activity. Even if you do powerlifting you still have 9 lifts to do which can take all day. How do you expect to put up a good deadlift if you are so exhausted from squats?

                                                Jimmy Marku
                                                  Glenn Ross

I have always encouraged the acquisition of useful strength. That is having strength to help yourself or others in any physical situation you may face in life. By becoming extremely fat you are specialising to such an extent as to lose any real useful strength. Your conditioning becomes so poor that you can't do anything beyond one lift. You weigh so much that you lose all athletism in your body. You can't lift explosively anymore. You can't lift your own bodyweight and even a pull up becomes impossible. How are you supposed to carry something heavy if you are puffed out after two steps. Really you are creating the opposite of what I want to achieve becoming strong and athletic. And is the sacrifice really worth it? All the health problems when you still probably won't be powerlifting world champion or a record holder. If you really are an elite super heavy weight powerlifter than I understand why you might do it but if you just want to become strong its perfectly possible while still being lean and healthy. Don't listen to the internet fat guys trying to justify themselves instead enjoy all lifting weights has to offer. I implore you to be strong but stay useful.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Beginner Nutrition

We all know the importance of diet when it comes to gaining muscle and strength or losing fat. But if you are used to eating the typical persons diet of sugar filled possessed crap it can be difficult to change to eat in a way that supports your lifting goals. This is where I feel many beginners slip up and fail to achieve much of anything because they do not have their diet homed in.

There are many problems beginners face in this area. Some simply pay no attention to their diet what so ever continuing with their takeaways and coke diet. Others eat what they think is a healthy diet consisting of cereal bars, musali, pasta and prune juice. There are those who hear they must go on a massive bulk to make gains because Ripptoe or whoever said so. They follow a see food diet eating anything and everything and washing it down with a gallon of milk a day. And of course there are those few who find there way into a GNC and think they must take every supplement that is sent there way by the salesman. It's a shame they don't seem to eat any actual real food though.

First of all let's clear something up. If you are a beginner you probably don't need to worry about bulking or cutting. You just need to make better food choices. Beginners have the unique ability to gain muscle and strength while losing fat. This should be exactly what you are aiming to do. No one got into lifting weights because they wanted to be fatter and look worse. The problem with going on an all out bulk fest is that it often leads to making you fat and keeping you that way. How many guys do you see in the gym who never look any different. They may well have been training for years but never sort their diet out. They may have some mass but are always carrying that extra layer of fat. You need to learn the habits of proper eating and dieting first before you bulk.

There needs to be a gradual process of changing your diet overtime much the same way you progress in lifting weights by adding small increments week in week out to add up to big weights. You don't go from a beer and crisps diet to a bodybuilders pre contest diet of 6 portions of plain chicken breast and broccoli a day otherwise you'll find you won't be following it for very long. so lets go through some basic nutrient information and some steps to get your diet moving in the right direction.

1. Eat more fruit and vegetables. This is pretty simple add more of these to your diet doesn't matter which ones for now just add them in. Fruit with breakfast, some salad and fruit with lunch, some cooked veg for dinner or something along those lines. The government says 5 a day so get at least that if not more. Make sure there is some veg and not just fruit and try to mix it up a bit. Fresh or frozen are best, it doesn't have to be organic and don't bother with dried fruit or fruit juices as they are just concentrated sugar.

2. Eat 3-4 solid meals a day. Many people lack a proper eating pattern, skipping breakfast, rushing lunch from a fast food place when they can and going nuts at night on ice cream and chocolate. Aim to have 3 or 4 proper meals a day at around the same time each day. Try to have breakfast otherwise you will get hungry later in the day and the urge to binge on crap is greatly increased. Yes i've heard of intermittent fasting but you need to focus of building good food habits before you worry about the finer details of meal frequency. Try to eat a satisfying lunch and dinner. Make the meals largish so you are not hungry soon after and end up snacking on things in between.

3. Eat more protein. Protein is used to build muscle. It also fills you up more than any other food source and requires more energy to digest helping you to avoid gaining fat. Go for meat, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, beef, eggs, and fish are good best sources. Aim to get 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So for myself at 180lbs I get 180g of protein a day. Most meat and fish has around 25g of protein per 100g and one egg has around 7g. I found that when i achieved this number my diet was generally pretty good. Since this is likely a lot more protein than  you are used to eating you find that you diet improves greatly because there just isn't space for junk food because you are so full from all the protein you are getting. And since you are eating large amounts of meat, fish and eggs I've found my veg intake also increased because these foods naturally complement each other.

4. Switch to diet soft drinks. Cut out all drinks which contain calories as most are sugar filled which is a recipe for fat gain. This means all full sugar fizzy drinks, all fruit juices even smoothies. Just because it comes from fruit its still packed with sugar. You can still have tea and coffee but don't put sugar in them and don/t have all the frothy crappachino stuff. Drink water or sugar free drinks. Getting people to just drink water is pretty much impossible so stick with sugar free drinks as a replacement for now. I know they have artificial sweeteners but they aren't the end of the world and won't effect fat gain. The best ones to go for are flavoured waters. These tend to have less sweeteners than the big name diet drinks and tend not to have aspartame in which is the sweeter which causes the most health concerns.

5. Change your grains to wholegrain. There may be some despite about this but paleo probably isn't the best way to go for a beginner. It would be hard to stick to and a low carb diet is not a good idea when you've suddenly decided to take up an intense physical pursuit. Switch out white bread for brown, white pasta for can keep to white rice though.

6. Get some good fats. Not all fat is bad. And eating fat doesn't necessarily make you fat. You will get some from the protein sources. Nuts, olive oil, oily fish are your best bet.

7. Don't worry about low carb or low fat just eat decent healthy meals. When it comes to breakfast cut out sugary cereals. Your best bet is something you cook like meat and eggs with wholegrain toast or porridge perhaps with some fruit in it for flavour. For lunch maybe wholegrain sandwiches with turkey, tuna or peanut butter with some fruit after or maybe a chicken salad with a generous amount of meat and drizzled in olive oil. For dinner have a cooked meal of meat or fish with veg and some good carbs like potatoes or rice.

8. Cut out the junk. The worst offender for fatness is sugar so eliminate anything with sugar in your diet, soft drinks, fruit juice, sweets, chocolate, cakes, yogurts you get the idea. Don't eat fast food there are no healthy options no matter how much the company tries to convince you. Cut out heavily processed foods like baked goods sausage rolls, pizza, chips, crisps, cheese stuff like that. Also try to avoid foods which are disguised as healthy, cereal bars, fruit juice, dried fruit, smoothies, yogurts, breakfast cereals virtually anything labelled low fat and anything with a TV advert. No one ever advertises a bag of porridge oats, and no athlete was ever sponsored by steak and broccoli.

9. include cheat meals. This is where you eat whatever you want for a certain meal. I would not suggest doing this more than twice a week and once a week or every two if you are overweight. Always make it the last meal of the day if possible to remove the temptation of eating junk all through the day. This is a cheat meal not a cheat day. Eating junk all day can really mess up your progress when it comes to losing fat and building muscle. This is why it should be the last meal of the day. So you go to bed and start a fresh the next day. The first 2-3 meals should still be good and healthy before you have your cheat. If you keep your diet good for the rest of the time the 1-2 cheat meals a week will not affect your fat loss or muscle gain. You can achieve 100% of the progress with a 95% strict diet. But what about moderation? Surely I can eat whatever I want in moderation right? Wrong. How do you define moderation? A big Mac a day or once a month? You could eat a moderate amount of take away with a moderate amount of chocolate and drink a moderate amount of coke and still be consuming a hell of a lot of junk. Moderation tends to lead to binging. A moderate amount of something makes you crave more of something. Like I've written before who eats the suggested serving size of a tub of Ben and Jerry's? Its like 1/5 of a tub. You eat the whole damn tub. You are better off knowingly eating a tub of ice cream once a week than to try and eat a little bit a night which turns into a tub a night.
Here's an excerpt from The Peaceful Warrior a book I've mentioned before. This is when a wise man was asked about moderation

Moderation? It's mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise. It's the devil's dilemma. It's neither doing nor not doing. It's the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy. Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world afraid to take a stand. It's for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die. lukewarm tea, the devil's own brew.” 
― Dan MillmanWay of the Peaceful Warrior

10. Supplements. These are really not important for a beginner and can lead someone down the wrong path very early on. First things first the vast majority of supplements have little noticeable benefit, have ridiculous unrealistic claims, aren't backed up by scientific research and are designed to just make you part with your hard earned cash. While not all supplements are bad you need to be very critical of anything you do take. As a beginner I would say avoid all supplements until you have good dietary habits in place first. Then start with the basics a protein powder, a multi vitamin, and fish oil. This covers protein intake and general health. There is nothing you can take that will turn you into a Hercules overnight. In fact if you don't want to take any supplements at all that is perfectly fine. I doubt it will effect you progress in a negative way if you eat very healthy but don't take supplements.

You need to make a gradual change with your diet and build good eating habits from the beginning. Give yourself one month to do this. Habits are not built overnight and initial motivation doesn't last forever. So over the course of this month you will go from your current modern diet to a simple healthy diet which will get you started on your way to building muscle and losing fat.

So the first week of the month you will pick 3 days in which you will follow a proper diet like I've outlined so far. You will start the day with either porridge and fruit for breakfast or meat and eggs. It doesn't matter for now which one. The only drinks you will consume on these days are diet or sugar free soft drinks, tea or coffee with no sugar or water. For lunch you will have either sandwiches with whole grain bread containing meat or fish or a salad with meat or fish. Make sure you have a liberal amount of meat. Add in a piece of fruit for afters and some nuts if you like. For dinner go for meat or fish with vegetables. Add some carbohydrate such as potatoes, rice or whole grain pasta. Again you can follow up with fruit for desert. Try not to snack in between these meals. This may mean that you have to increase the size of the meals so that you are satisfied after each meal. If this is not practical such as having a limited time to eat breakfast then just increase the size of the evening meal and resist the temptation to snack in between meals. Try to get as close as possible to the gram of protein per pound of bodyweight number without using supplements. Meat, fish and eggs are the way to go for this.
For the other four days of the week eat however you want. If you want to follow the diet plan for more than 3 days in the week then go ahead but you don't have to. In week 2 you will do the same except you will follow the diet plan for 4 days of week and eat however you wish for 3. The days can be in any combination they don't have to be consecutive. In week 3 you follow the diet for 5 days with 2 days of eating whatever. In week 4 you guessed it you follow the diet for 6 days with only 1 day being what would now be your cheat day. Make sure any junk food or drink is only eaten on this day. In week 5 you will change it from having a whole cheat day to just a cheat meal. The final meal of day 7 will be your cheat meal where you will eat whatever you want with the 2 previous meals still adhering to the diet plan.this will have taken you from a typical crappy diet to a healthy high protein one which will dramatically improve you progress in the gym and your body composition. Due to the gradual nature of the plan you have been weened off the bad stuff slowly with a once weekly outburst to keep you sane. This process make this plan much more sustainable in the long run that a complete and instant trasition to a strict healthy diet.

Don't worry you can still have your roast dinner

While this is the basic diet foundation there is room for further refinement in which I shall go into in later posts. For now stick with this plan and actually build some good habits with your nutrition.

But what about paleo, low carb, low fat, keto, 6 meals a day, intermittent fasting blah, blah, there is nothing wrong with any of these diet plans but for someone who is a complete beginner regarding diet and nutrition none of these are really sustainable. Most beginners who end up following one of these for a few days before crashing and binging out. Then they start a fresh with a new plan trying something else until they give in and fail at that. They have no consistency and therefore achieve no results. Stick to a plan and reap the rewards. No bulking, no cutting just eating for lifting.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

More About Be Strong To be Useful And The Ultimate In General Physical Preparedness.

Within the fitness industry in recent years there has been the fad of functional fitness. This is fitness aimed at helping you overcome physical tasks you may face in life. I have always liked the idea of that. I liked the idea of being ready for anything, of being able to save yourself or others from danger. To me its like being a hero whether that being able to fight off an attacker or carry an injured person to safety. The problem is in the way the fitness industry tries to apply this goal. Exercise balls, stability boards, lightweight kettle bells, trx bands, the vast majority of crossfit, lightweight power bags, rubber tubes, 1 legged everything and various other silly things. What they fail to do is acquire full body strength which carries over to virtually any other fitness endeavour.

This is what the fitness industry thinks functional fitness is.

                       Where as I was thinking more like this.

The phrase to be strong to be useful comes from Georges Herbert after he helped evacuate a town from a volcano eruption. This experience had a profound effect on him, and reinforced his belief that athletic skill must be combined with courage and altruism. This is something I believe is fundamentally missing from the fitness lifestyle. Health, fitness, bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, are all seen as rather vain and selfish pursuits. Normal people view you as obsessive while you view yourself as elitist. just because you lift weights you are somehow a better person than someone who doesn't. Here's something for you, your worth as a person is not dependant on your physique or how much you bench its dependant on your morals and how you act upon them.

After his encounter with the evacuation. Georges began travelling. He remarked the impressive physical development and athleticism of the native tribes he encountered during his travels. He noticed that the tribesmen did no set exercise routine bit will merely a result of there lifestyle in which they would often have to run, climb, crawl, lift, hunt, carry and perform a number of basic human movements. This led him to develop an exercise system based around these movements and taking elements of gymnastics in a hope to emulate the athleticism of the native tribesmen he had encountered. He called this system Methode Naturelle or the Natural Method.

Georges was a pioneer of physical education and spread his method as well a becoming a teacher of physical education. He came up with the idea of using obstacle courses as a way of training and much of the military training came from his influences. Even childrens play grounds are based on some of his original training structures.

Fast forward to the 1950's and the beginning of a more modern devlopment from Georges teachings derived from a man called Raymond Belle. Raymond was an orphan who lived in a military institution. While the children would do daily physical training Raymond decided that he not only wanted to survive his time in orphage in what must have a pretty tough childhood, but wanted to excel. He wanted to be phycally capable enough to be able to defend himself from bullies. He began performing additional training at night such as sneaking out and playing on the obstacle course's and climbing trees. Raymond carried on training in this manner and when he grow up he was drafted into the French fire service where is physical attributes became a great asset.

Raymand Belle had a son named David. As a teenager David became bored with traditional sports and began discussing the training his dad had undertaken himself. Raymond taught David of training in a useful way, a way in which you can help others in an emergency and use your strength and fitness for something more than yourself rather than to just play a sport for entertainment or winning. Not only did Raymond teach David how to train but emphasised the attitude of Georges Herbert of being strong to be useful. David took his farther teachings and with the help of his friends began to develop his own discipline. What started out as games and physical challenges for one another developed into worldwide physical activity known as parkour.

      David Belle

The overriding philosophy of parkour as created by David Belle is similar to that of Georges Herbert's Method naturelle. The purpose of parkour is not to look aesticly pleasing by performing incredible stunts and flips but to move effiently and quickly through your envirment with the aim of developing this ability to help you in life, whether this be in escaping from danger, reaching someone in need or any situation where you need to get somewhere. Unfortunately this philosophy of parkour being something practical used to help yourself or others has been lost in an attempt to perform the most impressive stunt or craziest flip. While these things are impressive to watch they are missing the point of why parkour was originally developed. It has become commercialised by advertisers to promote irrelevant products and there are even competitions based on who can do the most impressive tricks. While there is nothing wrong with competition it is losing the original discipline of parkour. But there are those who are bringing it back to the teachings of George's Herbert about developing useful physical attributes to help yourself or others in need.

Check out MovNat a site run by Erwin Le Corre a man promoting method naturalle in its original form taking it back to the foundation of human movement and ability.

                                    Erwan Le Corre

Also check out his promo video

So why as a powerlifter am I promoting this method of physical training rather than just lifting heavy things? I want to promote the idea of useful strength. Taking the idea of being strong to be useful and applying it to weightlifting. Alot of weightlifting is fueled by ego and while this isn't entirely a bad thing I see training as something more. Just because you have an impressive physique or can lift a lot in the gym it doesn't mean you can do anything outside the context of the gym. I feel incorporating this kind of training where you are using your body in almost every athletic way will help to round out your strength. By lifting and carrying heavy awkward odjects such as rocks, logs, sandbags, barrels etc you build an odd kind of strength which you can't get from the gym alone. By learning to move through your environment you develop not only the functional and athletic ability but are also getting fantastic condition at the same time. The term general physical preparedness is used in powerlifting to describe any exercise that isn't lifting. Exercise designed to get you in shape and improve your recovery capacity so that you are better able to handle heavy lifting. Well I feel that method nataulle training might just be the best form of GPP for a lifter. It let's you train every physical trait while also enjoying nature and improving your functional ability for any physical situation. What I found interesting is check out this old videos of polish weightlifters:

Its looks pretty similar to method naturelle training to me and this is a top weightlifting nation using it for gpp on Olympic athletes. It will certainly take some time and creativity to come up with effective method naturelle workouts but here are a few ideas. First of all get yourself into nature. Woods and forests are a great start. Select a short course with obstacles. These can be trees you have to weave between, branches you have to duck under, fallen logs to jump or climb over or similar things. Now you will train intervals using this short course. You will train in both directions. Limit the length of the course to about 50-100 metres at most. You don't want to make it too long and turn it into long distance running.

Look for logs or rocks the heavier the better and practice clean and press, shouldering or deadlifts with them. Preferably train singles but this will depend on the weight of what you can find. Its also great to carry them for distance zercher, on the shoulder, overhead or any way you like.

The other form of training I suggest are movement challenges. These require creativity. The basic idea is to set yourself a challenge of getting somewhere in a difficult way. Some good ideas are climbing trees, balancing on logs, climbing rocks or bouldering that kind of thing. Try to get some ideas from the videos.

Work on developing your conditioning through moving through a varied enviroment as well as odd strength through lifting and carrying awkward objects. The possibilities are endless in terms of workouts and conditioning. I will begin to come up with more ideas, sample workouts and videos in due time on becoming strong to be useful.