Thirty two at thirty two

It’s been about twelve months since I started regularly training with the 24kg kettlebell. At about an average of six days of training a week, I’ve used this kettlebell for swings and getups for around 288 days. That’s 28,800 swings and 2,880 getups. It’s time to start using the 32kg kettlebell, which I bought and began training with last weekend.

I’ve done powerlifting training to take my squat from 315lbs to 370lbs in a year – at 168lbs body weight – and I know that the length of time and the number of reps you do of an exercise doesn’t mean much on its own. I have seen people with “years of experience” in the gym who are not strong. So I’m not talking about my brief kettlebell history here to say I’m an expert on it.

I give these numbers for context. I’m a novice, and have been honing the skills and strength that are required by, and developed by, swings and getups. Swings have strengthened my lower, mid, and upper back. I no longer get the small pangs I used to feel from sitting too long, or from doing a bunch of work in the yard. Sure I get tired and sore here and there, but rarely do I get a random back ache. Sprinting up hills or stairs is much easier. I find a reserve of energy and tension in my body that is quicker and more responsive than what I felt after a year of powerlifting. I also have better balance, better posture, and less fatique from walking, running, and sprinting during my daily commute.

Getups transformed my shoulders and upper back. There’s not much difference in appearance. I haven’t grown in size, and actually may have gotten a bit skinnier over the past year. But my shoulders are now stronger when my arms are extended, more comfortable, and less problematic on a day to day basis. I can grab things better when they’re far away or behind me, and I’m much more confident in my ability to move things around further away from me.

The getup has also sewn together my whole body with thicker and tighter threads, so to speak. I am more coordinated from head to toe, and feel stronger and more responsive as a whole. Powerlifting brought good brute strength to my entire body, undeniably. I can shoulder bigger loads than ever before in my life, after barbell squats, deadlifts, bench and overhead presses, and Pendlay rows. Kettlebell getups helped me to make this strength more cohesive. Pressing a heavy load up overhead and then bringing it back down to your chest builds your pressing ability. Holding weight straight up from a supine position on the ground all the way up to standing and back down builds much more meaning into that kind of strength.

There are many good uses for the strength gained from heavy barbell exercises. Kettlebell training multiplies the usefulness of that strength. Using the 24kg kettlebell still isn’t quite easy. But compared to the early stages of my training, it’s not nearly as hard. Taking up the 32kg kettlebell recently has brought me back to the mindset of a beginner. I struggle to execute the most elementary movements. I sweat more. I breathe hard, unintentionally. And a little soreness in my muscles and joints has returned. I’ve been adding sets with the new bell slowly, just replacing one more 24kg set here and there. It is an incremental progression.

When I’m on by back, getting ready for the next getup, I wonder how I will ever do this with a 48kg kettlebell. One thing at a time I guess. For now, I thoroughly enjoy the new challenge during training each morning. At thirty two years I make use of my body and the strength I’ve built, which I will continue to build until the day I die.

Live powerfully.

The quirks of daily kettlebell training

Having a kettlebell at home is one of life’s great blessings. It’s convenient and is a great start to each day. There are certainly some challenges that come up as I train day to day, though. I see these as variables to training and additions to my development of strength.

First of all, I live on the second floor of an old apartment building. The floors are not very thick, and I assume based on what I can hear of my neighbors below that any noise or banging against the ground would be quite audible. I used to do my kettlebell sessions indoors, and the whole building shook during swings. It’s not surprising, given the force against the ground with which I have to accelerate the bell. Now that I’m training at six in the morning, I take it outside.

Outside means downstairs, because the landing in front of my door is quite small. I imagine a kettlebell that slips loose mid-swing from the second floor would travel quite far and dig quite deep into the pavement below. I’m not prepared for that risk, so I lug the heavy thing down a flight of steps. This is the first part of the fun of kettlebell training for me. Going down stairs with a kettlebell in one hand creates a nice exercise in balance and stepping. Because I don’t want to wake or startle my neighbors, I step lightly. It’s easier barefooted, of course. Without shoes that restrict the movement of my feet, I can lightly descend and feel the stairs enough to move smoothly and maintain balance. So why is my kettlebell in one hand? Well, because I have my doormat in the other hand. That brings me to the next fun thing.

Since I’m doing the swings outside, I’m pulling up and setting down the iron ball on concrete ground. This creates a nice scrape on the way up, and a dull but resounding thud on the way down. As I want to maintain my privilege of exercising right outside my door for the near future, I needed a way to minimize this noise. So the answer was to bring along my sturdy doormat. The rubber bottom and soft felty top act together as an efficient muffler. To save a trip up and down the staircase, I hold the mat in one hand and the bell in the other. Thus, I naturally go through the strongman drill known as the “suitcase carry”. Carrying a heavy load on one side trains you to balance out that load and develop better stability side-to-side while moving forward. Do it on a staircase and I guess it adds another level of complexity.

It doesn’t end there, of course. Part of kettlebell training involves precision of movement. When swinging the weight, it’s important to keep your feet planted, to stand tall at the end of the hip drive, and to pull it back down with the lats between your legs. If for any reason your heels come off the ground, you must release the bell. Holding on to it can cause injury to your back as you overreach to pull yourself back into the correct stance. Naturally, I wouldn’t want to fling a fifty pound iron ball into the dark dawn. I imagine the effect would be similar to a wrecking ball meeting the side of a high rise. The best case scenario would be a good clunk. A bad scenario could include a shattering crack, a bounce, another crack, a rumbling roll, and thunk thunk thunk down the front steps of the parking area. This is quite the incentive for me to pay full attention to my movements, to execute each part of the swing with precision, and to exercise greater strength in keeping the bell under control. My primary concern is to move in the best way possible. My secondary concern is exerting force. Both of these build strength, but I didn’t pay as much attention to the movement when I was training midday with no concern for how much noise I made.

There are many other unexpected factors that play into kettlebell training early in the morning in an apartment dwelling, but I’ll end with going gentle on the getups. For all the same reasons I want to finesse my swings, I have to be sensitive to the way I come back down on the ground during the different touch points of the movement. I do the getups inside, after I finish the swings and carry the bell back upstairs. To begin there is simply the act of laying down. I can’t just collapse onto the floor. I’ve learned to get down gently, but quickly because I don’t have too much time. Do this for the first time and you appreciate the control it takes.

With the weight in hand, pushing up on the elbow, the foot, and then coming to a stand on the rise, I go soft on the ground too. Counterintuitively, this takes more effort than slamming down on the ground, because the stability is coming from my midsection when I brace myself to make minimal touches on the ground. When I get to exercise on a grassy field, I can slam down against the ground with my foot as I come up to elbow with acceleration. In my apartment when people are sleeping below me, I don’t have that option.

Whatever your situation, if you take up the kettlebell or if you’ve already been training with it, try to appreciate the quirks that come with it. Everyone has a different situation, a different home environment, different time for training, and many other factors that make the training scene unique. See every thing that life brings in your path as part of your strength training. Let it make you stronger.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Butter Coffee Dip

No, not something for dunking your donut.

The Dip. This is the term used by Seth Godin to describe the valley of hardship you must cross to reach the promised land of whatever endeavor you start. Every good result, beneficial enterprise, and upgrade in life involves some form of a dip. I’ll use the word plainly, without emphasis, moving forward.

Stop: This article is not for the sensitive or faint of heart. It’s meant to help you determine whether you’ve got the resources to be able to adapt to fat using butter coffee. There’s a bit of explicit and abrasive content here. And it’s long. It’s meant to challenge you. If you’re ready for it, please proceed. Otherwise save yourself some grief and leave this page – hopefully for another day.

The dip that I describe here is the barrier to using butter coffee for fuel. It involves the challenge that lies between you and proper fat utilization for energy and wellness. If you want to be ketogenic, or be able to primarily utilize fats for energy, you will come to this dip and be forced to reckon with your current metabolic tendencies. Butter coffee is an excellent gateway tool to optimal fat metabolism if you love coffee.

The rewards are great. If you have ever fasted, or had to skip breakfast to do something first thing in the morning, you may have felt a type of euphoria before finally eating. High focus, light mood, ease of effort, and creative outpour. Some people fast regularly for these benefits.

There is a way to access this “mode of operation”, let’s call it, without the hunger. There is a way to have it for a long period of time. Every day. And for the rest of your life. Once you get past the dip.

For some this will be easy. My own adaptation was fairly simple, as well as that of other people I’ve spoken to. Anecdotally, these “lucky” people are under 40, have no major health issues like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, or organ dysfunction, and are physically active or relatively fit. You may not agree with the term lucky if you are within this group. Regardless, these are attributes I have seen that make the dip shorter or less troublesome.

I have seen others struggle with the dip more than I have. Much more. The type of person I have seen struggle to maintain ketosis are over 40, have some health issues like obesity, diabetes, or metabolic dysfunctions, and generally are not as lean or muscular as the first group. However, I have seen a few examples of people in this category of mine who made it through the dip, regularly drink butter coffee, and enjoy the benefits of ketosis.

Many people I’ve talked to, in both categories, had decided to discontinue their efforts toward ketosis because the struggles did not justify the goal. There are definitely people of the first category who did not make it through the dip.

Don’t take this as a scientific grouping of people who will and won’t benefit from fat adaptation or butter coffee. Argue all you want about this. This is my narrow, limited experience with people. Whatever your current physiology and life circumstance, I believe you have the chance to enter a new realm of wellness. And I believe it is most likely through a transition of diet that relies on carbohydrates to one that is more strongly based on fats.

I will apply an insight from a field outside of medicine and health to the task of overcoming the dip here. I heard this from a conversation between Tony Robbins, master life coach, and Tim Ferriss, the human guinea pig. It is an insight from a plastic surgeon, one who’s created more attractive looks for women by minuscule adjustments to their faces. This surgeon lives by the practice that a mere two millimeters of adjustment can make all the difference. Most people are just within one or two tiny millimeters from being irresistibly beautiful.

Take this with a grain of sea salt. I know the general feel about plastic surgery, and I understand how this comes off. However, I look at the core lesson. A tiny distance separates me from accomplishing things I feel are impossible.

This can be expanded to wellness. The idea that for most people, the prize of a healthy body and mind awaits just a few more steps from where they’ve stopped. Just a couple of tiny steps from the point of utter pain, suffering, or misery. I believe that for most of humanity, for most of the endeavors that have been attempted, this is true. Wellness on an individual level is not exempt. Here, I address a very small endeavor that has slipped past many because of the tiny adjustments that need to be made before reaching the rewards.

Before you fully enjoy the benefits of butter coffee and other good fat in your diet, you will come to a few barriers to pass. They were well worth my time and effort to overcome, and so I share this with you. I urge you to read these elements of the dip that I encountered in the past five years to adjust myself to this superior energy source. I welcome you to join me in enjoyment of ketosis, higher focus, and overall improved wellness. But only after accepting the reality of what you must surpass to get here.

First

You will need to move through the fear that grips most people.

  • It’s partly the fear of eating fat. Simple. Although you might eat animal fat already, the social mores against butter, lard, and other forms of fat are strong. People around you will stare, ask hard questions, and flat out make fun of you. I’m talking about people you work with, play with, and love. By starting this experiment of wellness, you are entering a world of fat consumption. You will be harassed. You must embrace this to proceed through to the other side. My most effective quote for dealing with this: “Fuck’em all”. In gentler terms, I didn’t deal. I simply looked ahead and kept moving.
  • There’s also the fear of taking control. You are tackling this big aspect of your life called wellness. If you are afraid of actively making changes to improve your wellness, you are not alone. It sucks to try something you thought was good for you and find it was a waste of time, money, and attention. It’s also embarrassing when your friends and family find out and they tell you that you shouldn’t have done that. So, you’ll need to accept this fear and move through it. You will need to accept responsibility for your wellness. Whether you suffer or not is in large part a result of your own daily doing. To be well, you must decide to do. Know that it only seems harder to be healthy. The reality is that it takes just as much effort to eat candy as it does to eat grass fed butter. You put either in your mouth and swallow. Eaten. The hard part is all the intangible stuff surrounding the butter. Fear. Accept and move through it. As a hack to get there faster, may I suggest meditation.

Second

You will need to adapt to fat. This means your body will need to physiologically learn to effectively absorb nutrition from fat. This takes several days to weeks for some people, maybe more if you are not in the habit of eating a lot of fat. Keep your regular meals at first. Have just a cup of this coffee beverage with breakfast, or an hour before training. Eat “normally” otherwise. Feel it out.

  • Do you feel dizzy? This is a sign that you had too much MCT oil and your brain is in overdrive. Reduce MCT oil.
  • Is your stool wetter or more sour than usual? This is a sign that you are not able to digest as much as you ate. Reduce butter until stool is solid and smooth.
  • Did you get “cold diarrhea”? This is the classic sign of too much MCT oil for your system. Your body is trying to rid itself of excess nutrition. You aren’t ready for however much you took. Reduce MCT oil.
  • Did you get hungry within the next few hours of drinking the coffee? This is a sign that you are not able to optimally utilize fat for energy. Eat other food with the coffee, enough to satiate, not to the point that you are bursting and too full. Adjust the amount of food as hunger levels change through time. Balance the amount of butter in your coffee with the amount of food you eat. More butter, less other food.
  • UNLESS you went through a lot of stress the previous day. If you trained strength or exercised, if you had an emotionally difficult episode like a high stakes meeting or a fight, if you did not sleep enough, or if you had some other taxing situation the previous day, you naturally need more nutrition the next morning. Go with your gut feeling in the morning – literally. If you are hungrier than usual, add more butter than usual. Test the degree and duration of satiety.
  • Did your cravings come back? Distinguish cravings from hunger. Cravings are mostly in the mind, but they stem from a lack of significant nutrients. There’s an interaction between brain and gut that tells you you’re hungry or full. This goes back to amount of butter, adapting to fat utilization, and slowly replacing “food” with good fats. Slowly reduce the instinct to reach for sugary, starchy, processed, “fake” foods. No candy, ever. Seek instead “real” foods, incorporating good fats, green leafy veggies, and rice over bread into your meals. Cravings only grow as much as you feed them. Remember, address your brain.

Third

You will spend a lot of time making this every day. It also takes a long time to clean up. One of the greatest hurdles in making butter coffee is making butter coffee. It usually takes me a full 15 to 20 minutes to finish making mine. This includes heating the water, adding all the ingredients, blending, and pouring it out. You will have to make time. This means that other things will get pushed or omitted from your start-of-day schedule. If it’s Candy Crush, good riddance. If it’s meditation, perhaps you’ll want to plan more carefully. Also, don’t forget cleaning time. You’ll have a dirty and greasy blender, knife, measuring spoons, and coffee-making gear to reckon with. If you don’t tolerate dirty dishes in the sink all day, you will have to figure in the cleaning time.

Fourth

You will need to adjust and test the ingredients of butter coffee to suit you. You must find the best possible quality of ingredients within your means. Cleanliness of the coffee, source of butter and MCT oil, and quality of water are examples of components that affect your wellness. Do not disregard any symptom, do not diminish the value of any single ingredient, and pay attention to adjustments that you make.

Obtaining quality ingredients is one of the most difficult things in the dip. It is both “expensive” and hard to find some of these things, depending on where you live and how much money you can use. But know that this cost can undermine the cost of breakfast, going out for lunch, snacks and candies, and “healthcare” from complications related to your body running primarily on sugar.

Do your best. Compromise on ingredient quality only with full expectation of compromised results. The beginning is often exciting, with the heightened capabilities you feel from the first cup. The dip will require you to make adjustments and will stop most people from getting past the initial highs.

  • Did you get the jitters or a headache? Low coffee bean quality, cheap stuff, and blends are more likely to contain mold contamination, be overcooked, or not fresh. Coffee is a naturally enhancing food. There are a lot of qualities that aren’t identified. Much of the benefits from coffee are lost through these subpar characteristics.
    • Aim for single source or single estate or single origin. This means the beans are grown and processed in one place. The time and attention to the beans is more focused and you will get cleaner product.
    • Dark roasts risk overcooking the beans. If you “like” uber smoky coffee, carefully examine your symptoms. Overcooking coffee can damage the fats and the beneficial elements within the beans. Big name brands usually are careless about this process. Look for brands who pay attention to the roasting process, who talk about it and highlight it.
  • Did you get acne? I am prone to acne. Any bad fats I eat result in different types of acne. Some cause the small bumpy skin on my forehead, others cause large zits deep in the skin, and still others cause the smaller white fat pustules. Now, assuming you are avoiding fried foods from outside home, sugar, and vegetable or subpar animal fats, check your ingredients for the following:
    • Butter. Is it really grass fed cow butter? Research and get a clear answer. Grain fed cows produce fat that is not clean. You might as well be eating margarine. If you cannot find a clear answer, ditch and move on. I would avoid it altogether if I get noticeable acne.
    • MCT oil. Where are the coconuts or palm oil from? Thailand is usually the best source from my experience. The processing also matters, and some companies do not have control over that. Does the product you are using have that level of quality guarantee?
    • Powders. Chocolate, vanilla, cacao butter, cinnamon, collagen. Whatever it is, is it sourced from identifiable places? Or blended from multiple locations? Remember that blends involve extra storage and shipping times, unaccountable processes, and reduced integrity.
  • Is your coffee flat or greasy? Follow the instructions I laid out, verbatim, for making the beverage. Check your timing, making sure to keep things hot and blending fast and long enough for good emulsification.

Fifth

You will need to find the goldilocks amounts of nutrition, the golden timing, and fine tune the quality of your results.
  • Hunger will come sooner or later. The more fat-adapted you are, as they say, the more energy you can obtain from butter coffee and the longer you can perform without eating. Adjust amounts of butter to see how much you need for proper energy. You don’t want to be faint later in the day, and you don’t want to physically deteriorate. I can last ten or more hours on butter coffee if I must. Ideally, I eat around hour eight. Remember, I have been doing this for years. My body is adapted. In the beginning, and for a very long time, you will not be. Prepare to experiment!
  • Find the ideal time for this drink. I like to have my coffee first thing in the morning. Sometimes I can sit all morning and work and drink all my coffee within a couple hours. Other days I have to go somewhere far and will sip while I drive, over a longer period of time. Lately I’ve had to walk the dogs at my mom’s place, and I find that doing this first thing (yes, before my coffee) is most beneficial for every creature. It hasn’t killed me. I have plenty of energy first thing in the morning without any nutrition added, so I am sticking to this schedule. You are different from me. Find your ideal timing for coffee.

Sixth

You can’t avoid discipline. There is no way around this in the dip. You simply must stick to your goal. You must regularly work to make butter coffee right for you and to become fat adapted. Let me end this long article with a long quote by Jim Collins from his excellent book, Great By Choice:

“Discipline, in essence, is consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time. Discipline is not the same as regimentation. Discipline is not the same as measurement. Discipline is not the same as hierarchical obedience or adherence to bureaucratic rules. True discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to conform in ways incompatible with values, performance standards, and long-term aspirations… the only legitimate form of discipline is self-discipline, having the inner will to do whatever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.”

I told you it was long. Now make a decision.

Live powerfully,

Steve

If you need more information or guidance from my experience, please contact me by email. I have limited availability for consultation. If you have questions or comments for other readers, please leave them in the comment section of this post.

 


 

Collins, Jim. Great By Choice (2011)

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Posture, Knots, and Slow Twitch Muscles

“I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest.”

Posture is not just how you hold your shoulders and head. It’s a total body position. We just think of the shoulders and head because we sit all the time. When sitting, all you can see of a person is the top of his body. So we forget the rest of it.

When you move forward, backward, sideways, your body is constantly balancing its long self. It’s technically a couple of thin sticks with a really heavy bowling ball on top. Takes a lot of finesse to move that sort of thing through the world. The finesse is curated by an accumulation of nerves, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All of your body works to enable you to move through your environment with care.

Sitting in a chair, your body from the butt down is taken out of the equation. You leave it up to your torso, shoulders, and neck to balance your bowling ball. Because it’s been attached to your neck for so long, it’s hard to realize how hard it is to balance something of the weight of your head.

Your head weighs just around 11 pounds. Take a virtual, eleven pound bowling ball and stick it on top of a broomstick. Let’s say you’ve got really strong glue to hold it there. Now hold that broomstick just a few inches down from the ball, where your neck might be. Using the stick, virtually move the bowling ball forward, then backward, keeping it upright. Imagine the effort you need to keep it balanced.

Now tilt the bowling ball forward a few degrees. Hold it steady. You don’t need the real thing in your hands to know that this is quite a task. Now virtually hold it in that tilted position for the next two hours. Or four hours. Or however long it is that you sit at your desk at a time, you crazy human you.

Are your virtual hand muscles cramping yet? Sweating? Achy? How about your virtual forearms? Fatigued eh? You get the point. Your neck, shoulders, and torso work all day in this ridiculous balancing act as you sit slouched. What should normally be done in conjunction with your hips, legs, and feet, at least for a larger part of the day, you are doing with just your upper tippity top body.

No wonder there’s strain on the neck and back.

Your postural muscles, namely the neck, are mostly made of slow twitch fiber. Slow twitch muscle fiber gives small but steady output over sustained periods of time. This type of muscle is much more resistant to fatigue than fast twitch fiber, which gives big output for a short period of time.

Slow twitch fiber is ideal for sustained duties like maintaining posture. They take longer to get tired and only need a small amount of energy at a time. But fatigue is still possible. If slow twitch fiber is strained too long, it will fail. And when it fails, it fails hard.

Slow twitch fiber is known to crumple up into knots when it fatigues. Ever wonder why you keep getting those tight spots on your upper back? Do you sit at a desk for hours every day? Do you have a slouched posture? Do you drive for long distances or time? Think slow twitch fibers fatiguing. You’re hanging your bowling ball at an angle, and the strong glue that is your neck and upper back muscles are pulling back on it all day. At the same time, your chest, front shoulders, and biceps are getting a break. Except that they are resting in a shortened position, because your body is slumped forward.

Long term result: overstretched, fatigued neck and back; shortened, inflexible chest and shoulders. We could put a name to this specimen – the modern human.

Short term fix:

  • mobilize your chest, abdomen, biceps, and front shoulders
  • lay on a tennis or lacrosse ball on the floor and roll out knots
  • drink water and salt
  • breathe deep, relax your muscles

Long term fix:

  • adopt awareness of your posture – there is always something doing work
  • sit with your head balanced – may need to raise your screen and have your keyboard close (laptops are non-ideal)
  • time limit your sitting – does not work without an alarm
  • change your environment – sit on the floor, drive less, stand or squat when talking with someone

Live powerfully and live upright,

Steve


Rand, Ayn. (1999) Anthem. First published 1938.

MACKENZIE, B. (1999) Muscle Types [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/muscle.htm [Accessed 27/9/2016]

Icarus And The Sun

Icarus got too close to the sun. He felt it as he soared, and wanted to get close to the thing that gave him good feelings. He wanted more. Then he got an urge to see if he could soar higher and higher, to see if he could perhaps touch the thing that even the gods had to fear. He didn’t respect it. It melted his great wax wings, impressive as they were. The liquified fat sprayed all about him, as his shrinking wings struggled to keep him afloat. So great was the span of his wings that the wax fell several kilometers from the point above the earth where they flailed.

Many literary analysts say this story is about man and his hubris. His greed for more. His blind trek toward that which he does not deserve. Maybe it was literally about the sun. I’m sure more than one ancient Greek has experienced the magnificent power of the sun. Both in the way that it made him feel excellent, basking in it, as well as the way his skin got destroyed when he stayed too long in it. Everyone knows that clothes can pale from sun bleaching. But leave them just long enough, and you get fresh, dry laundry. Plants become brown and crisp when they can no longer stand the energy of the fiery globe. But before that, they absorb the sun’s light and turn it into sugars to feed the growth of their stems, roots, and leaves, and to make full, sweet fruit.

Too much sun hurts. But the right amount is one of life’s staple ingredients.

Someone, somewhere, fed the fear of the sun with “links” to cancer. Yes, there is research linking overexposure to the sun with skin cancer. A good look at this research shows weak relations between sunlight and skin cancer. It shows that the relationship exists with people of specific traits: European origin, sensitive to the sun, and reduced skin DNA repair abilities.

Avoiding the sun, on the other hand, leads to vitamin D deficiency, which is related to bone and muscle problems, increases in cancers, autoimmune disease, and cardiovascular disease.

One billion people are vitamin D deficient. Many of them are in this state because of their fear of the sun. Funny, eh? Not really. Fear is a serious thing. It’s literally keeping our race from a staple of life.

To get enough sunlight, you need the following:

  • At least 40% skin exposed
  • 15-20 minutes
  • Every day

Things that block UV-B from spurring vitamin D and cholesterol sulphate production:

  • Sun block
  • Clothing
  • Glass windows of houses and cars

You who have decreased production of Vitamin D in the sun if you are:

  • Obese
  • Older
  • Heavily clothed
  • Indoors
  • Darker in skin shade
  • Pregnant
  • A child or infant

Use your common sense in being in the sun. Don’t stay if it hurts, it’s too hot, or it’s uncomfortable. Just be out enough to feel good. If you have problems stopping at satiety, you are not alone. Figure out how to end things when they are good. Look into meditation.

The tale of Icarus ends in tragedy, but it expounds on a basic human instinct. After all, it is about the sun. There’s a reason we love it.

Be in the sun at the right time, for the right amount of time.

Like all good things, have until satiety. Then stop.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

No Time To Train

The biggest reason most people stop going to the gym.

With anything you want to prioritize, the hard part is getting it to the top of your list of important things to do. Work. Love. Meals. Rest. Hobbies. Sleep. Sometimes it’s a wonder we ever used to go to the gym.

There’s a lot of cost in exercising. The gym membership. The changing into workout clothes, the drive there, the energy needed to do a workout, the drive back, and the shower, on top of everything else that needs to be done in the evening. Training is not happening because it’s hard.

Even with the benefits you’ve seen in the past, it’s hard to get yourself to do it regularly again. It’s hard for most people. That’s why you don’t see many fifty-year-old’s with six-pack abs. Let alone thirty-year-olds. Speaking of abs, let’s go back to the part about the benefits.

From the start, going to the gym was about the benefits. Having a trim belly, growing muscles, feeling strong, feeling your body thrive. Moving through space by your own strength, and speed, and agility.

With anything you prioritize, you think of the benefits of getting that thing done. And the benefits outweigh the hardship of doing it. Being fit is amazing, but after a while other things got in the way. Your body changed, and suddenly it feels like all that hard work in the past was for nothing. The hard work seems too hard to do now.

That’s because the benefits have faded. If you’re stuck in the mentality that you’ve already done it, and already reaped the rewards, you’re going to have trouble getting in the mindset that you are no longer in that same position of success. Yes, you were once athletic. You were once fit. You were once able to perform well.

But if it’s not true anymore, it’s important that you adjust yourself to that reality. This is the first step in getting to the place where you can dream of the benefits again. And you can dream and visualize and thirst for the success of fitness to the point that the hard work is tiny in comparison to the reward you will reap.

See yourself clearly as you are. See yourself clearly as you will be. See it, and see it, and see it. Think on it, dwell on it, dream of it. And commit to the hard work in between you and that success.

You’ll notice later, as you look back on this moment, that time has shaped itself around training.

Live powerfully!

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Getting Down To The Bottom Of It

Can I fully squat?

It’s a simple question I ask myself every day. The answer tells me the capacity I have for movement and function. The depth and comfort of my squat tells me how comfortable my daily living is going to be. It tells me my capacity for the little emergencies and sudden movements required through life.

For example, walking can be uncomfortable when my upper quads, or hip flexors, are tight. That area gets stiff from a lot of sitting, particularly if I’m sitting in a chair (I prefer the ground). Walking is also affected by ankle mobility. If my calves are tight, stepping is going to be limited. My ankles aren’t going to be able to bend and flex in a smooth manner.

Just because of these two tight areas, I would need to compensate with other motions. When I have tight hip flexors, my instinct is to lean forward to avoid overstretching them. A forward leaning posture, however slight, will require reverse forces to stop a forward fall. This usually takes the form of arms swinging back more, or head tilting back, or reaction from the low back.

Tight ankles result in outward pointing feet. Since my ankles won’t freely bend to allow my foot to stay planted in a forward position, the shortcut is to turn the foot outward. This allows the ankle to stay stiff while the leg passes over the insole. It’s easier forward movement, but it compromises the rest of the leg mechanism.

The long term result? Outward toes, pronated feet, shins over insoles; knees turned out with body weight toward the inside; femurs rotated outward within the hip joint; ligaments, tendons, and musculature settled into misaligned positions. Joints get pressure in vulnerable spots. The skeletal system misaligned. Soft tissues end up shortened or lengthened and less functional.

One misstep, one sudden lunge out of the way of a car, a quick grab for my bag, or an unexpected weight, can result in a seemingly disproportionate injury. Why do people “throw out their backs”? It’s not because of some gargantuan task they were attempting. It’s usually from doing an ordinary task, something benign. The enormity comes from the long term build up of improper form that results in improper physiology.

But mobilizing is not about the fear of injury happening. I strive for wellness. I mobilize because I enjoy walking without limitation. I enjoy being able to take life’s surprises in stride without skipping a beat. I love that I can have this through my own simple work. Small daily actions keep me moving smoothly. With mobility I keep myself prepared. And I respond with ease when the dogs lunge for a squirrel.

Aside from the physical manifestations of being mobile, I also benefit in mind and spirit. It’s much easier to think deep, feel deep, and appreciate when I don’t have something tugging me at the back of my mind – or the back my body.

So, can you fully squat? If not, then mobilize. Little by little, every day. You will be able to.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Pillar of Strength

I was back in the gym this month for the first time in four months.

Something was funky about my squats. I kept wondering why it felt so tricky to keep my back firmly aligned. Things felt a little wobbly once I had loaded weight on the bar.

I was using torque from my feet, spreading the floor. I was pulling out on my knees. I was keeping my butt engaged. And my shoulders were back and down, tight. But I felt like the torque from my legs was bleeding out somewhere, not making it all the way up to the bar.

What was going on?

Then I got a gut feeling. Literally. My gut. I had forgotten all about belly pressure.

Abdomen Pressure

Your belly is a powerful element for exertion. It provides structure for the most strenuous power outputs in life. Lifting a heavy load on your shoulders, hauling something off the ground, and pushing a dead car down the road all require you to keep your belly tight for maximal effort.

It’s because your belly is critical in transferring power from the feet to the point of push or pull. How, when it’s the softest part of the body?

The softness is actually the key. Because your abdomen is flexible, it can act like a balloon. Suck in a deep breath, down to the diaphragm, and you find that you can tighten your belly down around that air. Now feel it. Rock hard.

Ever had your head bonked against your dad’s belly and wondered why it felt like a bowling ball? Well, he was utilizing abdominal pressure.

This balloon of pressure is the pillar through which power can transfer most efficiently from your hips up to your shoulders. When you have it firm, your belly is the connecting structure that keeps your torso sturdy.

With a deflated belly, you put most of the power transfer back on your spine. Not as rigid, not as effective.

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The Weight Belt

Now you might see the value in using a belt during your heaviest powerlifting reps. Wrap a normal belt around your midsection, just above the navel. Breathe in, down against your diaphragm, and push with your belly against the belt. Feel some power there?

I don’t think it’s advantageous to use the belt for lighter lifts. There is value in squatting and deadlifting without a belt. It helps you engage your core by itself, and you learn proper technique. Having a belt through all training, from the lightest weights, can make you depend on it and have a false sense of security.

On your heaviest lifts, though, it can be a powerful tool to scale your well-developed technique. It also helps you build your belly muscles by enabling a greater output from them.

Training Belly Pressure Without a Belt

Start without a belt, using the principle of abdominal pressure in training. Try it first without any weight on your shoulders. Do body weight squats, taking in a deep breath and pressing your belly against it, and hold it in until you squat and stand back up. Then release the breath.

Hold and release your breath for each rep. You may need to take a little breather in between. Don’t pass out. You need oxygen to stay conscious and to stay healthy.

By the way this is great training for low back issues as well. The stability from your belly pressure will help you maintain spinal alignment. Use the principle for daily activities, like lifting things off the floor, picking up grocery backs, and taking out the trash.

Ask me something. I’ll answer.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Summer’s Dusk, Dogs, and the Travel Bug

August has passed the seasonal baton to September. Nights are cooler in California. A northwestern wind continues to breeze through Silicon Valley. The air feels a bit drier in my nose.

The trees have been brushed with a layer of crimson. Just lightly over the tops, the paintbrush of fall is sweeping over our green trees.

In the afternoon, the sun is out and it’s beautiful. It makes everything it touches amazing. It glows and flows into everything else. The dark spots on the dogs’ coats absorbs its energy as we go around the neighborhood. When I rub them down later I feel the radiating heat from their furry backs.

The days are still too hot for our canine companions to do much other than pant. The last couple of weeks have been a battle with fleas for them. I’m learning the necessity of routine and rigor in keeping pests away. We’re just coming to the tail end of the fight, excuse the pun.

We’re going to be in California for the next few weeks, at least. The next leg of travel will most likely be through the rest of southeast Asia that we haven’t been able to visit. We don’t know when that will be yet. I’m grateful to my mom for letting us stay with her during this time.

For now, it’s time for rest, meditation, and exercise. It helped to have some strength built up for the traveling we just did, and I want to continue this cycle of building and then losing through using. Naturally, without regular gym access I’m going to lose the full capacity of my strength. But it’s nice to start from a place of a bit of surplus strength and muscle.

We can plan more vigorous trips at the beginning, and head for more developed and less taxing places later. Seems natural enough to me.

The one hack I’d like to keep developing is retaining strength and mobility through travel. Honing in on a reliable and effective diet when away from home is essential. But there’s also supplementation that helps, and I want to figure out better ways to pack and sustain our supply. If you have tips from experience I’d love to hear from you.

Outside of gym training, I think it’s the perfect time of the year to hike. It’s cool enough in the morning for the exertion, but not so cold as to require long pants. We just may go the next chance we get.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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See the dogs on Snapchat!

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Why Your Back Is Hunched

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Do this quick test: stand with feet pointing forward, at shoulder width or less, and get down in a full squat. All the way down, until your knees can’t bend anymore.

Have someone take a side angle photo of you or be next to a full length mirror. Is your back pretty straight? Or is it hunched over your knees? What about your head? Is it in line with your spine, or bent forward or backward?

Make sure your feet are planted from heel to blade to toes. Use your feet’s grip on the ground to support yourself, and try to straighten out your torso. You want your shoulders back and head in line with your spine. Possible? Or not even a bit?

Okay. If you had a lot of trouble lifting up your torso, you probably have stiff chest, shoulder, and bicep muscles. I get this after bench press sessions, lots of sitting, and lots of walking with a heavy pack when traveling. In all these scenarios, I’m straining forward or in a position that gets the front muscles short and tight.

The result is forward hunching. My favorite remedy is shoulder dislocations. Do three sets of ten of these, and feel the crazy tightness loosen up. It will open up your squat, but it will also help with long hours sitting at work and in traffic, standing taller, and easing upper back and neck aches.

When you think of squatting, the upper body doesn’t seem to be involved. But the mobility of your torso actually affects your ability to squat.

It’s not always necessary that you are in the full squat with a straight spine. Lifting something heavy is a different story, but when you’re just getting into a squat, you can have a rounded back without harm to yourself.

The extent to which your back is straight or curved is, though, an indicator of your mobility. If your back is very hunched, it could mean that the tissues of your abdomen, ribs, chest, and shoulders are tight.

If the front of your body is tight, it’s going to pull you forward and make it hard to straighten up. Work on your normal sitting and standing positions. If you’re slouching, get yourself upright. Open up the chest and shoulders, and stretch out your biceps. And squat every day to test yourself.

It’s a constant work in progress for me. The more I’m able to keep my torso aligned, the better time I have living each day free of aches, kinks, and pain.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily