What I’ve Been Chewing

I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.

I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.

These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.

Gentleness

There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.

One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.

In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?

There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?

Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.

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Barefoot training

Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.

We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.

Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.

Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.

So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.

Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.

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Fat first

From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?

Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.

Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.

Kids and perfect form

I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.

My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.

I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.

Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.

It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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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

The Mighty Strength Training Recovery Tool

Is sleep.

How I yearn for that delicious, thick crust, the crumbling surface of sleep from which I emerge well rested. I feel like a soggy pie dough, not quite done, damp and tender. I want that oven, set to the right temperature, and to be snug in there until I am golden brown, toasty, and fully set.
I’m still feeling significant soreness everywhere. I completed a second training session two days ago. After five months away from the gym, my strength is not what it used to be. I’m starting the 5×5 powerlifting progression again. The weights I’m using are nearly at ground zero. No problem. I did the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
My mobility is better, though, as I’ve been practicing that regularly while traveling. With the weight low, I was able to maintain good form through all the lifts. I want to move grains of sand with finesse, not die trying to push a mountain.
I can hardly sit on my butt without wincing. The first couple of sessions after a training stall are usually followed by exaggerated soreness, but recovery is taking longer than I expected.
I looked up my old notes on recovery, and laughed. The recovery tool I listed as number one was sleep. It was funny because it’s so basic and so true.
It’s funny that I can have the best food, supplements, and ample mobility exercises, and still not feel close to a hundred percent without sleep. When I sleep, it’s like preparing for war. I take my dose of magnesium, vitamin C, and kelp. I make sure my grounding mat is plugged in and positioned at my feet. I make sure the blinds are closed away from me, so that the sun doesn’t leak through at an angle in the morning. I try my best to keep the room cool. After meditation and journaling, and reading, I finally plug my ears and cover my eyes.
Right now I don’t have the luxury of all that. I discovered that ear plugs cause a little allergic reaction and make me cough. The sun comes up early. Dogs bark. So I need to make do. Still figuring things out.
There is contradictory research out there about sleep and physical recovery. Animals were observed to sleep longer after exercise. People were found to have different hormone responses to exercise, which affected sleep quality and duration. Those who had steady adrenal function also had longer stage 3 (deepest non-REM) sleep. And the few that had changed adrenal function had the same or shorter stage 3 sleep. There seemed to be a compensation between sleep and adrenal function.
But another study showed that people who exercised in the morning did not sleep more or less, while people who exercised in the evening slept more. This led to a new hypothesis that recovery might also take place when a person is awake.
For me, it could be the perception of soreness and tiredness that lingers without ample sleep. Whether it’s psychological or physiological, it makes no difference to me. I need deep sleep, a lot of it, to recover from training.
The bake of life. Sleep. When the juices have time to flow, growth hormone, testosterone, vitamins, minerals, fluids reach each and every cell with nourishment and repair and improvement. The kneading, cutting, and garnishes of life come together in sleep.
Ah, sleep, I will find you!
Let’s do ourselves a favor. Sleep the deepest possible sleep you can tonight. See how it feels in the morning.
Live powerfully,
Steve
P.S., anyone know a good way to keep out noise other than foam ear plugs?
Sleep Hacks
Research

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Capability Over Achievement

Brilliant Friends,

Training on a regular basis is difficult. Always has been, still is, will be. It’s also overrated.

I used to think it was hard because of work. I don’t have a job anymore, and I’m still barely getting to the gym once a week. But I don’t know that I need to train more than that.

At approximately one training session per week, I am able to build strength. Nutrition plays a big role. Brazilian jiu jitsu lessons, on occasion, help with mobility and stamina. Still, I rarely train in any respect more than twice a week. To do this, I needed something more effective than exhausting maximal output sessions.

I found the Faleev Method. It’s an offbeat program using 5×5 powerlifting but limiting the output of effort. The idea is to do enough work but leave at least one rep in the tank every set. So when I can do a maximum of five solid reps, I stop at four. Starting weight for the program is one at which you can do at least two sets of five. Then, you keep going with that weight until you’re able to do five solid reps with another in the tank, five times.

It was arbitrary at first. How do I know if I can only do one more rep? It was a lot harder to figure out than I had expected. But after several tries, I found the point where going any further would be excessive exertion. It’s a weird concept, but it makes sense in application.

Over the long run I actually seem to be getting stronger. I haven’t tested this against my maximum yet, but I am pretty positive that it is working. I can tell that my movements are more solid.

I don’t leave the gym feeling completely exhausted either, which is awesome. That doesn’t mean the training doesn’t take its toll. I’ve been recovering from deadlifts and squats this week and I needed a lot more sleep than I expected. Thankfully I was able to get it.

The Faleev method is kind of funny. I’ve been at the same weights for a few months now. This has the effect of making me very “well-versed” in each exercise. It also makes me look a bit insane at the gym, because I never seem to do anything else. Just like with the 5×5 progression strength training philosophy that I first used, the magic is in the itty bitty details. The incremental improvements.

I’ve become ever more conscious of precise form and technique on every rep. I keep myself in the mindset of sober process instead of adrenaline. Meditation helps. The long term goal is to get to the next level of strength. The immediate focus is to make sure that every squat is done with precise form, balance, airtight torque, good speed, and preservation of myself. No going crazy just to tally an extra rep.

Paying attention to what’s working is hard when it takes time to see if it’s working. Staying sober and ironing out the details in the meantime is even tougher. It’s certainly not the norm. At the gym, everyone’s cranking out 300% today and getting nowhere tomorrow.

The purpose shapes the behavior, of course. The gym can be a venue for expression. A place for meditation in the repeated movements and breathing. A hub to socialize, bonds formed in the common struggles under the bar.

Pushing to the absolute limits reaps major endorphin release and a sense of accomplishment. It’s amazing. Doing so without form, though, and throwing technique to the winds stretches beyond the effective bounds of training.

Training is about preparation. It’s not about theater. It’s about learning.

And self-awareness. Aiming not for a number, but for a relative output. Getting better. Paying tons of attention to what’s going on. “How many can I do well this time?” instead of “I gotta hit five”. Calibrating each set to today’s strength, energy, and ability.

We can’t assume that we’re stronger than last time. We acknowledge all factors of life affecting us since. The rest comes down to recovery and responsible self care.

The best part is when it’s much easier to do the reps. To notice, rather than force. That is strength training. Capability over achievement.

To powerful living!

Steve

Get Rid of Slack on the Deadlift

Brilliant Friends,

Here are a couple of thoughts on a more effective deadlift.

A common point of energy waste in the deadlift is the initial lift of the weight from the ground. That exact moment the weight comes off the ground should be the first upward movement of your body as well.

You would think this is intuitive. But if you watch deadlift videos on Instagram and Youtube, you’ll notice that a lot of people start their lift with their butts. Before the weight lifts off the ground, their hips have already moved up a few inches. You might notice this about yourself, too.

This is inefficient channeling of energy through the legs, and takes away from upward movement of the weight.

You can develop a better deadlift by minimizing this power leakage from the start. The aim is absolute tension and rigidity before the “pull” (what we call the lifting portion of the deadlift). By doing this, you will be able to maintain good form throughout the lift, keeping your back neutral, knees out, and head aligned. This will minimize and even prevent your upper back from curving forward into a slouch.

Start Position

To create the most effective output, focus on the setup. Once you grab the bar:

  • Straighten your arms
  • Push your feet into the ground
  • Pull up against the bar just short of lifting it to anchor yourself into the ground.
  • Pull back on your shoulder blades, like the wings of a jet folding in after take-off.
  • Flex your butt, think of squeezing your sphincter
  • Spread the floor with your feet (see my squat newsletter  for description)

If someone came by from any direction and pushed you, you would not be budged. No looseness in any part of your body, upward, downward, or sideways. Everything should be rock solid and ready for take off.

Back

Your back should have a straight arrow pointing through it from top of the head through the end of your butt.

Eyes

As you take hold of the bar, focus on one spot on the ground in front of you and do not look away. This helps with keeping the head in a neutral alignment with the rest of your spine.

The Pull

And here goes. I like Mehdi Hadim‘s two-part cue the best:

  1. Push the ground away from you
  2. When bar passes knees, slam your hips forward into the bar

Descent

You now stand upright with bar held at arms length.

  1. Pull in a belly breath and lock it into your lungs for abdominal pressure.
  2. Let down the weight in the exact reverse way. Start with hips moving back, keeping tension in butt, hamstrings, knees and feet.
  3. When the bar reaches your knees, allow them to start parting and bending, maintaining full tension.
  4. Do not drop the weight. It’s sloppy and rude, and it will mess up your back and everyone’s eardrums. Think Batman. Be quiet, be swift, and be gone.

I’ll send one on grip next. Try these with minimal weight first. As in, just the bar. Or a broomstick.

To powerful living,

Steve

 
Copyright © 2016 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Powerlifting and Progression Strength Training

Building Sustained and Undeniable Strength

My breakthrough in strength was unexpected after football in high school and rugby in my college years. I didn’t expect to get much stronger than my prime sporting days in my early twenties.

At the peak of my strength, I hit a maximum squat of 315 lb. for three reps. This was 1.85x my body weight. At age 24 I knew I was pretty strong for my size, but I measured myself mostly by what I looked like. I kept lifting heavy weights with flawed mechanics, enough to repeatedly agitate old sports injuries. I didn’t know what to do after reaching plateaus, so if I couldn’t hit a weight that I had lifted previously I would try it again next time until I either got a muscle or tendon tweaked, or until I just got tired of trying.

My workouts became oscillating cycles of programming, with no measurable progress. I rarely allowed myself to recover. I didn’t really believe in recovery. I thought that if I took a break in my workouts I would get skinny and weak, which actually was true back then. Eventually I realized I was getting nowhere. Although I looked ripped, I was miserable with pain, fatigue, and lack of purpose.

In the spring of 2012 I got busy finding answers to these problems. I’m going to talk here about how progression strength training completely changed my outlook on exercise and solved many of the problems that came from the aimless upkeep of workouts and body building programs.

Progression Strength Training

After years and years of intense physical training on the field and in the gym, my top squat was 315lb. for three reps. After just 36 weeks of progression strength training, though, I squatted 340lb. for 3 sets of 5 reps. How is that possible? I used a 5×5 method described by Mehdi Hadim at Stronglifts.com. It is a powerlifting program specifically geared for gaining strength, and I produced enormous results from it using three key tenets: form, consistency, and progression.

Form: start from zero

I listened to Mehdi, scrapped my old ways, and implemented better habits of technique. I learned to back squat at parallel, knees out, and back straight. I recorded video of myself from the side and back to ensure I was nailing down form. I thought I knew how to squat properly until I actually taped myself and watched. It took several days of practice for me to get myself in the correct positions with a broomstick. I did this at home, barefoot without weights.

You must ingrain form starting with very light or no weights in order to prepare for the immense challenges that will come. It is my belief that the only way to do this is to practice until you can do the movements correctly without thinking. When you are at the peak of your abilities, every ounce of mind strength will be needed just to pack your gym bag and get yourself in front of the loaded bar. At this point, it will be too late to think about each body part and mechanism. You won’t have the mental capacity to overcome your fear under the bar. You must do the hard stuff and master form early so that on your heaviest sets ever, every watt of brain power is spent on telling yourself you can do it. This is absolutely crucial to progress.

Start with the end in mind and commit yourself to mastering form.

Consistency: do what is effective over and over

There are just five powerlifting movements. The Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press (OHP), Bench Press, and Pendlay Row. Kelly Starrett would define these as “Category One” movements in his book, Becoming a Supple Leopard. It means there is no disconnection of tension throughout the movement. You pick up the weight in a static starting position and do the movement without any tosses or sudden position changes. They are simple exercises and do not require complicated speed and timing.

They are each done for 5×5, meaning five sets of five repetitions. The squat is done every session, and all five exercises are grouped into two sessions:

Day A: Squat, Bench, Row

Day B: Squat, OHP, Deadlift

I used no other exercises in trying to build strength. No accessory lifts, no machines, no pushups or pullups. Just these five. I did utilize mobility techniques and warm ups for almost every session, but there was no need for the bells and whistles.

Three days a week with two days of rest between each week. As the weight becomes intermediate and then advanced, the periods of rest will lengthen and a “week” will be more than seven days long. This is why I use the term “cycle” instead of “week”, because it often took me longer than a seven day stretch to complete three sessions. It took me a while to accept that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Cycle One: A, B, A

Cycle Two: B, A, B

And so forth, until you reach plateaus and move on to the next training program.

I am only giving you my specific experience with the program here. See Stronglifts 5×5 for more details on the program, and scroll to the bottom for a helpful spreadsheet that maps out a plan for you.

Progression: beauty and monstrosity

The weight you lift on each exercise is increased by 5lb. every session. So the squat progression, if started at 45lb. (an unloaded barbell) would look like:

Week 1

Day 1: 45lb.

Day 2: 50lb.

Day 3: 55lb.

Skip ahead to Week 4

Day 1:  90lb.

Day 2: 95lb.

Day 3: 100lb.

The weight quickly increases. This is the beauty and the monstrosity of progression. I suggest you start at a much lower weight than you normally lift. If you can conquer your ego, start with the bar, a kettle bell, or just your body weight. It is crucial that you lift with only the best form and that you are ready for the immense challenges down the road. Plus you are going to get your ass kicked much sooner if you start too heavy.

This is the progression that I went through:

Start Date 3/19/12

Week 1 Day 1: 95lb.

Week 3 Day 2: 135lb.

Week 8 Day 1: 200lb.

Week 14 Day 1: 285lb.

Week 15 Day 1: 300lb.

I’m not going to lie, things got scary quick. Remember this is at 5×5. I was glad I had prepared myself with decent form at the beginning, so that all I had to deal with was my scared little mind. Start with the end in mind and prepare yourself well for that end.

De-loading: the magic of progression

Each of the five exercises will challenge you at different rates. I started my squat at 95lb. (because I couldn’t get past my ego) and progressed to 315lb. at week 16 before hitting a plateau. This means that I was not able to squat 315lb. for five sets of five reps on my first try. Below are my actual repetitions:

(315lb.) Week 16, Day One: 5, 4, 4, 4, 4

(315lb.) Week 16, Day Two: 5, 5, 4, 5, 4

(315lb.) Week 16, Day Three: 4, 3, 4, 4, 2

My mind crapped out by that third session, and I could not go any further. That was okay. This, too, is the beauty of progression. When you reach a plateau, or a stalling point, in your progression, you “de-load” the weight for that specific exercise.

The standard de-load is 20%. From 315lb. I de-loaded to 285lb. on my next session.

(285 lb.) Week 17 Day One: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5

The next time I hit the same weight would have been at least a couple of weeks later, after some recovery. This is not just physical recovery, but more importantly, mental recovery. At the highest level of training, my mind started to discourage me from doing something that it perceived as dangerous. De-loading helped to reset my reference point, letting me “start over” and feel some confidence with easier sessions.

Undeniable Strength

When I reached that same training weight the second time, it felt easier and more doable. I succeeded in completing all the sets. I surpassed my first plateau, and I knew I was significantly stronger.  I continued with the training sessions until I reached my next plateau. This came much sooner than the first one, since I was pushing the envelope now.

I started the 5×5 program on March 19, 2012 with a 95lb. squat. I progressed to a 320lb. squat in 26 weeks and reached three plateaus. At that point I lowered the number of sets to three instead of five. 3×5 is the next step after 5×5 that is suggested by Stronglifts, and it helped to continue my strength improvement. On November 17, 2012 I completed three sets of five reps at 340 lb.

(340 lb.) Week 35, Day Two 11/15/12: 5, 3, 4

(340 lb.) Week 35, Day Three 11/17/12: 5, 5, 5

(342.5 lb.) Week 36, Day One (Date not recorded): 4, 4, 4

Obviously, I already had a low to intermediate level of strength which allowed me to get pretty far before my first plateau. However, this program ingrained form and provided a consistent mechanism through which I reached a higher level of strength. I wasn’t just doing a one-rep max of 320lb. I was doing five sets of five reps at 320lb.

I can’t tell you how far you will go on the 5×5 program. But I do know that it can bring you deep into your potential for strength. Progression strength training will challenge you in a way that other programs won’t. It is an effective starting point for building strength beyond your belief.

Get the 5×5 spreadsheet from Stronglifts.com here. It’s free and this is not an affiliate link. I just want to you try it and find results that you did not think possible. Let me know in the comments section if you have any questions or if you want to share your own results from using 5×5 training!

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Strength Training Session: Madcow Cycle Six, Day Two

My Brilliant Friends,

I want to share some clips and details of my training this past Friday. I’m on my second run of a training program called Madcow, which you can read about here.

Training looked like this for me on day 2 of cycle 6:
Day Two: 5 repetitions each set
  • Squat 142, 177, 212, 212 – completed
  • Overhead Press (OHP) 84, 101, 117, 134 – completed only three reps
  • Deadlift 208, 249, 291, 332 – completed
Next session will look like this:
Day Three: 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 six sets
  • Squat 5x(142, 177, 212, 248), 3x 290, 8x 212
  • Bench 5x(91, 113, 136, 158), 3x 185, 8x 136
  • Row 5x(72, 89, 107, 125), 3x 147, 8x 107

The bolded numbers are the work sets, and the rest are warm up and warm down sets.

More on Day Two

Day Two is a fun session with OHP and Deadlifts. These two exercises only occur once per cycle, so each time I do them I’m trying to hit a new max. On Day Two, the squat is a lighter session with no maximum to hit.

Squat and Warm Ups

Since squats are light on Day Two, there’s not too much stress. However, I use this down time to focus on form and mobility. A few points about my squats on this session:

  • Hip mobility – I always start with this exercise on both sides of the hips to expand mobility and get my hips rotating outward after all that sitting at work.
  • Warm up sets are key to powerful lifting without injury. There’s no way I can load maximum weight and squat it first thing. I start with an empty bar and work my way up. The Madcow program has the warm up built into it, with progressively heavier weights until the work set.
  • Proper depth means that the hip joint goes below the knee joint. Period.
  • You can see that my rib cage is slightly opening up as I go down. This is caused by a couple factors: stiff knees and ankles, and tight hips. I had a two week break since my last session, and was sitting a lot at work. Killed my mobility! To compensate for stiff knees and ankles, my torso extended in order for me to get into the “hole”, or the bottom of the squat. Not good. Supple ankles and knees allow for more outward movement of the knees, allowing the torso to remain upright and straight as it moves down into the hole. Homework for me.
  • Tight hips also contributed to my torso bending. Hip tightness impedes the natural outward rotation of the upper legs as you pull yourself down into the hole. In addition to the knees and ankels, outward rotation of your thighs allows your abdomen and torso to descend upright and aligned, without bending and losing tension.

I’ve been working on keeping my torso a rock solid pillar throughout the squat, to stabilize my spine and allow more effective power transfer from my legs and hips. Any bending in the torso absorbs power and steals it away from upward push. It also puts my back at risk of injury. So I’ve got to work on keeping my legs supple because by the next session, I’m going to have trouble hitting my next 3-rep set if I can’t keep a rock solid torso!

Overhead Press (OHP)

OHP adds some fun to the mix, because it requires a bit more finesse. I have been focusing on keeping my torso solid throughout this lift as well, and it gets tricky for a different reason from the squat. I noticed that when the weight got heavy my ribcage would lift, to allow my pecs to engage the weight.

Keeping my ribcage down

  • minimizes pectoral involvement
  • requires greater mobility of the shoulders, and
  • allows for an even distribution of deltoid engagement front to back.

The OHP requires some animal strength, but more focus and attention. I couldn’t muster the mental focus needed to hit all five reps. Next time!

Deadlift

I try to put out 400% effort on the deadlift, at the end of the session. You can see me taking a pause the top before my last set, and I’m actually taking in a breath before I lower into the last pull. Why do I do this? First of all, I’m spent and needed a pause. It’s better to rest at the top of the deadlift, rather than at the bottom, even though it’s counterintuitive. When you’re standing, you have skeletal support. In the lowered position, you’re flexing just to be there.

But more importantly, I’m getting air into my torso while standing, where there’s not as much pressure, instead of at the bottom, where it’s too late to try to create abdominal pressure. It’s a trick that comes in handy for heavy multi-rep sets, especially when you’re tired and need to rest for a second.

At the top of my last pull, I hold the bar for a count of ten (fast count this time, I was spent!) to increase grip strength. It’s a great opportunity, with no other exercises to follow, to train the grip. If you can hold it for longer, go for it.

Next Session

Some relative max weights to come in my next session. I say relative because I’ve lifted more weight than the ones I’m going to do next session, but for this iteration of Madcow it’s the most yet.

Thanks for reading, hope you do something with this. Love to hear your thoughts below.

To powerful living,

Steve

Madcow: A Snapshot

Brilliant Friends!

If you have reached a couple plateaus on a basic 5×5 strength training program, move on to Madcow.

Mehdi Hadim of Stronglifts 5×5 advises using this program after the basic 5×5 program, and I agree. It’s a bit more advanced than an integral progression, and the jumps in weight from cycle to cycle are larger. So in other words, you’re increasing each week by percentages, rather than by specific weight increments like 2.5 or 5 lb.  Some basic tenets of the program are:

  • Exercises start light and progress to a heavy work set.
  • Most sets consist of five repetitions.
  • Three training sessions in a cycle, with squats on every session.
  • The last session, or Day Three, of each cycle presents a 3-rep max on the squat, bench, and row. This max becomes the next work set for Day One of the new cycle.
  • Do the basic 5×5 first, then move on to Madcow. Don’t skip the basics, if you’re not squatting at least 200 lb. with form.
The program looks like this for me on cycle 6:
Day One: 5×5 each set
  • Squat 142, 177, 212, 248, 283
  • Bench 91, 113, 136, 158, 181
  • Pendlay Row 72, 89, 107, 125, 143
Day Two: 4×5 each set
  • Squat 142, 177, 212, 212
  • Overhead Press (OHP) 84, 101, 117, 134
  • Deadlift 208, 249, 291, 332
Day Three: 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 six sets
  • Squat 5x(142, 177, 212, 248), 3x 290, 8x 212
  • Bench 5x(91, 113, 136, 158), 3x 185, 8x 136
  • Row 5x(72, 89, 107, 125), 3x 147, 8x 107
Cycle 7, Day One: 5×5 each set
  • Squat 145, 181, 218, 254, 290
  • Bench 93, 116, 139, 162, 185
  • Pendlay Row 74, 92, 110, 129, 147

Click here to see the spreadsheet. You can plug in your own numbers and get weeks of programming laid out for you.

To powerful living,

Steve

Overhead Press Madcow Training Session One

No More Protein Shakes: How to  Eat Like a Human and Still Be Strong

My Brilliant Friends,

Last March I hit a squat of 370 lb. and a deadlift of 391 lb. without protein shakes. That’s a squat of 2.2x my body weight of 168 lb. That may seem like a lot, but I’m a normal guy and I just learned to do a few things right.

My strength results came after a year of effective eating paired with progression strength training. I was able to take the 5×5 powerlifting system much further than most people, because I adopted an unusual nutritional philosophy. If your primary focus is getting strong and lean, you don’t have to go the route of whey protein and chicken breast. Also, the prescription of six meals a day is overkill.

In fact, I ate less food and skipped the protein shakes for a 65 lb. increase in my squat. I did two things with food that changed everything: I started the day with healthy fats, and ate carbs at night. These simple adjustments took my strength to a new level. It wasn’t easy to change my habits, but the results came fast.

Effective Eating

By changing when I ate certain foods, I effected greater focus and strength output during training sessions and physical activities. My energy level multiplied, and my strength surpassed my expectations.

Carbohydrates at Night

This sounds crazy to some of you, because most people say that carbs at night make you fat. That’s conventional wisdom. Here’s my secret: I usually only eat carbs at night, and never in the morning. Why?

Think of your energy on a scale of zero to five, five being razor-focused and kicking ass, zero being non-functional and getting your ass kicked. Then think of your hunger on a scale of zero to five, zero being starved and five being completely satiated. My perceived energy and hunger levels after eating carbs for breakfast:

Energy Vs Hunger Graph

With the effects shown above, it didn’t make sense for me to eat carbs first thing in the morning. I may have felt lively as I was eating, but by the time I was ready to get work done my focus was crashing. Soon after that my stomach would grumble, and then I would get moody and just want people out of my way so I could hurry up and eat again. It didn’t work for me.

The same was true for strength training. I would get an energy crash just as I got to the gym, and it sucked. Suddenly the motivation I was feeling an hour before disappeared, and I would have a sober time getting warmed up and lifting. I would be tired during my training session and unfocused, and this often led to small injuries from bad form and overworking myself.

So if I didn’t eat carbs in the morning, what did I eat?

Fat in the Morning

Two years ago, my gym buddy introduced me to BULLETPROOF® Coffee. It’s a strange recipe consisting of grass fed butter, MCT oil, and coffee, from the Silicon Valley biohacker named Dave Asprey, at The Bulletproof Executive. From the first time I drank this butter coffee concoction in the mornings, I met incredible results: my energy level shot through the roof, it was sustained throughout the day without any other food, and I was rock-steady focused.

Using the same scale of zero to five from our carb-heavy breakfast graph, here are my perceived energy and hunger levels on nothing but good fats in the morning:

Energy Vs Hunger Fat Graph

I found that I could go eight to twelve hour days without lunch. And I was not crawling, either. I managed staff of a busy call center, I was reading, writing, and meditating, and I took pride in doing these things with focus and attention.

So I flipped my eating. I had carbs only toward the end of the day, and only good fats in the morning. This gave me access to unparalleled energy from morning to night, and allowed me to restore my need for energy without interfering with activities during the day. For dinner, I went all out. I ate multiple servings of rice if I felt the hunger, and I had fruits and desserts. Then, I would relax and go to bed feeling good. The best part was, in the morning, I was not fat.

Sure, this is my own perception of energy and hunger. There are obviously a lot of complex things going on with hormones, catabolism and anabolism, and I’m not going to say that I have measured or understand all of those mechanisms. I do know that fat works better for me than carbs by orders of magnitude in the morning.

That’s it. These are my two most effective principles of food timing, around which all other eating falls into place. Carbs at night, fats in the morning.

Starting with Fat for Strength Training

The most amazing thing was that starting with fat was optimal for strength training too. I was scared at first that I would faint during my training because I wasn’t eating any carbohydrates. When you have 200 lb. on your back you don’t want to lose consciousness. But guess what? Not only did I stay conscious, I was more focused and had more power output than if I had eaten carbs. A quick list of benefits of training with fat as fuel:

  • No heavy “digestion” slump that is typical after eating carbs, so I’m able to start my first exercise as quickly as 15 to 30 minutes after having butter coffee.
  • Absolutely razor focused during sessions. Able to control every minutiae of form at the bottom of the heaviest squats.
  • More presence and control during exercises means less fear with peak weights on my back.
  • Far less of crazy “beast mode” and just blindly tearing through exercises.
  • No injuries from squatting 3x per week for 30+ weeks on the 5×5 progression strength training program.

Here’s what a training day looks like for me:

  • Normally I have two cups of butter coffee first thing in the morning.
  • Before training sessions, I add a tablespoon of collagen powder to my coffee along with the butter and MCT oil. This gives my body the building blocks for joint and connective tissue repair.
  • When I don’t train, I omit the collagen, since it makes me hungry within about four hours. On training days, since I was going to eat after my session anyway, hunger was okay.
  • I usually read, write, meditate, stool, and then hit the gym about an hour or two after finishing my coffee.
  • After training, I usually eat white rice mixed with grass fed butter, meat, and dark green veggies like kale, broccoli, or spinach. This is usually leftovers from the night before. If I don’t have any leftovers I make eggs and bacon.

Observe your energy and focus levels in the morning. Do you eat breakfast, and if so, what does that look like? Note how long it takes for you to start to feel hungry. Pay attention to these two factors at lunch time. Did you train or exercise one or two days before? Take note of these baseline factors and your levels of energy and hunger. Then try adding good fats to your morning, and take note of any differences.

Brilliantly Effective Foods

Now for the actual foods that worked the greatest wonders for me: meat and fats from grass fed or wild animals, leafy veggies, rice, and more. Let’s start with the healthy fats.

Butter Coffee

I discovered the power of fat in my diet soon after that fateful day that my training buddy suggested I try Bulletproof Coffee. This drink serves as an amazing energy source from fats, and is unparalleled as fuel for a strength training session. See my butter coffee recipe for amazing taste and texture tips. From the Bulletproof Executive website I started my journey of learning that fats give me more energy for longer periods of time than carbs. I started by having a small cup of butter coffee with my breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and avocado, and eventually found that the beverage alone gave me  enough energy for my training sessions.

Quick breakdown of butter coffee as the ultimate natural fuel:

  • The grass fed butter provides vitamins, saturated fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). It is very filling too.
  • Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil consists of C-8 and C-10 fatty acids that pass easily from the gut to the brain and rest of the body for quickly usable energy in the form of ketones.
  • The coffee, of course, has flavonoids and antioxidants that enhance focus and drive during training and intense mental activities.

This drink is clean-burning rocket fuel that gives me maximal focus, endurance, and strength output. For my recipe and links to get ingredients for yourself, see my post on how to Hack Your Butter Coffee.

Save Money on Ineffective Lunches

Having my coffee blended with grass fed butter every morning makes sense micro-economically.  I eat no breakfast other than butter coffee. This saves me time on food prep and cleaning (blender, table knife, and measuring spoons). Because it’s so filling, I don’t eat lunch, unless I trained the day before.

Looking at a very low end of $10 per restaurant lunch in Los Angeles, that is saving me more than $40 per week. This alone makes up for the weekly cost of my butter coffee, which for me includes 1.5 cups of grass fed butter per week (less than $5), 10 tbps. of Brain Octane oil ($5.49), and 30 g of coffee ($0.54) as a baseline. I do add other elements to enhance flavor and performance, so I’m spending about $11 a week. Not taking dinner into account, and excluding the cost of breakfast that I no longer eat, I am 3-4 times more food-cost-efficient from morning to evening than I used to be. Take my previous cost of breakfast, which usually consisted of two to three eggs, bacon, and toast, I am at least 5x more food cost-efficient than I was three years ago.

This isn’t to say you’ll be able to go a whole day with just butter coffee from day one, two, three, or even day seven. It took a few weeks for me to get to a state of metabolism where I could effectively use fat alone for energy. You may need to try it a few times and see how it works for you, in addition to your regular meals. I eventually got more accustomed to the calorie profile of fats and need less food for the same amount of energy. I suggest adding it to what you already do, and adjust as you go.

The usual exception to no lunches is after strength training sessions or some physical activity the day before. For the next day, and sometimes two days later, I feel hungry midday. If I want to make time for lunch on these days I might have a salad with some wild salmon and sweet potatoes, with dressing made from MCT oil and vinegar. If I don’t eat lunch, it takes about a day longer for me to recover from training. However, my focus isn’t affected during the day.

Kill 1 p.m. Meetings and End the Day on Fire

Not only am I more efficient, I am more effective. Having butter coffee in the morning without carbs gives me razor focus that is sustained for hours and hours. I can focus on tasks and interact effectively with people as late as 10 or 11 p.m. I’m definitely not 100% at the end of the day, but I’m rarely “hangry”, moody, or in any sort of an energy crisis.

I feel great from the start of my morning through lunch hour, when most people need to go get something to eat. It saves me time, energy, and attention when I can continue on with a task and not have to stand in line for a $15 sandwich and soda. I also don’t have a post-lunch crash, because I just don’t have lunch. While others are nodding off during one o’clock meetings, I’m driven and focused.

Yes, I do have some crazy days when I am up early in the morning, skip lunch even though I trained the day before, and don’t eat dinner until 11 or 12 p.m. It doesn’t make me the happiest human on earth, but I can operate just fine. I can do this effectively because of the good fats that I eat to start my day, and butter coffee is the perfect vehicle for this nutrition.

Grass Fed Butter

I use Kerrygold grass fed butter in just about everything I eat. It makes up the bulk of my morning energy source in butter coffee. Butter is also great when melted into almost anything, especially rice. I like to do the classic slab of butter on top of steak, and it’s also great when melted onto steamed or sauteed veggies. Broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, spinach, collard greens, you name it, I’ve tried grass fed butter with all of them and they pass my “Damn, that’s good” taste test.

Cooking with grass fed butter:

I use butter for cooking everything from eggs to beef stew to fish to chicken curry. It’s a little more delicate than regular grain fed butter, and smokes at a lower temperature.

  1. Melt it at a very low temperature, not enough to fizzle into a brown mess.
  2. If you need to cook at slightly higher temperatures for larger meat chunks or to get that grilled effect, first heat coconut oil, pork, or beef fat, then add the butter on top. This blends the smoking points of the two fats and you get a higher smoking point from the butter than you normally would by itself.
  3. When possible, it’s better to steam food like rice or veggies first, then add butter later to melt.
  4. Add spices like garlic, shallots, or jalapeno to the butter and let brown a bit before adding meat or veggies. Gives depth to your dish.

Grass Fed Ground Beef

Some of the long term benefits I am seeing from eating grass fed beef:

  • Fuller recovery after training
  • Better sleep
  • Improved mood
  • More flexible joints and muscles
  • Better skin, hair and nails
  • No smelly burps or room-filling gas that come with normal grain fed beef

Ground beef is the most practical form for cooking:

  • Break it up in butter in a large saucepan and add broccoli, kale, or other veggie
  • Form into meatballs with cumin, chipotle, minced onion.
  • Make into a sauce for rice pasta dishes

My trusted source of grass fed beef is Alderspring Ranch in Idaho.

Wild Caught Fish

Best alternative to grass fed beef, full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. My favorite fish:

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Red Snapper
  • Pike mackerel
  • Sardines (most are wild caught!)

Easy and fast to cook:

  • In a pan, low heat, with grass fed butter
  • In a spicy soup base
  • Baked, seasoned with plenty of sea salt, maybe some dill

I get Alaskan Wild By Nature Copper River sockeye salmon, who are partnered with Alderspring Ranch.

Dark Green Leafy Veggies

These are super healthy and make me feel great the next morning. My favorites:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Chinese Broccoli
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Bok Choi

I have found these to be simple to cook and the easiest to find at farmer markets. It’s hard to go wrong with them if you use a few simple rules:

  • Minimal cooking
  • Proper flavoring
  • Variation

Minimal Cooking

Most green leafy veggies don’t need much heat to be edible. You can sauté kale slightly in butter over low heat for just a couple of minutes, and cover to steam for another minute or two, and it’s done. You want it to still be green and fresh looking when you eat it. The trick with veggies that have thick stems and delicate leaves is to start cooking the stems and add the leafy parts later.

Flavoring Veggies

Super easy with combinations of herbs, spices, and acids. For European and American-style dishes try:

  • Lemon or apple cider vinegar
  • Black pepper
  • Cumin
  • Chipotle
  • Jalapeno

For Asian-style dishes try:

  • Soy sauce
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Sake
  • Green onion
  • White pepper
  • Sesame oil
  • Shiitake

Most of these veggies go supremely well with ground beef. I usually start with the beef, adding the veggies while the beef is still a bit pink to avoid overcooking it. Salt it to taste, don’t be afraid of salt. Spinach can be blanched, rinsed, and mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions for an amazing dish that is popular with Koreans. Try it with rice and fish.

Vary what you eat day to day

Of course, you will eventually find the few things that make the most sense to you and taste the best. This makes it easy to rotate recipes so you don’t get sick of any one food.

Soft-Boiled Eggs

Boiled eggs, what a lost art. Having a stock of soft-boiled eggs is great for quick meals. The secret is to use a steamer. If you do it in this order exactly, I promise you the eggs will be delicious.

  1. Set up a steamer in a large pot. Add water to just below the bottom of the steamer.
  2. Get the water boiling.
  3. Set a timer for 7 minutes for liquid yolk, 8 minutes for firm but golden yolk.
  4. Add as many eggs as reasonably fits without stacking (try stacking them, why not).
  5. Start timer.
  6. When timer goes off, turn off heat.
  7. Fill pot with cold water, drain. Don’t worry, the eggs won’t crack. The miracle of natural architecture.
  8. Repeat. The second time, leave the eggs for a few minutes to cool down.

Rice

White rice mixed with some brown and black rice cooked in a steamer is my main source of carbohydrates at night. I love melting in grass fed butter after cooking the rice and mixing it together. It’s a great way to get more healthy fat and it tastes amazing. Rice is clean-burning fuel for me, doesn’t have any gluten and other harmful proteins found in wheat, and is always my go to.

I usually cook a bunch, store what I don’t eat in tupperware, and reheat over the stove with a little water in the pot when I need it. Simple, delicious, and effective.

Japanese Sweet Potatoes

Second to rice, I’ve found that Japanese sweet potatoes are an awesome source of easily digestible carbs. I don’t get food coma after eating these, even if it’s midday. Steam a few for 20-30 minutes, until super soft, and eat them when they’re cooled to room temperature. I eat the peel and all. Store leftovers in the fridge after cooling.

Supplements

My supplementation is based on the BULLETPROOF DIET™ created by Dave Asprey and this supplements page. These are the things I take daily.

Vitamin D

1000 IU per 25 lb. body weight, which means 7000 IU for me in the morning. If I know I’m going to be outdoors I take less. Genetic function, calcium distribution, hormone formation.

Vitamin C

6000 mg daily. Antioxidant, supports immune function. I take more if I feel an infection coming on.

Vitamin K2

2,000 mcg daily for calcium distribution to bones and away from arteries.

Methyl B12

5000 mcg daily for brain cell and nerve tissue repair and support in conjunction with methyl folate.

Methyl Folate

800 mcg daily for cardiovascular function and neurological health in conjunction with B12.

Magnesium

600 mg nightly for relaxation, enzyme function, muscle function, and calcium balance.

Iodine (Kelp)

1000 mg nightly for thyroid function, immune function, brain protection.

Avoid Non-Effective Foods

Yes, we all have splurges every once in a while. But for a routine diet, when the aim is to focus, maintain good mood, create a healthy body, and gain strength, some foods are not effective for me. Here are the foods I avoid and why:

Wheat, bread and pasta

Joint pain, brain fog and headache, energy crash, lowered immune system function.

Sugar

Energy crash, cavities, feeds “bad” gut bacteria, organs don’t feel good.

Dairy

Acne, gas, brain fog.

Vegetable Oils

Oxidation, inflammation, and fat gain. Canola, seed oils, even olive oil can be harmful if cooked.

Damaged fats

From overcooking or reuse for deep-frying: Similar to vegetable oils.

A lot of these are my kryptonite. They are tempting and addictive, especially when I’m stressed and tired and don’t have good food prepared. I have “relapses”, when I splurge on bread or sweets or fried foods. The results are always the same, and I eat knowing the consequences.

The best way for me to avoid non-effective foods is to stock up on good foods, have a solid routine for meal prep, and embrace the benefits of effective eating. This only starts with one good food or eating habit at a time, so start with small, effective steps. Observe your results, and keep using the stuff that works.

To powerful living,

Steve

Barefoot Powerlifting

Brilliant Friends,

I had a great session of strength training this past weekend and I did it all barefoot. Try it! Some things to note when powerlifting barefoot:

  • Have fun! That’s what it’s all about.
  • It’s building the arches back into my flat feet. Don’t let the fact that you have flat feet keep you from trying this, if you have the same problem I do. I have noticed an improvement from just three sessions of barefoot squats.
  • You will realize that your feet are like specialized hands to stabilize you. Use them to grip the ground.
  • If it’s not a barefoot-friendly gym, try gathering the big weights close to your squat rack before taking off your shoes. Don’t want to be wandering the gym without shoes.
  • Minimize the number of steps back you take when unracking the bar for a squat. Doing it barefoot will make you realize how important it is to plan the position of your feet. You don’t want to overdo the backwards steps with all that weight on you. I was able to take just one step back for each foot, without hitting the rack during the squats.
  • Start light. Like any major change in your strength training routine, you want to build up to it, not crash into it. I have been practicing barefoot walking outside for the past six months, and have been very careful with my form when lifting barefoot. I do my mobility and warmups barefoot as well, to get my feet accustomed. So far, so good!

Have you tried this? What differences do you find, if any, between lifting barefoot and lifting with shoes. And, what shoes do you wear for lifting?

To powerful living,

Steve

Flatfeet Arches 1