Sweet is sweet, taking off armor, and a Turkish getup improvement

Brilliant friends,

Just some thoughts of the week. I’ve included something about food, something about mind cultivation, and a bit on strength training.

Sweet is sweet

Some desserts might seem healthy, but I have to look at the big picture. I got interested in the fruit preservation craze that’s rocking the paleo, homesteading, rewilding, and gluten-free communities.

I got some amazing strawberries from the farmer’s market, and delicious figs from my mom’s backyard, and made some compote and fruit leather over the last couple of days. I also made oat bars with flour and oats from a health food store. It was fun, but it certainly wasn’t beneficial to my body.

Whether it’s cooked-down fruits or processed sugars, it all affects me the same way. I get the crash, I feel crummy, and I wake up the next morning feeling hungover. I’ve noticed that gluten-free labels, all-natural or organic labels, and fad-diet-friendly ingredients are so good at disguising the same old problems. At the end of the day, you are still eating a bunch of refined stuff.

The only thing that’s been a consistently rewarding dessert for me is whole fruit or a sweet potato. I mean rewarding in that it’s satisfying, it doesn’t make me crash, it doesn’t give me acne, and it doesn’t make me feel hungover the next morning. Whole foods just seem to be the way for me. Looking back, I could have enjoyed the fruit as it was, fresh and whole, and walked away feeling much better.

Taking off armor

This is the practice of shedding the protective layers you built throughout your life: the reactions, the thinking, the precautions you accumulate to keep yourself from harm. The point is to uncover your heart and let wisdom and love shine. This is a concept from The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron.

Chodron says that whenever you come to a situation that is uncomfortable, you find an opportunity to grow. The growth happens when you figure out that you’re somehow shielding yourself from the discomfort, and you intentionally pull off that protective shield so that you can expose yourself. Through the process, you learn more about yourself and grow stronger in that domain.

This applies to so many levels of life. In physical training there’s always a weak spot or a point of discomfort that can be improved. It’s the movement portion over which you have some sort of mind block, whether it be a knee injury on the squat, or a shoulder tweak on the overhead press. Everyone has weak spots that can be exposed and developed.

This brings me to a tiny part of the Turkish getup, a strength training movement I’ve been practicing over the last year and a half.

A Turkish getup improvement

I found a sticking point in my half-kneel positions, both on the way up and on the way down. There’s a moment where I have the kettlebell held straight overhead, and I’m in a lunge position with one knee down and the forward leg planted.

I never realized this, but my hip flexor of the leg with knee down is still slightly flexed in the position. Another way to say it is that I’m slightly bent at the hips. I shouldn’t be – the optimal position is straight from the knee to the hips to the shoulders to the weight. On reviewing video I found it’s true for both sides. This flex causes my torso to be tilted forward. This in turn causes the weight to be in front of my center of balance.

The forward shifted weight causes what I have been perceiving to be a slightly uncomfortable moment. Both as I rise up and as I descend to the ground, I find that the moment my knee touches down there’s a bit of awkward tightness. I always felt a bit rushed or uncomfortable at this point, and now I pinpointed it.

I tried getting on one knee without any weight, with the other leg forward and foot planted, to open up my hip. I can lean forward very far if I let my front knee bend. However, when I kept my torso upright and focused on pushing back with the front leg, there was a lot of tension in the quad of the rear leg. I never noticed because I never thought to look.

I plan to work on mobilizing my hip flexors, which are the upper parts of the quadriceps that connect the femur to the pelvis. The fun part will be seeing how this affects that specific part of my getups.

The connection

So I learn another element of my movement on yet another day of practice. Run into an uncomfortable situation, identify the things that impede exposure, and remove to learn.

We do a lot of things on a regular basis and notice that sometimes we run into uncomfortable situations. The easiest thing to do is to hid from it, ignore it, or put up the defense for it. The more difficult way is to look at what is bothering us.

It could be a food that doesn’t make you feel great but is habitual. It could be the remark someone makes that offends you. It could be the nagging pain you feel when you walk.

We all have ways of skirting these sticking points in life. Ignore the symptoms, pretend you didn’t hear it, walk differently to avoid the pain. I find that there’s so much to address that I can’t hit on them all. But there’s always at least one thing that I can nail. One piece of armor I can let go.

Live powerfully,

Steve

When pain, no train

I came upon the stage of my weekly cycle where sleep deprivation and physical training fight for priority. I was tired on Wednesday morning but went ahead and trained, feeling some energy.

During my warmups I was out of breath. I chugged ahead anyway, deciding to do two handed swings as a deload from one handed swings. This went fine at first, although I was definitely much lower in swing output than usual.

Then, about three quarters of the way through the swing sets, I felt a pang in my outer knee. It was like tendonitis. Sort of aching and a little sharp. I tried to stiffen up at the knees to avoid too much movement. It went away when I stopped the set, and then came back with each set. It was definitely not just tightness.

I tested a getup and my knee felt fine, so I went ahead and finished my training session. At the end, I was pooped. It was strange to remember what it felt like after hard squat sessions back when I was powerlifting. Instead of the “recharge” sensation I had become accustomed to, this was definitely a “workout” – fine for one time trial, but not what I was going for in training sessions.

Looking back, I realize I was fit enough to do ten swings every thirty seconds, but I certainly was not fit to do that and then train for the following two days. My body was still recovering. Compounded with lack of sleep, I was in the red zone.

It’s not always possible to train on a full night of sleep. I do train hard on low sleep, knowing that I need to pay extra attention to rest and food afterward. However, I misjudged the impact of the full exertion of the time trial.

Moving forward, I’m going to need to take a day off if I’m sleep deprived following full physical output. The combination of these two conditions is dangerous. Sure, you may find yourself physically exhausted and sleep deprived in an emergency requiring full physical exertion. In lifelong training though, to avoid injury and to build strength steadily, this is not a healthy internal setting.

Needless to say, I will be taking a break from hard training for the next day or two. Getting as much sleep as possible, as much sunlight and vitamin C as possible, and mobilizing joints will be my priorities. Gentle activity like walking, squats, pushups, and planks will occur as usual.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Kettlebell swing cues reinforced by the pressure of a timed trial

Timing myself on Monday and going through the pressure led to some good insights on swings. Swings train the hip hinge under acceleration. It’s like deadlifting with quick changes in the speed of the bar. I’m learning to get into good positions and make precise movements quickly.

Doing 100 swings in 5 minutes means doing one set of ten swings every thirty seconds. Because there’s so little time to rest, I was going into most of the sets just short of panting. It was everything I could do to clear some head space and focus on form. This squeeze on leisure caused me to realize the few things that make swings effective.

I controlled the movement of the kettlebell almost entirely with my hips. My feet had to be firmly planted, my knees pulling out, and my glutes squeezing as hard and fast as possible.

To minimize loss of power from the ground to the weight, I had to keep my abdomen and torso absolutely rigid. This allowed more force from my hip hinge to transfer from the ground to the weight in my hand.

The weight bearing shoulder had to be packed and tight to hold the arm straight and minimize the arch of the bell. If my shoulder pulled forward, I would lose precious tension and feel myself slow down. Every fraction of a second counted, because the quicker I could do the swings, the more rest time I could get.

I also found that the harder and quicker I snapped with my hips, the more the bell would float. I always knew this when practicing, but it mattered so much when I could barely get enough air out of my lungs at the top. So I put more in to get more out.

Lastly, I saw how important it was to minimize. I tried to keep my free arm close and stiff. I keep my head firmly aligned with my back. I resisted excessive bending of the knees. Even my hip hinge was a bit smaller. Any looseness, any unnecessary flinging or flopping, would slow me down both in speed and in energy. Everything had to go toward the movement of the kettlebell.

Focusing on throwing the kettlebell forward but keeping a hold of it, as a mental cue, served me greatly. It was simple and it worked.

How awesome, that these tiny little details, every single one of them, were in the book I read to learn how to swing. And even though I practiced them, every day, sometimes these more than those, and other times those more than these, every single one of them just rose to the surface when it really really counted.

Hope this helps emphasize the importance of form and technique as you train in your daily practice.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Avoiding muscle fatigue and knots

There is a training method to avoid getting muscle knots.

Pavel Tsatsouline talks about the phenomena of avoiding knots by limiting strength training to maximal outputs. You’ve probably heard about slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers are small, weak, and activate slowly, but can work for very long periods. Fast twitch IIX are large and activate fast, generating high power for flashes of time. Fast twitch IIA is in between these two.

Basically, we all have muscles that shoulder handle a variety of tasks at a range of loads. You can push a two thousand pound car down the road for a short distance, and you can also text with your thumbs unendingly.

Strength training with kettlebell swings involves a small load with maximal force. It does not require a person to lift the largest possible weight they can lift. It also isn’t so light that the exercise can be done without end. There’s a balance. The muscle fiber most active during this sort of exercise is the fast twitch IIA.

“When your reps slow down, it is the best indicator your IIA fast fibers have had it, and slow type I fibers are doing most of the work” (Kettlebell Simple and Sinister).

The problem is that slow twitch fibers, when strained with too much load, can spasm. These fibers are located closer to the bone and deeper inside muscle fiber groups. The conclusion in S&S is that exercising beyond the point of maximal output puts these slow twitch muscles into exhausted spasms. Thus, deep knots.

I am currently putting this statement to the test over the past week with kettlebell swings. I have had a knot in my shoulder blade for a while. It comes and goes, particularly when I eat wheat. However, I found that some days it would come back even though my diet was clean. I thought it had something to do with my shoulder mechanics, but I couldn’t figure out how to address it.

Revisiting this concept of muscle fibers, I tried to modify my behavior during swing sets. It was a little tricky, because at first glance it seemed that I needed to give full effort all the way through to the last repetition. However, this meant that I was still doing ten repetitions per set. And on some sets, I would get tired on the last swings.

Then I tried to limit my swing sets to only the best swings. This was difficult at first, because I had to really tune in to the difference between maximal output and maximal effort. It was easy to fool myself into thinking I was generating full force just because I was giving full effort. But over time, I started to see the difference. If I noticed any slow down or reduction in force, I stopped.

Guess what? It’s working. My shoulder is feeling much more relaxed in the past few days, despite the fact that I’ve been doing swings, getups, and other exercises on a daily basis. The difference is that I’m stopping my sets short when my output decreases. This means that I’m doing fewer reps on many of the swing sets.

So I guess I was pushing a little too hard before. It’s going to take some time to get back to 100 swings, but I think it will lead to much better results.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

The beauty of oxtail, an easy training session, and why goals matter

The other day I made some simple stew out of grass fed oxtail from Alderspring Ranch. Oxtail is just the cow’s tail. If you haven’t tried it, you must. The beautiful thing about oxtail is that it is simultaneously fatty, tendonous, and meaty. It’s perfect.

It can be made with minimal ingredients – salt and pepper are enough, salt alone makes it delicious. I wish I took a photo of the dish, but I didn’t, and thus it’s not on Instagram. The hard part about making oxtail is the time. It takes about two hours to cook it down to the proper tenderness. Put the tail in a heavy lidded pot with water covering about three quarters of it, add seasonings, bring to a boil, then reduce to a low boil or simmer. Wait one and half to two hours, until it’s falling off the bone. Simple.

The broth alone is to die for. If you’re eating grass fed oxtail, you have the most essential food in front of you. Good fats, collagen, and meat packed with micronutrients. Try it with white rice and a veggie dish, like broccoli or collard greens.

I had to temper my training load today. Woke up earlier than I wanted, and didn’t feel great. I think I’m getting over a little bug that’s going around. I took about 12-15 grams of vitamin C the day before and shook off the cough, but woke in the morning feeling a bit tired still.

So I did the usual warmup, five sets of goblet squats, hip bridges, and halos, and then started with two handed swings. I used the same weight, 24kg, as I wanted to see if I could handle it before moving down to 16kg. The first few reps were a bit of a shock, as my mind was really not engaged. I focused on making powerful contractions of my glutes and belly, and things got better. I proceeded to do a couple of two hand sets, then finished with one hand swings. I was working on maximal hip thrust, actively pulling with my lats on the down swings, and keeping the shoulders squared on the one hand swings.

Getups felt fine with the 24kg. I’m consistently doing ten sets under ten minutes, meaning I am ready to move up to the 32kg kettlebell. I’m waiting to establish a stable income before purchasing one, though. They are usually over $100. The time will come, so for now I am mastering the 24kg.

Goals matter because goals drive us. If you ask me, no physical training should take place without first thinking about the goal. It’s really easy to start something and then find that it’s not worth it. That’s because the effort to go to the gym, eat differently, and the feeling of being tired is hard to justify when you’re not getting closer to or hitting a target.

The type of goals I look for are long term. Losing ten or twenty pounds is a great goal. For how long? If this is something you would like to do for the rest of your life, we can start talking about how to do that. Then everything else makes sense. The struggle becomes meaningful, and more likely than not, the struggle lessens when the goal is long term.

I’m currently working on accomplishing the Simple goal of Kettlebell Simpler and Sinister. I know, I keep talking about this kettlebell stuff. The thing is, it’s what works for me now. Going to a gym is not feasible for me. Driving there and back, monthly fees, too many people, and not being able to train barefoot just aren’t worth it at the moment. Sure, there will be a day when I get back to deadlifts and squats.

With my goal in mind, I have a thing to train toward. If I get better at swings and getups with the 24kg, I know I can eventually take up the 32kg. I know what I need to eat, and how much, and what not to eat, to be able to recover and feel good enough to train again the next day.

This is a long term goal. I’m not going to get there in a few weeks, or even months. I’ve been going at it for almost five months now, and I probably have about the same amount of time before I get close. I’m not sure though. I do know that I will get there.

Whatever your goals are, they are good. They are right, they’re what you want, they’re worthy of achieving. Think deeply on them, believe in them, and commit yourself to achieving those goals.

Daily routines get you there. Pick things that are doable. Exercises that don’t exhaust you. Meals you can cook without a bunch of trouble. Things that don’t add more stress. But do this with your goal in mind. And just keep doing them.

Live powerfully,

Steve

A dip in strength

I felt a noticeable dip in strength yesterday as I trained with my kettlebell. A fluctuating sleep schedule, the sudden rise in temperature, and food were factors.

Personal trainers find it difficult to maintain their own wellness. While I don’t like to call myself one, I am training someone in strength and it is private training. The difficulty with this industry is that most people want training either before or after work. That means very early hours or later hours. For me it’s early, which I actually love doing, but I’m not getting up as early on my days off. So my sleep cycle breaks.

I started my training much later in the day today too, when my energy dipped a bit. I had a lot of sugar the day before in St. Louis style barbeque made by a friend, which was delicious, so I don’t regret it. But this did affect my energy level even more yesterday.

As I started my warm up exercises, I felt light headed. On the first set of swings I knew it wasn’t going to be a great session. I did my best to maintain technique and made it through most of the sets without issue, minus one. On the last rep of one of my sets, I lost focus and just felt the weight yank down on my arm. I didn’t get injured, but 24kg dropping is not a pleasant feeling.

Getups were fine. It seemed that my energy had a much shorter time limit. I could give full output on the first few swings, but then later in the set I felt my strength diminish. Right after each getup, my strength just left me.

Such is the downside to inconsistent behavior and environment. Although I’m not happy with my training session, I’m not disappointed either. Life brings days like this and I’m just glad that the worst to happen was a dip in training performance.

Some grass fed steak, lots of water, plenty of magnesium and vitamin C, and a good night’s sleep should do the trick.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Getups in the sun, and when to drink water

Training yesterday was great. There’s no better place to exercise with a kettlebell than on an open field under the big blue sky. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend it.

I love the sun, and I make sure to get some soak time every day. However, training under the direct sunlight is a different beast. It is draining, especially when you’re doing weight training. There’s just so much more going on, with the sweating, the heat, and the radiation all working on you. Not a bad thing, but definitely a situation to navigate carefully.

It was in the low 80’s by the time my wife and I got our gear to the park. Kettlebell getups require the practitioner to look directly at the weight during the first phase. Since the kettlebell is held straight up in the air, it may be very close to the sun around noon. I had to make sure to stay relaxed, breathe, and face as much away from the sun as possible.

Still, both us were getting a little wobbly here and there. It’s easy to get distracted at a park, when there’s people walking past, the sun in your face, and lots of trees and nice nature stuff to look at. With the kettlebell held up overhead, it’s critical to stay focused with the eyes and with the mind. Keeping your eyes focused on the weight, and on the horizon as you lunge to stand, makes all the difference in balance, form, and strength.

It helps to pick a spot near some shade. That way you can hop out of the sunlight during rest periods to stay cool. My wife does most of her swings in the shade, and getups in the sun where it’s drier.

Another thing to consider is when to drink water. I don’t drink any water during my training, because it distracts me. So I drink a good amount beforehand, and as much as I want afterwards. If you’re training outdoors, bring a full bottle of water in case of emergency. As long as you are relatively healthy, and drink plenty of water before and after, training without water breaks shouldn’t be a problem. There is evidence that early humans tracked prey all day, through the middle of the day, drinking water before and after the hunt (Lieberman, Daniel. The Story of the Human Body: evolution, health, and disease. 2013).

This session was a timed trial with the 24kg kettlebell. Here are my results:

  • 100 Swings: 9:19
  • Rest: 1:00
  • 10 Getups: 8:26

Goals:

  • 100 Swings: 5:00
  • Rest: 1:00
  • 10 Getups: 10:00

So I’ve got some work to do on swings. My main issue today was the sun. Going back and forth to the shade to rest took too long, but I needed a hat nearby to rest in the sunlight. Maybe I’ll do timed swings in the shade.

Live powerfully.

Steve

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Strength goals, taking breaks, and less sleep days

It was a beautiful morning in Los Gatos. It’s cooled down quite a bit from last weekend’s bake, and the bird songs are sharp through the cool sky. The sun is just glowing.

Did that sound like a radio station?

I didn’t get good sleep last night. Could be the new mattress we got, with the strong odor of plastic exuding from it. Or it might have been too much water drunk before bed.

Training today will be the usual. 100 swings and 10 getups with the 24kg. But it will also be different. I’m going to time myself. I’m not expecting to hit these numbers today, but ultimately I want to do the swings in five minutes and the getups in ten minutes, with a minute rest in between.

Energy is pretty good, my body feels a bit tight from suboptimal rest, but otherwise I am all here. Since I am using light weight in kettlebell training, I’m not as strict about resting 100% every day. Usually I get full rest by day three. It hasn’t been a detriment to my health so far.

Dinner last night was pork belly with lettuce wraps and white rice, Korean style. Used sesame oil and Himalayan salt as a dip, and Korean red pepper paste and fermented bean paste as another dip. Got all my vitamin C, magnesium, and kelp in as usual.

Eliminated (pooped) fully. Remember to eliminate, exercise, eat (Dan John).

This morning I’m having my usual grass fed butter coffee. Grass fed unsalted butter, C-8 MCT oil, chocolate powder, vanilla beans, cacao butter, creatine monohydrate. Sounds like a lot of stuff but I’ve got it all down to a routine, so it’s no big deal. In the interest of budget I’ve been using Colombian coffee beans from a local grocery store. Clean enough, no jitters or headache in the last several months of drinking it.

Wish me luck on the time trial.

Goals and Periodic Training

Last night I spent some time calendaring my goals. I mapped out a very general plan for the next year and a half, till January 2020. If you haven’t done this, try it. You see a clear picture of how long a specific exercise program is going to take. You also realize time is finite, and you can’t do it all. It’s okay, and I think I’ve been changing my approach to exercise.

Dan John (whom, you may have noticed, I have recently been studying and quoting a lot) says any serious athlete has months of training and months of no training each year. They also have years of intense strength training, and years of honing skills with less strength training. On and off periods.

For me, and anyone else in normal occupations and domestic life, the long breaks from training are just as important. As a matter of fact, maybe even more so because I don’t think about time off in a serious way. Training breaks give you time to relax, to scale back from maximum strength and to give room to develop skills. To paraphrase Dan, depravity leads to increase in performance.

I’ve noticed through my life that I unintentionally had very long periods of “inactivity” in between times of intense sports or weightlifting. After rugby season ended in college, I just stopped everything. No gym, no running, no nothing. I got busy with school, for one, and had a girlfriend who later became my wife, so maybe I was distracted by life’s bigger priorities. Same with powerlifting in 2014 to 2015. That was probably the most intense training program I’ve ever put myself through. Once I got done with the meet in March, I couldn’t get myself back to the gym for weeks.

So I’m going to intentionally build in long periods of “rest”. No weights, just light movement practices and maybe team sports here and there. I’m talking months here. If that sounds crazy to you, I’m with you. But I really want to explore this concept of loosening up for a while, and testing whether performance does increase in other ways. I’ll use sports and short runs as a measure of performance.

Takeaways

Spread your training goals over months, and create big down times in between. On a day to day scale, “exercise, eat, eliminate”. Enjoy the bird song.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Russian Style General Strength Training

If you are looking for serious long term strength training that you can do every day, with minimal equipment, in less than thirty minutes, take a look at Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.

Simple & Sinister is a strength endurance program of 100 kettlebell swings and 10 getups every day. It is meant to condition a person to always be ready for life, and to “store energy in the body rather than exhaust it” (Kettlebell Simple & Sinister). By training day after day, you adapt to a higher level of strength and endurance. You start with a small weight, develop solid form, and progress to the next weight. Rest days are fewer because the weight is relatively small.

Unlike powerlifting, kettlebell training does not aim for the highest possible weight lifted. Rather, it focuses on total body acceleration, and stable coordination of all parts of your body. It won’t directly add tons of weight to your barbell max. There is, however, ample evidence that there is unexpected improvement in bigger lifts.

The grass is always greener on the other side. If you don’t believe it, go to a park and find the greenest patch of grass and sit. Then look around and see if there’s greener. I assure you there is.

My powerlifting background taught me that training every day was not healthy. When I was squatting twice my body weight for sets of five, I needed at least a day of rest, if not three, for any benefit. So naturally I doubted the S&S protocol of daily training.

However, swings and getups were filling gaps in powerlifting training. For example, I’m building all-around shoulder stability in connection with the rest of my body. I’m also balancing the strength between the two sides of my body. These can easily be overlooked in basic powerlifting exercises. Back to the issue of daily training.

At first I was constantly sore, and it was certainly difficult to train every day. I would wake up to find my whole body tight and achy. Rather than decide not to train at that moment, I would put off the judgment call. Instead, I went through my morning routine. I drank butter coffee and journaled, basically enjoying life as I woke up. When training time came, I felt better and went for it.

It’s been about two and half months as of this writing, and my recovery time is shortening. I’ve managed to take just one day off in the last eight weeks. I’m doing all sets now with the 24kg, and my swings and getups are getting stronger. My callouses are smooth and my mind feels sharp. I look forward to training most days. Just like Tsatsouline says in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, the exercise has become a “recharge” instead of a “workout”.

After the initial struggle, I started to look forward to the training. S&S is remarkably effortless compared to other strength programs.

First, the only equipment needed is the kettlebell. No gym, no shoes, no machines, no bars nor weights. S&S prescribes 8kg for average strength women and 16kg for average strength men.

Second, the exercise leaves me with plenty of energy for the rest of my day. I gradually adapted to the training, and became more efficient in the movements.

Finally, it’s convenient and accessible. Because it’s a small weight, I can keep it at home. This saves time and eliminates the ill effects of sitting in a car on the way to a gym. It also leaves little excuse for not training.

NL161 two kettlebells the brilliant beast blog

As I transitioned from 16kg to the 24kg kettlebell, I felt much more tired at night and needed more food. But I stuck with it, ate a little more, and managed to train every day. The jumps in weight by proportion are much greater than with progression barbell training. I imagine the next transition to 32kg will be even harder. I look forward to that too.

Do some digging in the StrongFirst website to see if this is for you. If you decide to take on the kettlebell, I strongly recommend that you read the book first. Mind before matter.

Live powerfully.

Steve

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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.

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.

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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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