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,
P.S., anyone know a good way to keep out noise other than foam ear plugs?
Sleep Hacks

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Mobilizing Out of Inflammation

I was going to the gym today but almost canceled on myself.

I had made the wretched choice of eating a donut last night. When I do such things, I didn’t give enough credit to the consequences. Sure, I get some after effects, I told myself. Little achiness, brain fog. Funny how time befuddles memories.

It was an inflammation bomb. First came the wheat coma. I was reading and had to drag myself to bed, it was so bad. I fell into instant sleep for an hour, and woke feeling hungover and tender. My trap and shoulder blade area were tight in a knot, so I rolled it out on a lacrosse ball.

Did some deep breathing, drank my vitamin C and magnesium mix, and tried to sleep. No go.

My stomach was upset. I got up and had some kombucha. I thought of taking charcoal, but didn’t want to absorb the magnesium that I had already taken. Lesson learned next time.

It took me a few hours of reading to get to bed. When I woke this morning, I still felt hungover. Butter coffee and some eggs helped. I was determined to go to the gym today, and I gave myself a couple of hours to warm up.

Well, when I went outside to check my squat position, I was surprised to find myself so kinked up. Thus it was:


This was class one tightness, inflammation to the max. Everything felt rusty and I could barely get down into the squat and hold it.

Feet splayed, torso wrapped over my knees. And really, really tight in the hips. It was time for some major mobilization.

Hip Mobility

First the hips. I’m jamming down with my pelvis to get into the tight areas and loosen them up. I also extend my front leg to get in deeper on the tissue near the knees. Try and you’ll feel it:

Ankle Mobility

Ankles flex through the calves. So I work on the calf and achilles tendon. Keeping my leg rigid at the knee and hip, I lean hard and hold for a minute or two. Sliding over to either side helps to mobilize in more directions.


I did a squat retest at this point, meaning I got down in the squat to see if there was any difference. The first photo shows me holding my hands up overhead. I’m doing this to test my shoulders, to see if they are mobile enough for me to hold this position. Pretty tight here, as you can see I’m not holding them in line with my torso:


My hips were feeling smoother, and I was able to get down with feet straighter forward. My torso was more upright, but there was still a bit of tightness holding my midback in a curve.

Shoulder Mobility

I addressed my shoulder mobility to open up the chest and torso. This can help with keeping the upper body straight during the squat. I’m doing an exercise called shoulder dislocations here:

NL 123 Shoulder Dislocations The Brilliant Beast Blog.GIF

Geez was I tight. At this point I was about to push my training session back one day. With bad mobility, heavy lifting is not advantageous. Better to wait until I’m able to get into good positions. Squat retest after shoulder dislocations.

Functional squat depth for weight lifting, side and front:


And a full squat:

NL 123 Squat Retest 2 Full The Brilliant Beast Blog.JPG

I wanted to test my weightlifting position, in addition to the full squat. I don’t go all the way down when I’m loaded with weight.

You can see I’m able to get down with my feet pointed forward. My torso is not perfectly upright, but it’s much more mobile and no longer glued to my knees.

After much tweaking, I actually freed myself up enough to train.

Add me on Snapchat to hear about the training session. Yea, the picture’s silly.

Snapchat The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Long Term Knee Protection

I’m excited about tapping into my strength training again. I’m getting back into the gym this week. My priority is the squat.

It’s been over four months since I’ve trained at full capacity with the weighted squat. So I’m curious as to how I’m going to feel at this next session.

First thing I’m going to establish is whether or not I still have the mobility in my hips, knees, and ankles for proper squat position. This is my first step when returning to training after a long pause.

Feet forward, knees pulling out, and hips open enough for all of this is critical to healthy squatting. It protects the knee tendons and ligaments from opening into an exposed position and tearing.

I’m going to sit in a full squat and check out the angle of my feet. If they’re pointed too far out to the sides, I’m going to try a couple of different things to see where the tightness is. I should be able to sit in a squat with feet forward.

It could be the ankles, which can be fixed by ankle mobility. Or the hips, which can be remedied with hip mobility. After each mobility exercise, I’ll retest my squat and figure out how I’m going to get down in the squat with proper alignment.

With proper mechanics I’m going to be able to make a smoother transition into building strength. Recovery is going to be better without unnecessary twists and pulls from bad form. And the movement patterns that are established with good technique are going to carry through to higher levels of training in the near future.

Watch me go through squat testing and mobility on snapchat: brilliant_beast

Live powerfully,


Squat Test

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Jet Lag Recovery

I am tired.

We flew in from Taipei last night. It was a full day of plane rides, bus station exploration, hot spring bathing, and more plane riding. I’m fatigued, jet lagged, and sore throated.

I stayed up for most of the overnight flight. In Pacific time, it was morning when we took off. But since it was 11:30 p.m. in Taipei, I had to pull two full days of wakefulness. Even with the exhaustion, sleep didn’t last too long last night. I meditated and had magnesium before bed, which helped. But I woke up around 5:30 a.m.

Although I was tired, I didn’t want to struggle back to sleep to wake up late in the afternoon. So I stayed up and slowly awoke. I made butter coffee with a blender for the first time in weeks. I was also able to add cacao butter and vanilla powder, two ingredients I sorely missed during travel. The resulting concoction was heavenly.

My game plan is to take vitamin C throughout the day, stay up until bed time, exercise, and take a good dose of magnesium at night. The C is going to help with my throat and also with my general well being. After all that traveling, with sweets on the plane, and lack of sleep, my body really needs the extra antioxidant boost. Now that I’m home, I have my powder form of vitamin C. Just mix into a glass of water. It’s my favorite way to take it.

Earthing is also key to recovery from jet lag. I got outside as soon as I woke and spent some time with the dogs, barefoot on the concrete. Later in the afternoon, I had a barefoot squat session. Reconnecting with the Earth’s electromagnetic field is essential to healing. Getting good sun time also feels magnificent.

I can’t wait to get up refreshed tomorrow morning.

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Be A Brilliant Pooper

It’s pouring rain this morning in Seoul. The sky is gray, everything is dulled by the chattering drops of water, and there’s a lovely humidity in the air. And what better time to reflect on going two when I haven’t in two days. Sometimes things aren’t so smooth while traveling. Sometimes, the simplest of human tasks is not so simple.

No creature wants to be chocked full of waste. Most of an animal’s incremental existence is preoccupied by eating and excreting. As a pet owner, there was never a more satisfying day than when my dog ate his bowl full of food, and then pooped a full poop. Humans have so much else to worry about that these basic activities get forgotten or stalled from unnatural levels of stress. In daily living, and while traveling, regularity is key to wellness.

Not only is it satisfactory to go, it is also indicative of general health. How often, how much, and what kind are good questions to ask about your deuces. When, as in what time of day, is also good to observe. Ideally, poop comes at about the same time or times every day, is not watery, and correlates to the amount of food you ate since the last release. This speaks of good organ function, adequate hydration, and a diet that suits your needs.

When you pay attention to your stool, you pay attention to your diet. If something is off for me, I look back to my last couple of meals. Have I had a lot of green leafy veggies? Have I avoided sugar, wheat, dairy, and excessive spice, the wrenches in the workings of my digestive system? Did I eat enough? Too much? Did I drink any water (a night time task I too often forget during travel)?

These questions came to me after figuring out the most effective ways to keep myself regular. Green leafy veggies just can’t be replaced. They have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and magic that do wonders for me. In Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea, fresh green veggies are cheap and easy to find. But they’re also easy to forget if I’m not paying attention. One of my Chinese-style favorites is on choy, also called kankung, or morning glory, depending on the country. Spinach is another go to, particularly in Korea and Japan. I love the type they grow there and how it’s prepared. With most green leafy veggies, it’s important to minimize heat time. They should look vibrant and supple, not drab and sloppy.

Magnesium also helps to keep traffic flowing. It’s a natural laxative and relaxant, which makes it perfect for bedtime. Regardless of when you usually go, or if you do, magnesium supplementation can help if taken near that time. I take it at night and make my move in the morning. Check out Natural Calm.

Body position matters. Using a footstool to elevate the knees into a mock squat on the toilet allows for ideal bowel movement. I’ve had quite a few episodes of pooper’s block on the road that were vanquished by simply putting my feet up on a small trash bin. The most effective position, thought, is the actual squat. I’ve experienced no quicker solution than an old school hole in the ground loo.

And try drinking water, if you haven’t for a while.

When all else fails, breathe. Slow, deep breaths. Sometimes we’re just so tense in the head that it closes up other channels. Take your mind off of it.

Pooping is all about getting back into your skin, kicking into the parasympathetic gear, and letting nature proceed. It’s all too common that we remove ourselves from ourselves. Centering through nutrition, physical position, and mind cultivation keeps us well oiled. In a manner of speaking. And that first dump at a new place makes it home, doesn’t it?

Next area of investigation for me: gut microbiome.

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Mobility in lieu of strength training

NL 86 Handstand The Brilliant Beast Blog.JPG

Brilliant Friends!

We’re back in Jakarta for a few days. Bali was an incredible experience again, five years after the last time I was there. Now it’s time to rest. Some quick thoughts on maintaining strength during travel.

Basically, I don’t have the luxury of strength training in a gym as I travel. Instead I have the luxury of travel. No desk to sit at, no car to commute in, and lots and lots of walking and moving. Still, mobility exercises are key to staying limber and keeping my tissues “flushed” with fluid. With a single exercise band and some creativity, I maintain a full range of movement practices on the road.

The points of interest for me are the hips and shoulders. These joints get tight the quickest and they’re the biggest foci of movement. This was true at home as much as during travel. Sitting all day at work and home and commute caused major stickiness there, and it was super important to mobilize with that sedentary lifestyle. However, regular walking was not a part of everyday life for me until about three months ago. So at the end of a long day of moving about on my feet, my joints and muscles start to tighten up. They want to return to their comfortable, remembered range of motion and elasticity. I’m training them to grow beyond that.

The exercise that really hits the sweet spot for me is the hip mobility stretch. By getting down in the squat position on one leg, and keeping the other leg back, I can isolate the tight points within each hip joint. Here’s an example from Las Vegas:

A variation is the table top hip stretch. It’s like the hip mobility exercise but focuses more on the outermost edges of hip range of motion. One leg is placed up on the table like a hunk of mutton, crossed in front. The other leg holds me up, foot forward and close to vertical. The stretch is initiated by pushing back with the butt. I move my torso from one side to the other, keeping it straight, to lean into different areas of tightness.

To get the shoulders freshened up, I utilize the arm dislocation exercise. It’s a silly name that doesn’t represent the actual movement well. A stick, pole, or exercise band can be used for this. Simply hold the pole with a wide double overhand grip, or palms facing down, and bring the bar overhead and backward. Don’t let go. If it’s too hard, widen the grip. You will be bringing the pole all the way back and down to your butt behind you without letting go of your grip. Then, reverse.

On the road, I have my band. It’s slightly trickier than a sturdy pole, because it stretches at the point of greatest tension. This is when my arms are in the upper back position. It can actually make it easier to do the movement, since there’s some give, but I have to make sure that my grip is consistent and I keep my wrists rigid. Otherwise, I won’t get the proper shoulder rotation. If I do it properly, I can feel a great stretch in my pecs, front shoulders, and biceps.

The big question in all this for me is, how strong am I after such a long hiatus from weightlifting?

Well, I’ve yet to test myself in the lab we call “the gym”. When I do I’ll be sure to report the results. I feel reasonably strong. I don’t know if I can shoulder 300 lbs. and squat it at the drop of a hat, but I’m pretty sure I can warm up to it within a few days.

Mobility exercises and body weight training every two or three days is keeping me fairly limber and capable. Eating as much good fat as I can afford and find helps too. This was quite manageable in Bali, where pigs are raised by farmers and are all domestic. The strict attention to preserving the breed and the largely vegetable feed produces an unparalleled pork. Whatever the various reasons that Bali is called a paradise, the luscious pork is a top marker for me.

I haven’t been strict with avoiding wheat and other sweets in the last couple of weeks. Temptation is great, and living out of inns and hotels that provide breakfast greatly distracted me. I could have had higher energy levels with a better diet, but I’ve maintained body fat and muscle composition. Keeping up the fat intake has helped.

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Peter Lee Squat Form Check

Brilliant Friends,

Peter sent me an update on his squats. It was awesome to see him making tweaks on his technique and form. Below are notes I sent him.

Thanks for sharing Peter!

Squats are looking much more solid from last time.


  • Your grip on the bar is great. Shoulder and wrist flexibility are good, and upper back looks super tight. That is key!
  • Squat #3 was great. 0:24. Good depth, good control, good spine alignment. Awesome man.

NL 74 Peter Lee Squat Form Check The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg.png


  • Bottom of squats look more stable.
  • You got rid of the butt wink.

Focus on hip mobility:

You’ve gotten a lot more stable at the bottom. There’s no sliding forward now, which is great. Now, you need to get more depth while still keeping your spine aligned. Squat 3 was solid. The others could be slightly deeper.

This was a constant battle for me: getting depth vs. keeping my back straight. The lower I went, the more my low back would want to curl under and do the butt wink.

It is all about hip mobility. Picture the thighs as needing to open up enough to lower yourself. If they can’t open up and outward enough, your back will bend to try to get you lower. So whatever the limitation of your hips, at that point your back will start to bend.

The tension is in your pelvis. Increasing your hip flexibility will enable you to go lower while you still keep your back in tact. It takes some time, but the result will feel amazing. Try this before training sessions. I do them religiously. You can watch the whole thing to get all the philosophy, I just marked it where the exercise starts.

Most importantly, keep the spine in line as you are doing now. The depth is about hip health and range of motion, but spine alignment is equally if not more important.

Live powerfully,


Peter Lee Squat Form Check 3/6/16

Brilliant Friends,

I’m sharing a squat form check with you. Peter started lifting last year with a progression powerlifting program. He taped himself and graciously sent me a clip for a form check. This is a set of comments on technique and form based on video of his squat set. I suggest watching the video first on YouTube and then coming back to see my comments.

Peter’s Squat Set

Initial thoughts:

  • Depth is good!
  • Grip and loading bar good!
  • Need front or back camera angle to check knees, spine, and hips.
  • Breathing. Big breath into abdomen, hold until end of squat. Keeps spine aligned!
  • Butt wink. Bottom of squat, pelvis rolls in under body. Makes spine vulnerable under weight. Prevent this by keeping knees pulling out, spreading floor with feet. May be going too low for the amount of hip mobility you have here.

Squat One

Starting Stance

  • Knee looks bent at start. Is this fully extended? See ankle-knee-hip line. Should be as straight as possible. If this is extended, then that’s fine.
  • Feet pointed out at the angle below reduces torque. Keep them pointed forward as straight as possible. You may have trouble keeping spine neutral in the hole with feet forward, but it just takes some warming up of the hips. This adjustment will give you a lot more torque for strength and control.

Peter Lee Squat Form Check 3-6-16 Image 1 The Brilliant Beast Blog.png


  • Control the start. You drop in free fall, sort of crunching at the bottom. Go slow the very first part.
  • Spread the floor with feet.
  • Pull knees out for torque. Maintain these points of tension for control.
  • After the initial descent, rather than “dropping” down into the hole, start “pulling” yourself down into it.

Hole (Bottom)

  • Maintain torque, spreading floor with feet and pulling knees out.
  • Keep head in line with spine. You’re looking straight ahead which pulls your neck up and distracts you.


  • You have really good speed going up. Saw the bar bounce!
  • Looks like you’re keeping knees out, which is great.

Squat Two

  • Bar comes forward on the bounce out of the hole. This pulls your center forward and decreases strength. Mentally keep yourself under the bar.
  • Getting more torque from feet, ankle, knee adjusments will help to keep the bar going straight up and down.
  • See squat three, where the opposite happens.

Squat Three

  • Here the bar stayed straight, but your hips moved forward in the hole. This happens when you lose torque to stabilize.
  • Keep torque through knees, ankles, and feet. Keep spreading the floor. Keep the torque system tight, and you’ll be able to resist the forward slide at the bottom of the squat. You can then use the force of the weight to your advantage going up.

Squat Four

Awesome grind on this one! You maintained form through the struggle.

Squat Five

  • Try pushing back a bit more with your butt/hamstrings as you descend from the start. Looks like you need more of an angle in your hips.

Peter Lee Squat Form Check 3-6-16 Image 2 The Brilliant Beast Blog.jpg

  • Great grind on this rep as well. The twisting on the way up happens when you lose focus. Keep your breath in tight against your abdomen through the whole rep, concentrate on thrusting the hips forward, and keeping the knees pulling out. You’ll maintain a neutral spine this way through the grind (the upward struggle).

Final notes

Peter is looking good here and has been clearly getting stronger from progression training. Recording himself for form and technique is a huge step in making effective adjustments.

I’m grateful to him for being brave and allowing me to post his squats, and my critique, for everyone to see. We hope this motivates you in your journey of strength!

If you want a form check, send me a video link via

Live powerfully,



Our centers of balance are never the same.

There are different loads on the body. A heavy pack on the shoulders and back. A kid tucked in close against the chest. Bags of groceries hanging from each hand. Pushing a stalled car off the road.

There are different body types. Heavy on top, heavy in back, heavy in front. Big heads, small heads. Wide, narrow, long, short feet. Broad shoulders, and slim.

And there are different tasks and goals.

The ground you stand on will be different. Your feet may not be at the same level. You may be facing uphill or down. It may be moving.

The magical thing is that we can adjust. The unmagical thing, the problem, is we don’t make perfect calculations.

Even in the squat rack, two squats are never the same. Training is about practicing in a controlled environment, but even then there is variation.

Change, randomness, relativity are real. You will be in situations that are unfamiliar and challenging.

That’s just fine.

Trust yourself. Keep two things at the top of the list: your center, and your spine.

Where is the center of your mass. Figure out where the ground is pulling you the most. Focus on that point. Become it. That’s what you push, what you pull, what you support as you stand. Keep that point above your mid-feet, above the point of ground contact.

Spine neutrality. In a neutral position, your spine best commands your limbs. It also allows for the greatest torso pressure, giving support to legs and arms to manipulate yourself or the environment. Encapsulate spine neutrality. Protect it.

The rest follows. Foot placement, torque, breathing.

Emphasis on the periphery gets you out of balance. As the world changes, and the game changes, find the center. Focus on your true reference point. Physically, mentally, spiritually. Put your might into it.

To powerful living,


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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!