What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
We don’t rise to the level of our ambitions but to our incompetence. In other words, we can only get so far in any area, activity, or endeavor with the mindset, knowledge, and skills that we have.
While formulating goals is an important aspect of successful living, effective systems are what produce achievements.
Two of the most effective ways to make better systems are quantification and ritualization.
Quantification refers to measuring and paying attention to things that are important, and ritualization to developing and maintaining the right habits.
By tracking your workouts and body measurements, you can assess the changes occurring in your whole-body strength and muscle and know whether your system needs upgrading.
Habits dictate as much as 40 percent of our daily actions. By “habitualizing” activities, our brain can conserve energy and perform common tasks more efficiently.
You can improve your ability to form new habits and increase the resilience of your systems by starting easy and small, improving gradually, and expecting failure.
The Real Secret to Toughness
Virtually all cultures, stretching back to the beginning of recorded time, have known of the relationship between humor and health.
Research shows several positive physiological mechanisms similar to the effects of exercise associated with laughter, including the activation of muscles, elevation of heart rate, and increase in oxygen exchange, as well as vasodilation and the release of endorphins.
If you can find the humor in a situation, you can defuse stress by distancing yourself from threatening circumstances and reappraising them in more positive, meaningful, and growth-oriented ways, including perceiving them as challenging rather than menacing.
The gym calls on us to demonstrate how we respond to the greater struggles of life–adversity, pain, insecurity, stress, weakness, and disadvantage–and, in some ways, to demonstrate who we really are.
No matter how difficult things get, time will tell whether our trials are curses or blessings.
Why a “Good Enough” Diet Is No Longer Good Enough
The more you satisfice (go for good enough), the more likely you are to enjoy what you get and the more you maximize (seek and accept only the best), the more prone you are to disappointment.
While maximizing can produce a better result than satisficing—a softer pillow, a more delicious mustard, a sharper picture—the cost in time, attention, and effort is often much higher and the fruit of your labor often tastes inadequate.
Knowing when to satisfice or maximize is a vital skill to develop if we want to not only experience better outcomes but be more satisfied with them.
How you approach your diet as an intermediate weightlifter is a more important decision than many people realize, and eventually requires you to shift to the maximizing mindset.
Most times, people don’t realize they’re stuck because of dietary imprecision, and instead, think the fault lies in their training program.
“Superfoods” for “Supercharging” Your Body
There are no individual foods that can single-handedly transform your health and wellbeing.
Seafood is a great source of protein as well as various vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and vitamins A and D, and it’s one of the few foods that provides vital omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re not taking an omega-3 supplement, try to have fish high in omega-3s, like salmon or mackerel, at least once per week.
Most studies showing benefits of garlic used aged garlic extract at around 600 to 1,200 milligrams—the equivalent of about one to three garlic cloves per day, depending on their size.
If you don’t want to eat raw garlic, crush, chop, or mince it, and then let it sit at room temperature for at least ten minutes before cooking it.
Blueberries (and all dark, blue-black berries) are a superior fruit because of their anthocyanin content, which is a powerful antioxidant linked to improved memory, mood, and immunity, as well as less DNA damage, which helps protect against various types of disease and dysfunction.
The dose required to produce benefits isn’t small, but it’s still workable—60 to 120 grams of fresh blueberries, or about ½ to 1 cup per day, or about 175 grams of frozen blueberries per day.
Cranberries have been associated with improved urinary health for years now, and recently, high-quality evidence has emerged to support this.
Results have been seen with as little as 500 milligrams of cranberry fruit powder or 1.5 grams of dried cranberry, which is the equivalent of around 11 grams of fresh cranberry (a small handful).
Oats are an excellent and economical source of several minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus, as well as beta-glucan, a soluble fiber linked to improving cholesterol and blood glucose levels and boosting heart health.
Cruciferous vegetables contain three molecules known as isothiocyanates, which are associated with a lower risk of cancer, and colon cancer in particular.
One serving per day of cruciferous vegetables is a reasonable recommendation to positively impact our health and wellbeing.
Dark chocolate derives most of its health benefits from molecules called catechins, which have several effects in the body, including improved blood flow, photoprotection, and oxygenation of the brain (in youth, at least).
How Much Muscle Can You Really Gain (Naturally)?
We can only gain so much muscle naturally, and no amount of training, eating, or supplementing will raise that ceiling.
Research shows that those with larger, denser bones tend to have more muscle than people with smaller frames, and they also tend to have higher testosterone levels and respond better to training.
Height being equal, people who have wider wrists and ankles tend to be more muscular, gain muscle faster through training, and have a higher potential for muscle growth.
Muscles can’t grow longer, only wider, so the longer your muscle bellies and the shorter your tendons are, the more muscle mass you’ll be able to gain.
How Much Strength Can You Really Gain (Naturally)?
An effective way to evaluate your whole-body strength is appraising your performance of the following movements: push, pull, squat.
Relative strength also accounts for body weight, and therefore allows us to compare the strength of people of different sizes.
Your ability to gain strength depends on a few factors, with the chief ones being your skill and attitude, bone length, muscle structure, and muscle size.
Every exercise has a sticking point, which is a point in the movement where the exercise becomes more difficult, and it typically makes up about three to six inches of the total distance the weight needs to travel.
Taller people can often gain more total muscle than shorter people, which can help mitigate anatomical disadvantages, and having long bones may be a disadvantage in one exercise, but an advantage in another.
Because muscles function as levers, where they attach to our bones impacts how much force they can produce and thus how much weight they can move.
Studies have found that, thanks to this type of anatomical variance, strength can vary by as much as 25 percent among people with identical amounts of muscle mass.
Strength and muscle gains aren’t perfectly correlated—you can get stronger without getting bigger and vice versa.
After a couple of years of consistent training, research shows that about 65 percent of your strength gain will come from muscle gain.
Once your newbie gains are behind you, if you want to keep getting stronger, you’ll have to keep getting bigger, and once you reach your genetic potential for muscle growth, you won’t have much more strength available to you, either.
The “More for Less” Method
Not only does muscle and strength gain slow down as you progress toward your genetic limits, you have to work harder to keep the needle moving.
There are many ways to make workouts harder, but for our purposes, the two we need to focus on are progressive overload and volume.
Most research shows that the best way to quantify volume for the purposes of workout programming is hard sets, which are sets taken close to the point of muscular failure, regardless of the number of reps performed.
Evidence indicates that optimal volume for muscle gain is in the range of 10 to 20 hard sets per major muscle group per week with moderately heavy weights (60 percent of one-rep max or higher) and adequate rest in between sets, with the lower number of sets being suitable for beginners and the higher end for advanced weightlifters.
You’ll gain more strength by training with heavier weights and fewer reps, and higher-rep sets may activate certain muscle-building processes more than lower-rep sets and cause less fatigue and wear and tear on your joints.
Without progressive overload, muscle growth will lag regardless of the amount of volume performed.
It’s usually best to prep an entire week’s worth of food in one go, such as every Saturday or Sunday.
If that isn’t workable for you, though, or sounds daunting, you can do well with two shorter prep sessions per week, such as Sundays and Wednesdays.
If you don’t have the time or inclination for an all-inclusive meal prep, you can still prep the meals that are hardest to control in terms of calories (lunch and dinner, usually), which can help with compliance.
When creating your meal plan, stick with recipes you know and make often.
The best meal prep recipes are easy and fast to make, require few ingredients, and allow you to prepare large amounts of food with minimal equipment and work.
Some of my favorite foods that reheat well are soups, casseroles, chicken dishes, rice and other grains, veggie medleys, and ground beef, and foods I avoid when prepping are those that don’t microwave well, like eggs, baked goods, and steak.
Use a food scale to ensure your calories and macros are accurate.
Weigh before cooking to determine calories and macros and after to determine portions, because weights can change with cooking.
A reasonable strategy for mini-cutting is four weeks of dieting after every four months of lean bulking.
If intermittent fasting helps you regulate your calorie and macronutrient intake better, and you enjoy it, it’s worthwhile. If it doesn’t or you don’t, it’s not.
If you’re below 15 percent body fat, you can benefit from cycling your calories when cutting by creating a meal plan that provides five low-calorie days and two medium-calorie days.
Primary exercises are most responsible for your progress in the gym, because they train (and develop) the most muscle and produce the most whole-body strength.
- Barbell Bench Press
- Close-Grip Bench Press
- Incline Barbell Bench Press
- Reverse-Grip Bench Press
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Standing Military Press
- Seated Military Press
- Push Press
- Barbell Deadlift
- Trap-Bar Deadlift
- Sumo Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift
- Barbell Back Squat
- Barbell Front Squat
- Barbell Good Morning
Accessory exercises are secondary to primary exercises, and are used to further train muscle groups, bring up stubborn muscles, and help prevent and correct muscle imbalances or weaknesses that may limit your progress on your primary exercises.
- Triceps Pressdown
- EZ-Bar Skullcrusher
- Triceps Overhead Press
- Dumbbell Side Raise
- Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly
- Machine Rear Delt Fly
- Barbell Row
- One-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Seated Cable Row
- T-Bar Row
- Alternating Dumbbell Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Cable Curl
- EZ-Bar Preacher Curl
- Walking Dumbbell Lunge
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Leg Curl (Lying or Seated)
- Leg Press Calf Raise
- Seated Calf Raise
- Standing Calf Raise
The reverse-grip bench press is an often-overlooked variation of the bench press that’s not only easier on your shoulders but also effective for targeting the upper portion of the chest muscle.
The trap-bar—or hex-bar—deadlift is one of the few back exercises that rivals the conventional deadlift.
Although supplementation isn’t terribly important, the minor improvements supplements can provide in body composition, performance, and health can add up to significant upswings over months and years.
The three supplements for improving sleep are melatonin, glycine, and lemon balm.
The five supplements for joint support are undenatured type II collagen, curcumin, Boswellia serrata, grape seed extract, and glucosamine.
The three supplements for stress support are ashwagandha root extract, rhodiola rosea, and L-theanine.
The six supplements for immunity support are pelargonium sidoides, aged garlic extract, Panax quinquefolius, Tinospora cordifolia, zinc, and vitamin C.