Yes, losing fat is the best way to a flatter belly, followed by working your abs by doing your squats and deadlifts. There is however a simple yet easily overlooked thing that can directly influence the way your belly looks.
Look at these two pictures.
You can see me slouch on the left and stand up straight on the right. The funny thing is: I’m not exaggerating nor am I tucking my belly or pushing it out. A lot of people let their head hang forwards and drop their chest, some more than others, often worse if seated. Look around at a crowd and consider the following guideline: If the upper back is rounded and the crown of the head is not above the neck, you’re not standing up straight. You’ll see a lot of people slouching.
Now look at the pictures again and compare the effect on my midsection. Even though I still have a high-ish % of bodyfat, just standing up straight makes a clearly visible difference. There you have it, a flatter belly.
So how do you do it? Chest up, flex your abs and ass lightly (which may come naturally if you’re used to heavy strength training). If you’re used to letting your head hang forward, you may have to ‘pull in your chin’ a bit as well, as if you’re trying to make a double chin. Don’t tuck your belly in and don’t roll your shoulders or whatever, that’s not necessary. Practice this occasionally throughout the day. Even if you don’t care about a flatter stomach, it helps with preventing pains throughout the upper body as well, since slouching can cause trouble throughout the neck/upper back and even your upper extremities in the long run.
“Stand up straight, boy! Don’t slouch!” – About 90% of all mothers and grandmothers.
Everyone and their moms seem to have a fierce stance on what ‘healthy eating’ really means, throwing around terms like ‘organic’, ‘detoxing’ and other confusing terms. I decided to make a short list of terms that have recently been pretty common among people interested in healthy eating. Although normally I don’t care much about semantics or health claims by random people, I do find it concerning when people are simply fed bullshit, or worse, misinformation that is potentially lethal. Tons of people have died from retarded advice from health gurus such as drinking pure water (i.e. without minerals) while fasting, excessive colon cleanses and more.
This list might give you an idea of what people are talking about whenever they mention ‘superfoods’ or ‘clean eating’. Moreover, I hope that this list will fuel some scepticism and a down-to-earth attitude when it comes to health.
Superfood: A marketing term used to sell specific nuts, fruits, seeds, etc. at higher prices than other types of food, regardless of their nutritional value.
Organic: A marketing term for a food industry that has replaced the original meaning of eating fresh, locally produced, environment-friendly, animal-friendly, in-season food with the meaning of eating hopefully environment-friendly, animal-friendly food that only uses government-approved ‘organic’ pesticides.
Antioxidants: Things you have enough of if you just eat your vegetables and fruits.
Detoxing: That thing your body continuously does just fine if you just provide it with the things it needs and don’t stuff it with excessive amounts of alcohol, (oral) performance enhancing drugs and other weird stuff.
Clean eating: I’m not sure what this means.
Natural: An arbitrary adjective that is used more often to market stuff or make people feel better about their lifestyle than to describe whether something is good or bad.
Vegetables: Things you should probably eat more of. If you think you eat enough of it, weigh 200 grams (7oz, 2-3 servings) of fresh spinach and ask yourself if you eat that (or its equivalent in broccoli or other nutritious vegetables) every single day. If yes: consider that this is the minimum recommended amount, that most people don’t reach this consistently on a daily basis and that this is a very conservative number to be hitting every day.
Insulin: Depending on who you listen to, insulin is either A HORRIFIC SUBSTANCE IN YOUR BODY THAT MAKES YOU FAT WHEN SECRETED or an often misunderstood hormone that aids in keeping blood sugar stable and storing (temporarily) excess energy in your body, either as glycogen (carbohydrate stores) or fat.
“Someone who plays roulette with people’s lives had better learn to fight – or learn to run real fast.” – Wolverine
I started drinking light soda recently. I rarely eat organic food. I absolutely love bread and other wheat products. I don’t mind some types of red meat. I don’t eat many of the recently hyped ‘superfoods’ that much. If I take any supplements that would contribute to my health, it seems almost random because I tend to forget taking them all the time. I injure myself occasionally through sports (or falling on my face or something, which is equally likely). All this surprises many people, since they associate me being a personal trainer and having some knowledge about health with ‘living a healthy life’. Apparently, my lifestyle does not fit the stereotype.
Lifting weights suddenly doesn’t sound as healthy anymore.
So why do I seem unconcerned with my own health? Two reasons, mostly.
The first one being that the term ‘healthy’ is rather vague. Claims about health are often exaggerated, taken out of context or simply not supported by science. Goji berries and chia seeds? Sure, they’re good for you, but how about eggs or broccoli? They’re pretty fucking awesome if you look at their micronutrient profiles, but they’re a lot cheaper. Light soda is bad for you? Well, perhaps for your teeth, but other than that it’s really no big deal. Aspartame, for example, has been proven to be safe often enough in quantities that normal (?) people consume.
The second reason? I just don’t care enough to prioritize it that much. With everything I do in my life, I try to stick to the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule. It boils down to focusing on the big wins, as Ramit Sethi calls it. He recommends to invest in things that are important for you while cutting mercilessly in things that mean little to you or offer you little. I try to put this attitude into my relationships with people, my training and yes, my health.
For example, I lift weights. When done properly -and assuming you don’t eat yourself to death- this goes a long way in lowering the risk on contracting several ailments (like type 2 diabetes). Moreso than ‘avoiding refined sugar’ or ‘eating some cinnamon every day’ or whatever. Contrary to what some ‘health experts’ claim, eating refined sugar does not give you diabetes all of a sudden.
Another example, I don’t smoke. This is a more important factor in some diseases (cancer comes to mind) than eating organic foods (which, scientifically speaking, is a bit of a questionable topic to begin with).
I could go on and on, but the gist is that you don’t have to go full retard in trying to be healthy if you want to significantly lower the risk of common diseases. “Get the 10% of the things right that improve your health by 90% and just enjoy the 90% ‘bad things’ that only mess up your health by 10%” or however you want to phrase it. The percentages don’t matter, the phrasing doesn’t matter. I just believe in the whole ‘living life to the fullest’ thing and not just the ‘extending your life as much as possible’ thing. I recommend anyone adhering to that train of thought to prioritize accordingly, and if that means you want to drink your overpriced wheatgrass juice everyday, be my guest.
“We didn’t give a flying fuck about gluten or paleo or shit like that. We knew how to eat to get big, and how to eat to get leaner. We didn’t need a study or some research telling us what worked and what didn’t work in a fucking lab. We found those things out because we tried them, and made our own assessments. I see guys today that wouldn’t let their girl blow them unless they had a study telling them they would like it.” – Paul Carter
Occasionally, people ask me what I eat. The answer depends on when you’re asking me. There are times when I don’t really care and just eat what I want. I try to get my protein and vegetables and I don’t mind my food too much. I just eat whatever I want. These are also the periods where I have the tendency to gain weight, since I have a pretty big appetite for certain high calorie foods. Peanutbutter sandwiches? I have no trouble devouring half a loaf of bread with a boatload of peanut butter in one sitting. A big kebab meal? Two please. Risotto? I’ll eat the whole pan.
Then there are periods where I try to maintain weight but increase my overall strength. About a year ago, I used something that pretty much boils down to the Carb Backloading diet from John Kiefer. Although content-wise it garnered a lot of criticism (badly cited research, a few flawed statements and a lot of VERY exaggerated claims), I felt great with it and my strength went up nicely in 8 weeks even though I never really had a balls to the wall training during those weeks. Obviously I cannot attribute my results to just my eating habits, but I generally had a lot of energy and felt great doing it.
So then there are the periods where I try to lose weight. Ever since I left my fat kid days behind me, my body fat % has always still been pretty high. With one short-lived exception where I was probably around 15%, I’ve mostly floated around 20%, often slightly above. This was good for at least one thing: I had lots of opportunities to try out strength training diets. (Cue drum roll for my grand conclusion: Almost everything works, provided you are consistent and adhere to certain basic premises.)
I recently lost 6-7kg (14-15lbs) simply by keeping my protein up and making sure that at the end of the week I ate less calories than I burned. I decided to temporarily stop losing weight when I was afraid I’d feel weak through lack of food when I had a small competition coming. I had a hard time picking up fat loss again after that, mostly because everything I do
(training, working, eating, social stuff) is very irregular. Now my appetite has always been a bit of a problem for me, but it got worse when I got a bit busy and slept less, somehow skyrocketing my appetite like I mentioned in my earlier article on sleep. I mentioned there that I would occasionally eat 4000+ calories and still be hungry. Fighting cravings and hunger every day gets tedious real quick (especially when you see the scale slowly climbing up), so I decided to make a few adjustments and go on my current diet.
I don’t haphazardly recommend this to just anyone, for a variety of reasons. You could do things totally differently and it will still work for losing fat if you get the basics right. (Lift weights, eat your protein, eat less than you burn, that sort of stuff.) When I say that “different things for work different people”, it doesn’t mean that some sort of food magically makes some people fat or lean, it just means that people experience things differently and have different situations. Get the basics right and adapt everything around that to your personal situation. Focus on behavior, not on getting insignificant details right.
I basically do the following:
Eat low carb 5 days out of the week. Eating lots of fat and protein but leaving out the carbs is the most effective thing I’ve ever done to stave off hunger. (Besides using caffeine, which supresses my appetite for a few hours too.) I estimate my carb intake around 40-70 grams on these days, but that’s mostly only because of the quark (cottage cheese) and a bit of fruit. I considered going for <30 grams like I’ve done in the past but didn’t feel like giving up fruit and quark this time.
I roughly count/estimate my calories (since I’m accustomed to it and it doesn’t really take me much effort). I shoot for 2000 or a little over that, whereas I estimate that I burn around 2900 in a day. I find that this pretty much goes automatically.
Eat high carb (but low fat) 1 or 2 days out of the week. I have no idea how many carbs I eat on these days. I just eat more rice, fruits, bread and chicken instead of fatty meat, cheese and whole eggs. These are also my high calorie days since carbs generally fill me up less. I’ll probably also need the carbs from these days to keep my body fueled for my workouts, even though I could probably get away with less carbs easily since I train with a fairly low volume. I try to eat somewhere around 3000 calories here. If I keep fat intake low here, that’s perfectly doable. (occasionally supported by some carbonated water, caffeine or some diet coke) This also goes almost automatically and doesn’t cost me much effort.
I’m not very strict in cycling these days, but I try to spread the carb-up days (or ‘refeeds’) throughout the week a bit.
Social outings are really important to me so I’m flexible with that. If I eat with other people and risk deviating from my plan, I may just make it a cheat meal or plan my carb up day on that day.
I will affectionately refer to this as the ‘Fuck You Diet’ because everyone and their moms would bitch on this type of eating and I don’t really care. The high-carb days will give me diabetes, the meat will give me cancer, the amounts of protein will weaken my bones and skipping breakfast will destroy my metabolism faster than Youporn destroys teen boys’ innocence. Of course the bread will make me fat, dairy clogs up my bowels and the amounts of salt I get from cheese will raise my blood pressure so high that my arteries will burst and I will start bleeding copious amounts of cholesterol. (Caused by eating so many eggs, obviously.) The alternative name for this diet is the Wolverine diet for absolutely no reason at all other than me being a major fan of the Marvel character. (Not to mention that the ‘Fuck You Diet’ is probably less marketable.)
My staple foods on low carb days: Brie or camembert cheese, (fatty) meat, eggs, (casein) protein shakes, vegetables, quark. In moderation, I will eat some fruits, yoghurt and nuts.
My staple foods on high carb days: Bread, rice, lean meats, (casein) protein shakes, vegetables, quark, fruits. I may add (sweet) potatoes if somehow my appetite starts being a dick again, since they are a lot more filling and have few calories compared to rice and bread… But that hasn’t been necessary so far. In moderation, I will eat… Well… Whatever I feel like. I even ate a lot of licorice candy a little while back. Feels good man. There’s also something else, I don’t know what it’s called in English but it’s basically thickened, whole milk with rice. Sort of like congee or a custard-ish rice pudding.
A few random (real life) examples of what I eat in a day. I roughly estimate calories and usually round up in the end. And yes, I realize that with my eating habits, terms like breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack are arbitrary, but I’ve added it just to give an idea of how my food intake is spread throughout the day.
Low carb day (Total: Estimated at 2300+ calories)
Lunch: 4 hamburgers + 2 eggs (+-1200 calories)
Snack: Cottage cheese and a few raspberries (+-300 calories)
Snack: Small apple (50+ calories)
Dinner: 2 steaks with 3 eggs (in some olive oil) and a plate of green beans (800- calories)
Low-carb day (Total: Estimated at +-2300 calories)
Lunch: A lot of minced meat (700- calories)
Snack: Yoghurt and chocolate protein powder (400-)
Snack: A point of brie cheese (+-700 calories)
Dinner: Protein bar (400- calories)
Snack: Cottage cheese (+-250 calories)
Very low-carb day (Total: Estimated at 1700+ calories)
Breakfast: Cottage cheese (+-250 calories)
Lunch: A point of brie cheese (+-700 calories)
Dinner: A pound of steak in butter (800- calories)
High carb day (Total: Estimated at around 3100 calories)
Breakfast: Cottage cheese, a banana and an apple (+-400 calories)
Lunch: Some chicken, rice and a lot of vegetables in coconut oil (+-400 calories)
Snack: A few pieces of chocolate (100+ calories)
Snack: A pack of food for the gods (600+ calories)
Around 15 slices of bread spread out over the day (1000+ calories, yes, I absolutely LOVE bread)
A lot of licorice candy throughout the day (+-500 calories)
…and my weight is slowly going down again, without loss of energy or strength, without frustrating cravings and hunger and without stressing over social outings. I feel that by getting a few basics right and combining them with several aspects of different diets and eating strategies that I found pleasant, I’ve found something that works well for me, is not too hard to stick to and it feels great overall.
A few things occurred to me while doing this over the last two weeks, and I’m curious if more people have this experience with comparable eating strategies.
The decrease in appetite, experience-wise, seems to happen on every low-carb day. However, when I look at the calories I tracked, I notice that I start eating less calories on consecutive low-carb days. Example: I eat 2800 calories on the first low-carb day following a high-carb day. I may eat 2400 on the low-carb day directly after that and then stay around 2100 for the low-carb days that follow.
Contrary to what most dieters experience; I have a tendency to eat way more and experience way more hunger when I have breakfast, so I usually have a late breakfast or no breakfast at all.
My overall energy levels have improved, with the low-carb days directly following a high-carb day being the best.
I fall asleep more easily. (I’m not sure how that would be influenced by my current eating habits, so let me emphasize that this may not be directly related. It might just have started happening around when I started this diet.)
I find it easier to stick to my planned way of eating. Somehow certain restrictions seem to make me more strict, perhaps because it prevents me from messing too much with the leeway I have in other types of eating.
I feel like I’ve lost some excess water weight… But it seems to stay off throughout the week. Veins are more visible on my arms and skin feels a bit tighter. I guess this could just be because of some fat loss, but messing with carbohydrate intake tends to deplete muscles from water as well (or fill them up again after a refeed, since carbohydrates bind to water when stored in muscle). It’s possible that this has an effect on subcutaneous water as well… Although I never bothered with that subject much. Either that or I’m overlooking something completely (like the irregular sodium intake). It’s still strange since I still have quite a lot of bodyfat so I didn’t expect to see much noticable difference just from losing water.
I occasionally drink carbonated water to fill up my stomach, since even this ‘diet’ can’t completely curb my hunger.
I need to keep in mind that I need to drink a lot of water, especially on high carb days. I also need to eat more vegetables and fiber, two things that I’m very lazy with.
I don’t have cravings for sweet stuff unless I start on it. One piece of candy turns into 10. Other than that, it quickly went away, possibly because of my low carb days. The rare instances where I did get those cravings, I turned to light soda or carbonated water.
There have been days where I went over my calorie goals (with the highest being 4400+ on a high carb day). I don’t care much for it, let alone stress over it. Results come from a process, not from a single event.
Steak tastes incredible when cooked in (full fat, organic) butter and seasoned with (potassium) salt and couscous seasoning. (The latter consisting of paprika powder, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, ve tsin and… Uh… ‘mixed spices’ apparently.)
Steak also tastes better when eaten with bare hands.
Coconut is remarkably filling, which is saying something, coming from a person who is -in terms of appetite- a human approximation of a Sarlacc.
There’s a difference between being hungry and being bored, and for some people it’s harder to distinguish than they think.
Since people tend to jump on every fad diet or gimmick to lose fat, build muscle or get stronger, let me explicitly state the number one take home message of this post: It’s not about following a specific diet or demonizing/glorifying a single nutrient. It’s about realizing that it’s about getting the basics right + understanding your own behavior. Getting the basics right and implementing them into your life in a way that you can actually stick to it is all you need.
“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.” – Orson Welles
Funny how I always emphasize the importance of training, nutrition and rest, with proper sleep being a crucial part of rest, yet I’ve been sleeping less/worse lately, mostly because I travel throughout the country a lot. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a few bad things happening over the last few weeks and I suspect that my lack of proper sleep is mostly to blame for it.
Increased appetite. Eating to maintain my current bodyweight is hard and losing weight feels like it’s impossible. Whereas normally I tend to eat around maintenance level or slightly above, recently I’ve felt like I’m starving unless I eat 4000+ calories a day. (I estimate my maintenance level around 2900 calories.)
A great increase in acne. My back has been looking like a fucking gravel tile over the last three weeks or so.
More aches and pains, mostly in terms of trigger points, but my joints are sore every now and then as well.
Bad concentration. I have a hard time focusing when I’m training, and I find it harder to put energy into things like work and proper nutrition. I also noticed some related things like having less patience, as well as occasionally wanting to strangle every single person who walks in front of you in train stations or other crowded places and stops dead in their tracks all of a sudden in the middle of the walkways. (Okay, the latter has nothing to do with my lack of sleep. I really do feel the need for the legalization of a low voltage cattle prod for situations like that.)
(Note that these seem a bit like signs of overtraining, but I’m not feeling ill at all, I’m not doing anything crazy in training, my strength levels in training are fine, my libido is fine, my overall mood is fine and my resting heart rate is fine as well, so I doubt that’s the case. Also note that correlation =/= causation: I can’t say 100% sure to what extent the above things are caused by a lack of sleep.)
Besides the shitty effects I’ve noticed in the short run, there’s a whole host of problems associated with lack of (proper quality) sleep, like an increased risk of certain diseases. A friend of mine is currently involved in research that even links lack of sleep to the development of Alzheimer. Since several of the aforementioned effects could severely impact my chances of surviving a zombie apocalypse and I really don’t want to be dependent on caffeine just to be able to not fuck up my workouts, I decided to finally follow my own advice for once. I’ll list a few guidelines that I normally recommend to people.
Sleep 7 to 9 hours. These numbers are somewhat arbitrary, since quality of sleep is a lot more important than the actual hours you put in, but especially if you do some intense strength training, you need your sleep. Increasing quality of sleep despite not having those hours of sleep is still beneficial, but not always easy and most likely not ideal either. Just don’t think that 4 hours of sleep is enough just because you can function with it. Weightlifting coach Greg Everett sums it up nicely by saying that “The fact that some people function or even seem to thrive on a few hours of sleep every night says more about the incredible adaptive capabilities of the human body than the actual ideal amount of sleep”.
Sleep in total darkness. Every bit of light during sleep can influence your quality of sleep. Turn off your laptop, tv and phone if they emit any light. Put some tape on your alarm clock to block out the light it emits. Have blinds on your windows that allow absolutely no light to come into the room. I’m not sure if eye masks give the same effects. I would think so, but I don’t know if light touching the skin also influences sleep quality.
Wake up at the same time everyday, regardless of the time you go to bed. If at some point you start waking up automatically at this time, you’ve done it right. Yes, I realize this one is hard to do for most people, especially if you have a social life, but it’s an important one according to Kacper Postawski, who wrote a book on the subject. He describes a protocol to improve your sleep and this part is integral to its success.
Get your body temperature up after waking up. Going for a walk, taking a hot shower, doing a bit of yoga or whatever you enjoy, it can all help.
If you’re really tired somewhere later in the afternoon, take a 15-45 minute nap. Shorter than that doesn’t do much. Longer than that can make you wake up feeling even more fatigued. Try to avoid doing this too late in the evening or you may have trouble falling asleep. I’ve found that I need to have my naps AT LEAST 4 hours before I intend to sleep at night, preferably earlier than that.
Back off the stimulants. Caffeine or other stimulants can mess with your body temperature and your daily rhythm.
Do something to unwind after your day and transition into sleep mode. De-stress, meditate, read some light fiction, whatever works for you. Avoid bright lights, tv or computers in the hour before you fall asleep. Despite what you might think, they don’t actually relax you, even if they are pleasant and get your mind off of stressful stuff.
Don’t leave electronics near your head when you’re asleep. (Not very scientific, I know.)
Experiment with how you react to food. I find that I fall asleep easier on a full stomach, but it is generally not recommended.
Experiment with supplements. Melatonin (especially in higher doses) can help you fall asleep quickly, although I would consider this a last resort, since melatonin production can be improved with some of the other advice I mentioned here as well. It’s a popular, scientifically backed supplement though. Other supplements that may help are ZMA and vitamin B-complex, as well as 5-HTP (supposedly gives some people nightmares though) and tryptophan. Most of the support for it is anecdotal though, so I suggest you do some research on these things and see for yourself whether it’s worth trying for whatever the price it’s going for. There’s other stuff like valerian as well, but I’ve never tried it nor have I read up much on it. Just keep in mind that supplements are generally not a good substitute for the advice I gave in the earlier points.
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemingway
Fitness has become sort of an umbrella term for everything people do in a gym. Is the chick spending mindnumbing amounts of time on the treadmill fit because she can run for a kabillion hours, even though she can hardly lift her own groceries for more than 10 steps? The powerlifter who’s really good at lifting a heavy weight once but gets winded from walking a flight of stairs, is he fit? Well then, what about the Crossfitter? Does he cover all the aspects of being ‘fit’?
‘Fit’ means little more than being adapted to something. You can be fit to run a marathon, fit to deadlift 500lbs, fit to win a kickboxing competition or you can at least give the impression that you’re somehow ‘fit’ because you have a fucking sixpack . (Yeah, that’s the former fat kid’s bitterness talking. Fuck you. Sixpacks by themselves still don’t make you fit for anything except hitting on 16 year old girls.)
The above emphasizes the fact that what you do should be geared towards your specific goals, but some people just want to “be fit and healthy”. Well then… My definition of general fitness? Outclassing most people in surviving a zombie apocalypse. Why? Well, you could substitute a lot of physically challenging situations ranging from minor inconveniences to full blown disasters, but I feel that a zombie apocalypse encompasses pretty much everything. Either that or I’m just a fucking nerd. Regardless, there’s always the risk that there will in fact be a zombie apocalypse.
My recipe for being ‘generally fit’? It roughly boils down to the following.
Get stronger. Lift heavy but submaximal and always leave a bit of gas in the tank, 2 to 4 times a week. Emphasize adding weight to freeweight exercises (or calisthenics) while maintaining good form and staying injury free. Other stuff like whether to squat high- or lowbar, rest periods between sets of an exercise or ‘muscle confusion’ and whatnot are not really important here.
Do a bit of conditioning. 1 or 2 short bouts of HIIT every week is enough. Complexes, circuits or mixing exercises like sled pushes, hill sprints, kettlebell swings or barbell thrusters are all fine. Add the occasional hike, lengthy stroll, playful run or whatever. It’ll do your mind good.
Eat your vegetables, fibre and protein. Vary your food intake. If you’re not sure you fit the bill, you probably don’t.
Do some martial arts. I don’t really care which one, but anything where you learn to break falls, tumble, roll and learn some basic self defense is fine. Mixed Martial Arts or Krav Maga are fine. A combination of thai boxing and judo would work too and there are countless martial arts nowadays that would fit the bill. If you’re curious why this is in the list: everyone who has played ‘The Last of Us’ or seen ‘Dawn of the Dead’ knows that fighting for your life generally involves a lot of falling down and a lot of… Well… Fighting.
Do something random and have fun testing your overall fitness once in a while. Rent a canoo and hit the waters, climb a wall, have sex several times in a short time span (it doesn’t count if it doesn’t leave you as fatigued as a true 20RM on your squat), try a Crossfit WOD or pick up a new sport for a short while occasionally.
“Being able to sprint, fight, screw, practice cannibalism, and compete at a high level at whatever is a great feeling and you can’t do those things without good conditioning.” – Paul Carter
For anyone who wants to read and learn from people whose writings I tend to devour with great pleasure, I decided to compile a (not very comprehensive) list of coaches/athletes/writers that have written a lot of interesting stuff I like, with a short description of what they write about and a few links to examples of particularly interesting writings. These are just a few out of many, and although I thought of writing down some literature for people to read up on, I know that the majority of the people here probably aren’t going to invest in books just like that anyway so… Here’s something to read online!
Nate Green’s website
Although this guy sometimes writes some interesting stuff about nutrition and training, his most interesting posts are related to ‘living a better life’. A bit vague, I know, but to give you a few examples:
“Appearances aside, I can guess that, like me, most of the guys have been raised on a steady diet of Hollywood morals, shallow friendships and romantic relationships, hubris, and high-fructose corn syrup. We’ve never taken the time to define what our values are.”
Timothy Ferriss’s website
A weird guy who, besides being a marketing/entrepeneuring expert, has a weird habit of experimenting on his body with all sorts of stuff. From perfecting his slow carb diet for fat loss to improving sex positions, from learning languages in record time to dealing with depression. He has written about so many different things that there are only few people that would not find something of interest in his writings.
“The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.”
Mark Rippetoe’s website
A strength coach, famous for his work with Lon Kilgore in writing books like “Starting Strength”:”a comprehensive resource on the biomechanical aspects of the most important exercises. He’s also fucking hilarious and his views on many training-related subjects are often refreshing.
Dan John’s website
A shotput, weightlifting and high school strength coach. Although he has some nice ideas about strength training, his articles and advice on the mental approach to life and training are why I love reading his stuff.
“People tease me about one of my key training principles: I recommend that you floss twice a day. (…) If someone asks me to design a multi-year training program that peaks with an Olympic championship or a Mr. Universe victory, but can’t set aside two minutes or less a day to floss, well, then why are we all wasting our time?”
Ramit Sethi’s website
Most of the things he writes are geared towards finances, entrepeneuring and career, but he always heavily emphasizes psychology, which is why I find his writings so interesting. The whole “habits and systems trump willpower” concept that I occasionally mention on Endure and Survive is one that I picked up through his writings. (note: this guy is definitely not the typical guru with your average finance tips)
It frustrates me occasionally that some people will go after any excuse to justify their lack of results in… Well… Anything. Maybe fat loss is the best example since it’s such a hot item. After decades of research concluding that the majority of people completely and utterly suck at actually tracking their food intake, people still go for “but it’s because my hormones are unbalanced” or “it’s genetics, I pack on fat regardless of what I eat!” or one of the worst: “yeah but it doesn’t work that way for me.”
Of course. Out of 7 billion people you’re the only fucking one who can defy the laws of nature and not lose weight when eating less than you burn. It obviously has nothing to do with the fact that, you know, you DON’T CONSISTENTLY EAT LESS THAN YOU BURN.
“But I know of other people who had the same problem!”
I’m sure you do, however you and those other people are not part of a group of people who cannot lose weight. You and those other people are part of a group of people who consistently overeat or at the very least eat what you burn in a day.
“Well, I tried tracking my intake and stuff but it didn’t work!”
Well, either you’re some genetic freak that the world of science has somehow overlooked or you simply did something wrong and don’t want to admit it.
“Well, I know people who ate too little to lose weight! Their metabolism just went down too much!”
This would actually be possible if it concerned underweight people. They would wreck their organs, immune system, bones and muscle mass in the process. These same people are generally not concerned with losing weight unless they were anorexic, in which case they need serious help. This has nothing to do with an otherwise ‘normal’ person who wants to shed a few pounds. Your metabolism doesn’t just drop to nothing from eating less. Yes, it gets lower because people who diet tend to (subconsciously) move around less and yes, it gets lower because the less body mass you have, the less you burn. Even fat mass is active tissue that burns calories (albeit not much). All this does not change anything whatsoever about the fact that YOU MUST EAT LESS THAN YOU BURN TO LOSE BODYMASS.
But what about carb sensitivity/genetics/unbalanced hormones/etc? Well, some of the things that diet gurus are cashing in on these days are valid subjects that will influence fat loss in one way or another, but the possibilities of manipulating those factors are often limited or simply lack results to speak of. In most cases, these things are not really interesting and people are simply not being consistent. This is a problem with behavior and psychology, not with your body being special. If you’re a competing bodybuilder with inhumanly low levels of body fat and/or are on some sort of (performance enhancing?) drug, some things may change and you’ll have to pay attention to a lot of complex details, but I doubt you need to be reading this article then. For the vast majority of people it comes down to eating your protein and fiber, lifting a bit of weight and either eating a bit less or (and?) moving around a little more.
“What about diet X that cuts out this or that food product? I heard a lot of good stuff about it, a lot of people got great results with it.”
Cutting out food products generally leads to less eating, but it probably won’t come as a surprise that many diets have a low success rate in the long run. Even with people that stick to the diet.
“Science isn’t everything, you know! I did this natural/detox/paleo/raw/hippie/whatever diet and made it into a lifestyle and I feel and look great!”
You cut out the cake, booze, ice cream and junk and you look and feel better. Praise the lord, it’s a miracle!
I’m pretty sure there will be people reading this that will demonize some sort of food (MSG, sugar, wheat, whatever) as the cause of being fatter than they’d like, despite research proving them wrong over and over. Oh wait, my bad. That research was manipulated by the global conspiracy of the medical and food industries trying to keep us fat and ill! Despite the fact that countless people lose significant amounts of fat just fine while eating those same demonized foods if they just, you know… CONSISTENTLY EAT LESS THAN THEY BURN.
If you need to lose a few pounds and have come to the honest conclusion that you need to work on your mindset and habits, you can get into the productive side of things and actually join the group of people that garners good results. Stop bullshitting yourself, get your priorities straight and if fat loss is high on the list: take it seriously and work on it relentlessly and methodically.
“Everything makes you fat if you look through enough diet books. That same “thing” is also the cure for your fatness in a book one shelf away.” – Dan John
The title is a bit misleading, since your ideal choice of exercises will always be dependent on your goals and abilities. The contents of this post are geared towards beginners and people with somewhat general goals that pretty much everyone will have to some extent. Read on to find out which movements I deem most important and especially why.
Although there are countless squat variations, all with their uses and limitations, I try to let everyone do at least some sort of squat movement. Besides overall strength and hip/leg strength, a proper squat at good depth can go a long way in preventing knee- and back issues by reinforcing correct movement patterns and maintaining hip mobility.
The deadlift is the most obvious example, but deadlift variations or even heavy kettlebell swings work wonders as well, for much the same reason as the squat. The difference being that the squat has more leg emphasis and the deadlift has more back emphasis (and slightly more hip emphasis). It also aids in teaching people proper mechanics to lift things in daily life, to maintain a proper posture and to learn how to use their trunk muscles to protect their spine.
The standing overhead press, military press and their variations are known for building upper body strength (more specifically: the shoulders), but they also aid in doing this properly when standing, thus requiring you to actively use your hips, abs and other trunk muscles. Another important point is that proper overhead pressing movements will maintain both your mobility and strength around the shoulder girdle, essential for shoulder health.
I always try to have the above three movements incorporated into every training regimen that I write for people. There are a few other exercises and movements that I usually have people do though. Not counting correctives or mobility exercises, I usually try to let people do some of the following as well.
Upper body pulls
Rows and pull ups add to overall back strength and may serve to reinforce proper posture and maintain shoulder (blade) health.
Bench presses, push ups and all their variations. They let you lift a big amount of weight with your upper body and thus serve little else than building mass and upper body strength. I rarely make this movement a priority, but it usually fits nicely with most people’s goals (that often revolve around building muscle mass and gaining strength anyway).
Power cleans or box jumps
Explosive movements are great for a variety of reasons. Not everyone will have the same need to learn these, but lifting heavy stuff onto your shoulders and being able to walk around with it is always a good skill to have in daily life. For that reason, power cleans are a better choice, but box jumps also help to make your back/abs/hips stronger. Power cleans can also be scaled more easily by adding weight. Box jumps, however, are a lot easier to learn.
Judo rolls, fall breaking, or even some fun exercises like spiderman walks. I’ve even had older people just lie down on a mat as fast as possible and come back up for 2 minutes straight. Harder than it sounds. The idea came from Dan John, who made a good point when he mentioned that not having any strength on the floor can be dangerous for old people. Being a bit limber and strong on the floor, easily getting up, breaking a fall… It sounds so easy when you’re young, but most people forget to maintain these simple but overlooked skills as they grow older.
There’s countless other exercises to pick from of course, but since everyone has at least some benefit from getting stronger and healthier, I always work with a solid foundation of the aforementioned movements. Isolation exercises, assistance exercises and other stuff are fine, provided that they build on said foundation.
I occasionally see strength training used as a metaphor for life in general. A well known example: “Squats are the perfect analogy for life. It’s about getting back up when something heavy pushes you down.”
Besides witty metaphors, I’ve found that the link between ‘being strong’ and ‘life’ is actually a lot deeper. You see, mankind is growing weaker and our quality of life is deteriorating.
I remember a discussion back in high school about what separates humans from (other) animals. Most people agreed that ‘culture’ was the answer, but somewhere in the years that followed I came to another conclusion. Animals, like our ancestors, adapt to their environment. I used to think that humans separated themselves from other animals by doing the opposite nowadays: we try to adapt our environment to ourselves. This is not just a long-term-theory-of-evolution-thing, we see it happening all the time. Animals go with nature while we change nature and do unnatural things all the time. I believe this has made us weaker.
Some will argue that this is not the case, a common point raised is that our life expectancy in Western society has gone up. There are a few problems with that way of thinking though. Our medical science is a big reason why our life expectancy has gone up so much in recent decades. This would not be such a problem if the quality of life remained high as well. Unfortunately, diseases run rampant and many old (and not-so-old) people are suffering from all types of ailments. Advances in science and changes in civilization have even helped the development AND spread of new diseases.
Another point is that our life expectancy has increased over the last decades, but mostly in Western society. Let’s take a look at the Japanese island of Okinawa. Until they were heavily influenced by Western standards in terms of lifestyle, they had the most people aged over 100 in all of the world. Their life expectancy was extremely high AND they had very, very, little of our Western diseases. However, their life expectancy went DOWN under the influence of other cultures. My wording was not entirely accurate here. Let me clarify with a specific example: “Okinawans younger than 50 have Japan’s highest rates of obesity, heart disease and premature death.” (quote taken from here)
Yes, genetics play a role in their exceptional longevity and health, that has been pretty thoroughly researched, but according to certain estimates, that is only a minor part of the equation. Physical activity, relatively low caloric intakes (compared to our overweight society) and a focus on a more natural way of living are supposedly way bigger factors. As for the quality of life thing? Way less cancer, way less osteoporosis and way less of pretty much every common ‘Western disease’. Click here if you want to learn more about that.
Still think its just genetics? There are other people around the world with great longevity AND little disease, like the Hunza, a mountain people from the Himalaya. Like the Okinawans, they lived lives where they were adapted to a natural environment. Now here’s the thing, something I hadn’t realized before in my earlier conclusion: WE STILL ADAPT TO OUR ENVIRONMENT, just like in the old days. The difference is that we now adapt to a mostly artificial environment. Result? Our testosterone levels have plummeted over the decades, diseases and other problems associated with weakness and old age in our society (osteoporosis, sarcopenia, diabetes, etc) are common and we’re collectively growing fatter and weaker.
No, I’m not a fucking hippie that wants to do everything the natural and healthy way. I’m not going walk around on vegan sandals, preaching to people that eating bread is bad and we should shun pharmaceuticals wherever we can. Au contraire, I’m more of a ‘live a little’ type of guy. But really, is it that hard to slightly moderate the bad stuff and get your ass off the couch, instead of letting your body and mind deteriorate over the years? Do whatever you like. Just take a look at the amount of old people wasting away in illness and realize that, despite genetics and other factors outside your reach, there is some degree of choice involved.