The following post was first shared in my monthly newsletter, the Kinsei-Do Fitness Nuggets, back in March 2022. With the calendar turning another page recently, some people - perhaps you too! - will have made resolutions to live healthier, eat better, exercise more, etc etc for this year, and this advice is likely to be helpful!
According to James Clear, habit expert and author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits - a personal favorite of mine and one of my most-gifted books to clients and friends - whether you succeed in achieving your goals and desired behaviors has almost nothing to do with your willpower, or how much you think you want it.
Surprised? I certainly was at first.
So what is it then that determines your likelihood of success? Your environment.
Consider this cheeky yet so true statement, also known as "Berardi's First Law", after the co-founder of Precision Nutrition and coaching guru Dr John Berardi:
If a food is near you and conveniently available, you will eventually eat it.
This appears so obvious that it doesn't even need to be stated, but if you think about it, it tells you exactly what you need to do (and not do) if you want to instil a new habit or positive behavior. You need to make sure that the "right" environmental cues are extremely obvious and omnipresent, and the "wrong" cues, the temptations, are out of sight and hard to do.
Or, back to James Clear, who says:
For this reason, redesigning your environment can be one of the most effective steps you can take to instil good habits. James Clear calls this process “environment design”, and its key goal is to make the cues of good habits more obvious (and bad ones harder to follow through on).
Here are some examples:
Sounds obvious? Yeah. Easy to do even? Probably.
But are you doing it?
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Did you know that as little as 30 minutes of strength training per week has been linked to lowering your all causes mortality risk by up to 20%?
A review of 16 studies looked into this in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine," and the researchers discovered that being strong is like having a superpower against health issues, especially when it comes to avoiding stuff like heart problems, diabetes, and cancer.
So if you’re struggling to hang on to those New Year’s Resolutions to do something for your health and longevity this year, know that you can start (very) small!
Set aside 10 minutes a day, three times a week. If hitting the gym isn't your thing, the research suggests that bodyweight exercises can offer the same health benefits. So, throw in some squats, lunges, pushups, bodyweight rows, and pullups. Those quick workouts might not feel like a lot, but if you stick to them for at least three times a week, it'll pay off and make a significant impact.
Ever wondered why your performance in the gym decreases as your session goes on?
Well d'uh, you'll say, it's because the muscles are getting fatigued from the previous work, and you won't be wrong...but there's more to it, and with today's nugget of fitness wisdom, you may be able to do something about it!
As you move and exercise, and your muscles repeatedly contract to perform work and overcome resistance, they get hot. And it turns out, they don't like that very much. Or to put it a little more succinctly, excessively hot muscles have an impaired ability to produce force.
So, if you can manage to cool your (working) muscles' temperature down (e.g. between your lifting sets), you'll be able to produce more force (i.e. do more work) again in the next set, and in the next, and so on.
Of course you could take a cold shower or hop into a tub of cold water between sets, but that wouldn't be very practical, but actually there's an easier way.
You see, the way your body "gets rid" of excess heat is through blood circulation. The blood in your working muscles takes up some of the heat, and then disperses it to other parts of the body to cool off. Thus, if you can get your blood to cool down, you'll be able to get rid of more heat from the muscles more quickly, thereby recovering faster and working harder again in the next set!
As it turns out, the skin of the palms of your hands has certain vascular structures that make them effective at regulating the body temperature. So if you can cool down your palms (or rather, the blood that is running through the vessels in your palms), that (cooler) blood will quickly help to bring your working muscles' temperature down.
It's important to mention that it's not a case of the colder, the better. Why? Because you don't want your blood vessels to constrict, as then the nice, cool blood won't get to your working muscles.
Rather, it seems that 15-16 degrees would be the temperature at which you get the optimal performance enhancing effect.
How can you achieve this? Perhaps holding on to a bottle of cold water, or running your hands under the tap of cold water for a couple of seconds is probably the simplest and most cost effective way.
Give it a try the next time you're going for a heavy lifting session, or an interval based workout, and let me know if you feel the difference!
We've probably all been there before: you start a well structured, progressive training plan (either given to you by a coach, or an app, magazine, etc), you stick to it for a couple of sessions, but then...
So you abandon your well structured plan (and ignore your coach), and go back to "program hopping".
Sounds familiar? Don't feel too bad or guilty about it, because - in spite of knowing better - I too am guilty of such "chase the new shiny thing" behavior.
Which is why I'm tell you that, for the past six weeks, I've been able to beat this urge and stick to my "boring" and repetitive (read: well structured) training plan, and it's paying off nicely!
I've been focusing primarily on getting stronger in a very small number of movements, namely squats, deadlifts, pullups and overhead presses, and am starting to move loads that would have made me pretty nervous a few months ago with confidence!
I've set myself the goal of hitting a 100kg back squat by mid of next year - I have never achieved more than 90kg before - and I feel I'm on a good way.
My Training Plan
I chose an 8 week training block duration as an appropriate mesocycle length, something that would allow me to incorporate progressive overloading, while at the same time not being too long so as not to lose sight of the end.
With the goal being to increase my absolute strength, I broke that down into 4 blocks of 2 weeks each, with 2 training days per movement as follows:
Next I planned out the approximate loads I would use for all the movements except pullups in each of the 4 blocks:
And finally, using my best guess current 1 Rep Max (1RM) numbers, I converted the percentages to actual kilogram values, so I wouldn't need to think or break out the calculator once I hit the gym.
Week 1-2: Foundation
Week 3-4: Building Strength
Week 5-6: Strength Development
Week 7-8: Peak Strength
And voila, I've stuck to this plan pretty closely - of course I have missed a session here and there occasionally, life happens after all! - and as of the time of writing this, I am in Week 6 and hitting all of the numbers with confidence and consistency!
Can't wait for a "test week" at the end of Week 8 to see how my strength has developed, but I'm quite confident there will be new PRs (personal records) in at least 2, if not 3 or even all 4, of these lifts!