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Cold And Healthy

It’s cold outside. A typical frigid mid-January night here in Toronto. It was the kind of day your eyebrow hairs would start to feel like popsicles if you were caught outside for more than 10 minutes.

I missed hitting the gym again this evening because of a few ongoing client commitments. I imagine the January people will be infiltrating the squat racks —Thursday nights are notoriously crowded— so think I’ll stay home instead and get some work done. And now I find myself rolling out the night with a blog post, my first since October of last year, with a good cup of pesticide-free tea.

In the past I’d usually hit weights 3 or more times a week but struggled with constant muscle soreness and mediocre gains. Then about 2 years ago I discovered Mike Mentzer’s high intensity training approach (funny, this sounds like a paid advertisment; Mike Mentzer has long since passed away). After reading most of Mentzer’s books and embracing his philosophy I’ve been able to drastically reduce the amount of time I spend working out and, significantly, increase strength gains while shortening recovery time.

Mike Mentzer was probably one of the smartest professional bodybuilders alive because he rigorously espoused the concept of brief, infrequent, and intense weight training as an effective means to gaining strength. The Mentzer approach, or H.I.T. as it’s called today, focuses almost exclusively on high intensity anaerobic exercise with virtually no aerobic (cardiovascular) training. H.I.T. workouts are structured around using heavy weights in a very controlled manner; strict form, low reps and very few sets taken to momentary muscular failure.
By contrast, the fitness industry still preaches the volume-based approach: lower weight, higher rep, larger sets, longer workouts. This is the kind of training Schwarzenegger popularized in the 70’s and the kind of training that, in my opinion, invites injury and overtraining, unless of course you’re jacked on gear.

Strength training is not an endurance sport. If you’re in the gym for upwards of 90 minutes or longer it’s questionable whether your intensity is sufficient.

Getting a flatter stomach is probably the fitness holy grail for most people who think they need to do 30 or 40 minutes of cardio and hundreds of sit-ups several times a week to get rid of excess fat around their waist. No. Not at all necessary. Want a lean midsection? Stengthen your core with basic compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and rows with as much weight as you can handle; Do chin-ups and dips —exercises that require you to lift your entire bodyweight— instead of isolation movements like concentration curls and tricep kick-backs that work fewer muscles.
On your working-set for each exercise (that’s the set where you’re giving it all you’ve got) the last couple reps should feel almost impossible. Two workouts each week will more than suffice, coupled with a caloric food deficit (if you’re looking to lose weight) or high protein (if gaining lean muscle mass is your objective) and you’ll be strong in no time.

Building physical strength helps you mentally endure the daily stresses of work and perform with greater creativity and lateral thinking ability.

. . .

My home office is located in a rather cold and drafty area of our house that never seems to quite get warm despite my constant fidgeting with the thermostat controls. Guess I’ll put on an extra layer or two, though research into the benefits of being cold includes something called non-shivering thermogenesis. This is basically our body’s response to cold environments whereby heat-generating metabolic functions are increased which help us to burn more calories. This may explain why people from colder environments tend to be leaner than people who live in warmer climates. With that in mind perhaps it makes more sense to book your next spring break vacation to Anchorage or Prague rather than Cancun or Miami beach.

Knock on wood, I’ve been completely healthy and virus-free this winter and able to miraculously thwart the usual crop of ailments making their rounds (e.g. flu, common head cold, cough, dry skin, chapped lips).
Last winter was a different story though. I got a nasty head cold and suffered from a dry hacking cough that seemed to carry on for weeks.  But what am I doing differently this season? I’m not entirely sure, but there are a few things I’ve followed that I’m convinced have helped me to stay away from the doctor’s office and the medicine aisle of the pharmacy:

  • avoid all liquid and antibacterial hand soaps and sanitizers. I only wash my hands and body with natural soap (e.g.  Alaffia GOOD). Many liquid soaps contain endocrine disruptors that aren’t good for you.
  • avoid all vitamin supplements. Vitamins are complete nonsense unless you’re 80 yrs old or suffering from a severe nutrient deficiency. Strive to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables instead of popping pills and powders.
  • minimize or avoid exposure to scented products. Fragrant products are typically loaded with phthalates and other unpronounceable ingredients. Use fragrance-free products whenever possible.
  • don’t eat margarine. And avoid all non-butter spreads; they’re loaded with a ton of crap. Just eat butter!
  • stay away from all foods containing soy lecithin. This sounds easy but it’s way harder than you think. Soy lecithin is found in so many products, particularly packaged snacks, and is considered a major food allergen.
  • drink lots of water. Hydrate and your body mind and soul will flourish.
  • stop eating sugar. Be ruthless with the amount of sugar in your diet. If possible stay away from eating anything with refined sugar. Try naturally occurring sugars (e.g. pure maple syrup, fruits/berries) if you need a sweet fix.
  • sleep in cool dark room. The darker your bedroom the better. This drives my spouse crazy because she likes to look outside when she falls asleep. But light pollution in the form of a bright room is scientifically known to supress melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our circadian sleep/wake cycles.

Disagree? Think otherwise? Tweet me.

Take A Moment

I enjoy reading Leo Babauta’s blog, particularly when it’s been a long week and I’m feeling a bit scattered.

Leo writes about cultivating simplicity in your life.

This morning a passage appearing in Leo’s latest post caused me to stop and think how physically and emotionally draining daily routines can be. Sometimes we forget to slow down and fully experience a moment:

7. Treat an activity like a sacred ritual. This is the part I forget the most, but I’ve been getting better at remembering. Here’s the idea: every single thing we do can be done as an afterthought, like something you’re just getting through to get to something more important … or it can be elevated to something sacred, like performing sacred rites. Washing your hands? Take a moment to realize how much of a miracle this act is (many people don’t have water for basic hygiene), take a breath, and truly pay attention as you go through this sacred hand-washing ritual. Do your dishes the same way: every dish a miracle, every sensation elevated to a new importance, every drop of water a gem worth paying attention to. This applies to every activity: writing, responding to an email, listening to a friend, playing with your child, taking a shower, going for a walk, paying bills. Worthy of your full attention, worthy of joy and appreciation.

Earlier in Leo’s post he suggests eating and wearing the exact same thing every day, rule #2 of his 7 rules for simplicity.
I don’t know if I could follow such a strict regime. For instance, my usual breakfast lately has been egg whites and steel cut oats with berries. I love eggs n’ oatmeal, but I don’t think I could eat that every day for 6 months straight. Once in a while it’s nice to have a few buttery French crepes drizzled with maple syrup, or a Montreal style bagel slathered in cream cheese with some bacon on the side.

I won’t get all preachy, but will just say these sorts of ‘lifestyle prescriptions’ are best taken with a grain of salt —a rather huge chunk of salt.
What works for someone else… well, you know.
If Leo were to stumble upon this post I’d suggest he check out Laird Hamilton’s words of wisdom, for instance point #10, which incidentally works great for me:

10. I have friends who eat healthier than anybody, but it takes them all day. And if they don’t have their sprouted bread, they go into a seizure. I can eat a Big Mac. I’m not going to love it, but it won’t put me into toxic shock. It’s like if a car is too high-performance, then it’s sensitive to any kind of fuel. I like being more like a truck. If a little diesel gets in there, maybe a little water, it’ll cough and burp a bit, but it’s gonna get through it and keep running.

Why I Ride

This summer I discovered motorcycle riding. It’s so much fun! I’m not really sure why I waited so long to get a bike. I love it.

Last week I was at a party chatting with someone who asked me what’s becoming a recurring question of late: “Why do you ride a motorcycle, oh isn’t that dangerous?”

“Sure, it can be”, I say.
“I suppose if you’re not aware of what’s going on around you, namely the absent-minded drivers who’ll mercilessly cut you off because they’re too distracted texting or chatting away on their phones, in which case you’re in a heap of trouble.
Sometimes you feel like you’re invisible. People are generally oblivious to cyclists —motorized or otherwise— rolling around in their Napa leather appointed SUV living rooms.”

But here’s a better reason taken from the pages of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance:

“You see things on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.” —Robert M. Pirsig

Riding a motorcycle is such fun I almost can’t even put into words the whole experience and what it feels like to find a twisty road and open up the throttle and just go! Pure exhilaration. If you ride a bike you know exactly what I’m talking about.