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.
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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.