2018/01/13 12:59:04
James Leave a comment

Failure: Success' Less Popular Brother

This article was written by Tom Daly aka MuscleTalk Member geneticallyjacked & was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2011 edition
Failure is a word which has been vilified in contemporary society. A little two syllable word which inspires dread in the heart of even the most powerful men. Everybody encounters setbacks in their lives; it's inevitable, yet it can greatly reduce self confidence. This does not need to be the case: a perceived failure can be the precursor to your greatest success. "There are no failures, just experiences and your reactions to them" (Tom Krause). A happily married man, most likely had to suffer through failed relationships before meeting his wife; while these failures could have been upsetting, I'd imagine many would admit they were worth it for the lessons learned. This won't apply to everyone but is worth noting, nonetheless.

I recently encountered some personal failures and it greatly affected my motivation. However, through lessons learned from training and the accompanying lifestyle, I have regained my confidence. You see, this lifestyle teaches us a different mentality to regular society members. We have learned to embrace failure, because it's how we improve. I step into the gym each day with the intention of working my muscles to failure. It makes me stronger. Why shouldn't this be the case in regular life too? It is but, in the midst of failure, it can be hard to see how this will make you stronger. Experience is a great teacher, everyone makes mistakes, but when you fail and learn from those mistakes you become a stronger person. "I didn't fail the test; I just found 100 ways to do it wrong" (Benjamin Franklin).

The main problem, however, is that we blame ourselves for our failures. This is pointless, since we have learned a lesson from failing and are therefore a different person, aware of our mistake. We need to accept this and move on without dwelling on past mistakes for any longer than is necessary to learn where we went wrong, to avoid it in future. Do me a favour, when you encounter a setback, decide how you will fix it and do it, continuing with your life as if you never failed. This will make you a happier person and also extremely successful. The phrase 'we only fail when we give up' has become a cheesy cliché at this point, but clichés are often born from truth. When we encounter a setback it can be easy to give up. If we train hard everyday and eat well, but aren't seeing the results we want, it can be difficult to maintain the required dedication and intensity. This is the time we need to redouble our efforts; we need to identify problems and solutions rather than losing motivation.

An illness or injury can be even more difficult to overcome, it feels like all your effort has been for nothing and you have lost all you have worked for. This isn't the case, training has changed you. You have the knowledge and dedication to regain what you lost, and it will take much less time than when you first built it. This is a function of neural adaption (Carroll et al 2010). Being upset about losing size, strength or definition won't bring it back, but not giving up will, and you will not only regain but improve on your best.

Success rarely follows a straight line. Some of the most successful men in history failed dismally before finally achieving success. Henry Ford's first two car manufacturing companies went bankrupt; Ray Kroc; the entrepreneur and marketing genius behind McDonald's was a failed real estate agent; Isaac Newton, noted physicist, was a failed farmer (Thoughts2Think 2007). The now multi-billionaire wrestling (sports entertainment) mogul Vince McMahon failed dismally by creating some terrible characters in the 80s and early 90s, leading to a loss of interest and financial woe, before finally admitting his mistakes and allowing the wrestlers creative control over their characters personalities. The transformation of Rocky Mavia to The Rock was a prime example of this as well as 'Ringmaster' Steve Austin to Stone Cold (Foley 2000).

All of these people went onto amazing success, the second thing they have in common is that they refused to give up. They identified the reasons for their failures and learned from them. The only conclusion: failure can be good, as long as you refuse to quit. That is a lesson which is clear in life. Everyone reading this has one thing in common: love of training and its accompanying lifestyle. So, when you encounter a setback, don't quit, do what this life had thought us: get under the bar and back to the table and try again.

Carroll TJ, VS Selvanayagam, S Riek1, JG Semmler. Neural adaptations to strength training: Moving beyond transcranial magnetic stimulation and reflex studies. http://onlinelibrary.wile...-1716.2011.02271.x/pdf
Foley M, 2000, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks.
Thoughts2Think, 2007, Great Men and Their Failures. http://sukumaran.wordpress.com/2007/03/06/great-men-and-their-failures/
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2017/10/01 09:48:28
James 1 comment

Cheat to Beat Mind Games

This article was written by Aaron Hallett & was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2011 edition
Everyone at some stage in their life goes through a period where they want to reduce body fat, lose that belly, drop a few dress sizes, find those ever elusive abs or even diet down for a bodybuilding show.

For everyone who has dieted and managed to keep the ball rolling by dropping weight each week and seeing results, that alone can inspire and motivate to keep on plugging away. However, as you start looking back at the number of weeks spent working hard, your head starts playing games just when you thought your mind and body were on the same team.

Now, some cravings can be ignored and dismissed but when that is all that occupies your mind, opposed to the original goal which was supposed to occupy that cranial space, this is when some fall off the wagon. Sometimes people fall so far off the wagon they end rolling for a mile in the gutter and the wagon is now a distant dot on the horizon. Many never even attempt to rejoin the wagon, the psychological effect of remorse and guilt is too much to go through every time they give in to temptation.

A way to control these cravings is to sometimes give in to them, allow them, enjoy them and look forward to them. If you are staring back at the weeks of dieting gone by and the prospect of many more in front of you, how will you fare if all you think of is getting off the diet?

Having a planned cheat meal, not cheat day, a cheat meal, can be the needed carrot (or carrot cake) on the end of a stick you need, it also removes the forbidden fruits scenario where you only want it because you can't have it.

On the last meal on the last day of the week, allow yourself one hour to enjoy a meal of your choice with a desert of what ever you fancy. You can still accomplish your goals with that meal in there; many people have cheat meals staggered throughout their dieting and continue to lose weight, remove the guilt, look forward to it and enjoy it!

It's placed on the last day of the week because you will be spending the week physically and mentally working hard to earn that reward and will start the new week afresh. It's the last meal because it will remove the temptation to extend it further into your day. It will be a welcomed psychological break you sometimes need to avoid dieting burn out, it will also reinsert a dose of normality back into your life when you can sit with friends or family and all enjoy a meal together.

Dieting is never easy but you can make it that little bit more bearable.
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2017/09/11 16:32:28
James Leave a comment

Spotting: The Dying Art

This article was written by Micky McKay Dip PT & was originally published in The MuscleTalker February 2011 edition
Today we have endless courses, for the better I might add, about training with weights: WABBA, BAWLA, YMCA, Fitness First, to name but a few. I, myself, have greatly benefited from these courses giving me lots more knowledge about weight training and exercise in general.

One major problem that seems to have been forgotten on these courses, though, is the art of spotting. It's all very well being shown how to lift a weight correctly, but what if, half way through the lift, problems are encountered? For example a person is bench pressing and takes the bar to his/her chest but has miscalculated the weight and cannot get it back up? Easy you say, lean over and pull the bar back up. But, what if the weight is 400lbs and the person is physically exhausted? These are the times when proper spotting methods should be employed. If you feel the weight is too heavy, get a spotter you can trust either side of the bar, then you have full control, and the trainer can perform as many reps as they can knowing they have the safety of you all there. It is only a minute of their time to be asked to assist you in spotting; not a great deal to give up!

There have been a few fatalities in gyms in recent times; accidents will unfortunately happen, but when you are spotting someone, you are in charge, you dictate how many reps the person can do in a safe manor: their trust is in you, don't let them down! Be vigilant at all times during the set.

The main thing to remember when spotting heavy weights is to have a person either side, with you at the rear. This is the safest method. Make sure the people either side know their job; it's a team effort so run through what you expect prior to the set. It's no good after as the damage could already be done. Remember, it only takes a second for accidents to happen, try to make sure they don't happen in your gym. Make people aware of the importance of spotting and create a safer environment around you.
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2017/08/24 17:08:16
James Leave a comment

Overcoming Mental Sticking Points: Resetting the Mind's Thermostat

This article was written by Aaron Hallett & was originally published in The MuscleTalker January 2011 edition
Everyone at some point during the course of their bench pressing has ended up left lying on the bench gazing up at the ceiling as the spotter re-racks the barbell after a failed set. We know that progression can never occur in a consistent linear line between each and every workout, but trying to remind yourself and understand that as you gasp for air doesn't ease the sting after a failed set, does it?

This however, wasn't the first time you have been humbled by this weight on the bar. Even though you have progressed to this point, for a few too many weeks now the weight has stayed the same and you are still a rep or two short of completing the set.

There are a multitude of methods to help overcome stubborn sticking points in our training ranging from changing the way we train to even changing how we eat. There is another area, however, changing how we think about our training. A typical example will be an individual who always fails on 100kg on the fifth rep of a six rep set. This has carried on for a number of weeks now and has almost become an expected occurrence. The first five reps go well without an issue, but on the sixth it is almost like a switch, similar to that of a thermostat on a boiler, is thrown, everything seems to shut down and he cannot lift without a spotter's assistance.

One method to help overcome a sticking point that is more mental than physical is to reset the point in which the 'thermostat' switch is thrown by making a large leap above the weight which the individual is stuck on and using a spotter to help grind out a full set with this weight for the normal amount of reps. For example, if you are stuck on 100kg, instead of attempting 100kg for six reps once the appropriate warm up is completed, place 120kg on the bar (ensuring the extra 20kg is easily removed). This set will be tough: you might be able to complete a few reps on your own but the spotter will need to assist through the remaining reps. However, the spotter must not make it easy and he has to ensure it is a complete struggle for the lifter. As soon as this set is completed, drop the weight by 20kg and immediately proceed to press 100kg, you will find that this 100kg feels lighter than it has done in the past; the shock of attempting to press 20kg above where your 'mental thermostat' switches is usually enough to reset it to a higher point and allow you to complete, in this example, the full six reps of the set.

Give it a shot, sometimes a plateau can be as much mental as physical and this can be used as one tool in the box to keep the progression moving forward. Although the above example uses the bench press, you can use this for other compound exercises where you can be easily spotted.
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2017/06/30 18:44:18
James Leave a comment

Setting Goals for your Training: Are they really SMART?

This article was written by Aaron Hallett & was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2010 edition
Next time you're in the gym take a look around at the other people training and picture a label on everyone's back, on this label is a goal. Everyone is in the gym for a reason, whether it be to lose a few pounds in fat, gain a few pounds in muscle or lift a few more pounds in weight. Even the people who now spend most of their time talking by the water fountain started off with a goal at some stage.

Everyone has a spark of inspiration to pursue a goal at some point in our lives which needs constant motivation to keep the ball rolling with the courage to persevere when things get tough. Things will get tough, if the goal was easily reached could you honestly say it was an achievement?

However, most of us have often reached a point where after a period of time the goal still seemed too far out of reach with the resources (time, energy, money) already maxed out. The end result is usually to abandon the attempts to achieve this goal and spend these resources on other pursuits to reduce or remove the frustration. Look in the spare bedroom, under the stairs or in the garage of a friends house and you will often find tucked away the items purchased for a goal long since abandoned.

So how do you improve the success rate for reaching personal goals? One answer is to improve how you initially construct and formulate these goals by using a planning tool called the SMART method.

What is SMART?
Specific - The goal is well defined and clear
Measurable - How progress will be measured or how to know when the goal has been achieved.
Achievable - When you create plans which are too far out of your reach, you probably won't commit to doing them for long. Most can learn to fly a plane but very few can fly to the moon.
Realistic - When tackling the challenge, the learning curve shouldn't be a vertical slope but provide a challenge instead. Too difficult and you set the stage for failure, but too low sends the message that you aren't very capable.
Time based - Set out a time frame for achieving the goal, a week, a month, a year? Too far away and you run the risk of performance issues, no time constraint lessens the urgency to start.

A good example of a SMART weight training goal:
  • S - Bench press 100kg for a 1RM (one rep max)
  • M - Take note of weights used each bench session
  • A - The person in question can bench press 90kg for a 1RM currently and 100kg is achievable for most after a period of training.
  • R - The 10kg increase isn't too far out to prove impossible within a respectable time period nor is it too easy that it doesn't provide the sense of achievement.
  • T - The time period is to be 4 months
With larger goals such as 'grow 18" arms' the amount of resource and dedication required increases exponentially the further away the bodybuilder is from this number. For instance the budding bodybuilder's arms currently measure 15".

Whilst the goal is achievable, the time period for this goal has to be quite large, subsequently increasing the risk of being too much of a challenge and losing motivation to pursue. A more realistic and timely based goal would be to aim for 16" first.

If at present you are training without a set goal, try planning one using the SMART method and seeing how you get on. Quite often having something well defined to work towards can provide a needed boost in motivation.

To quote renowned American philanthropist Elbert Hubbard: "Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal."

Read more about SMART Goat Setting in Bodybuilding
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2016/09/18 14:04:13
James Leave a comment

Sleep and Exercise Recovery

This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker September 2009 edition
To have efficient workouts and increase the recovery process you need sufficient sleep as well as a good diet. Our bodies are able to rebuild and repair during sleeping hours as this is the time when you your body produces growth hormone (GH) which is largely responsible for tissue growth and repair. So, in terms of maintaining healthy muscle mass and building it, the real work is completed during your sleeping hours; your body needs post-workout sleep!

In general, one or two nights of little sleep won't have a huge impact on performance but consistently getting inadequate sleep will. A continued lack of sleep will result in poorer performance in your workouts, lower your immune system, accelerate the breakdown of body tissues and affect your mental state; fluctuating hormones and moods, with lack of concentration and depression. Some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decreased activity of (GH) and decreased glycogen synthesis.

Furthermore studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that have indicated that a loss of sleep will increase hunger and affect the body's metabolism making it more difficult to lose weight. Other studies have demonstrated that a chronic sleep deprivation will trigger hormones that lower the appetite control hormone leptin. Pain perception is also increased following inadequate sleep (Dinges et al 1997; Haack & Mullington 2005) which may have relevance for trainers who are injured. The individuals in the study reported generalised body pain, back pain and stomach pain which began after the second sleep-restricted night.

So getting a balance is essential. You will know how you feel but if you have not been feeling 100% or if you have a persistent injury it is worth looking at your exercise : sleep balance. Some people need more sleep than others, so listen to your body; if you have had a few late nights, you should wait until the next day to workout, after you have slept. If you have increased your training intensity and effort you may need to plan for more recovery with better sleep.

Dinges et al (1997). Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Sleep 20:267-277
Haack & Mullington (2005). Sustained sleep restriction reduces emotional and physical well-being. Pain 119:56-64
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2016/03/20 09:41:24
James 2 comments

What is 'health', what is 'fitness'? What does it mean for your training or sport?

This article was written by Drew Price BSc MASc ACSM Cert RNutr & was originally published in The MuscleTalker November 2007 edition
You eat well and do a push/pull/legs routine with some cardio on top, or possibly you compete in bodybuilding, powerlifting, mixed martial arts, triathlon or another sport. Your goal may be to look good, get stronger or faster and you may think you're in pretty good shape too, but are you fit and healthy? Firstly you have to define what these possibly 'fuzzy' terms mean.

If you go to one or more of the on-line dictionaries the definitions are still pretty vague and you get results like 'health, noun, free from illness, or the state of being well' and 'fit, adjective, healthy and strong, especially as a result of exercise'. Text books are a little more useful: Exercise Physiology (McAdle, Katch & Katch) for example, breaking fitness at least down into four definite measurable qualities. However (in my opinion at least), they don't cover the bases and I'm not alone in this opinion.

Let me suggest a couple that I have read in the past, proffered by coaches and health professionals that may be a little more useful for out needs:
  • Health: correct integration and functioning of our different physiological systems
  • Fitness: is the ability of the body to do physical and mental work
As you can see these two qualities are inextricably linked, flip sides of the same coin, crucially without health you cannot properly develop fitness. So, you may have decent bench or dead lift numbers but are you fit? Tour de France cyclists may have enormous cardiovascular capacity but are they fit, or even healthy?

I'd argue they're not. Fitness, or the ability to do work, is reliant on physical qualities which can be broadly divided into the following;
  • Speed
  • Strength
  • Power generation
  • Strength endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Range of motion
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Agility
  • Cardiovascular endurance
There are of course others you could include like posture, muscle tone, kinetic control, etc. So if you have a few of these, even at a high level, but are seriously lacking in others then you can argue that you're not fit. In order to achieve a high level of fitness you have to at some point train all of these qualities and, the older you become, the more you have to train. Conversely the more you specialize in your training, including a sport, the more unfit you may become. You may even have health problems as well, even whilst becoming more adept at that pursuit.

Seems counter intuitive, crazy even, but think about it for a while.

Look at high level athletes of all types from bodybuilders and Olympic lifters to marathon runners and rate them against the measures above. Of course it all depends on what type of sport you play, what level you play at and what you training entails, for example mixed martial art is a sport needing many qualities. However for all sports the goal is the same i.e. not to get fit but to get more points that the other guys. This is an important point, to use my earlier example; Tour de France riders are not fit, they are just incredibly good at riding bikes.

So what does this mean for you? Look again at the list of qualities above, note how they are all measurable and how one may have an impact upon some of the others, they are all linked. Goals aside (we have different reasons for training and joining MuscleTalk) have a think about those qualities and how you would rate yourself against each one. Ask yourself where you are lacking and how that might be affecting the other parts of the puzzle. By stepping back looking at your training methodically and working on an area that may be lacking can you help you overall training?

You may not agree with what is written above but chew it over objectively and have a think about what it means for you, your long term health and training goals!

2016/03/18 08:18:04
James 4 comments

Rest Periods Between Sets

This article was written by MuscleTalk Moderator Dirtyvest & was originally published in The MuscleTalker October 2007 edition
When deciding the best rest between sets strategy to choose you need to ascertain where your priorities lie with regards to your training: muscular strength, muscular hypertrophy or muscular endurance. Once established you can then select the rest period that best suits your goal. Rest periods can vary from as little as 30 seconds up to as much as 8 minutes. Why rest? Rest will help you to replenish phosphogens (ATP-PC). Optimal ATP recovery takes around 3-5 minutes; phosphocreatine recovery takes 4 to 8 minutes. Efflux of lactic acid has been shown to be from 4 to 10 minutes.

The Strength Athlete, whose focus is on maximal power output over a very short time period, requires the greatest rest. It goes without saying, although has been studied, that the longer you rest the more you can lift next time round as energy reserves are replenished. This is not infinite though as you also need to consider cooling down which will hamper your lifting. Three minutes will allow for, as near as damn it, maximum ATP recovery. The novice lifter may benefit from a slightly extended time, up to 5 minutes. That said, a lifter performing multiple sets may have to consider a further extended time to allow for removal of lactic acid, say 6-8 minutes.

The Bodybuilder, whose focus is on hypertrophy, will benefit from less recovery, around the 1-2 minute mark, some studies say as little as 30-60 seconds. Energy required for lifting here isn't solely phosphogen reliant as the glycolyctic system is also tapped so extended recovery is not as essential. This type of training (higher volume with minimal resting periods) has also been shown to stimulate the endocrine system leading to greater testosterone and growth hormone levels, an obvious advantage to those seeking size. There is also the effect of lactic acid, which we recognise as 'the pump'. Not in itself a sign of growth but increased blood flow will lead to a greater nutrient uptake in the muscle. Shorter rest also enables complete workout time to be quicker thus prevents you entering a catabolic state created by lengthy sessions.
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