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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Ever forward


By Pete Ryan


You often hear the quote “I want to maintain”, or “I just don’t want to lose any strength/size”.  This might be a reasonable sounding goal and it can often be the outcome in the older trainee, but I do not believe it should be a goal. I will give my reasoning below.


The human body is a dynamic organism. It is not like a car or a bike. If you store it carefully, it will not maintain its abilities. What happens is a body is in two states.  The body is either anabolic or catabolic, so it is either growing and rebuilding, or it is consuming itself and destroying unnecessary parts of itself.  This is an on-going process that occurs all the time. Being catabolic can be health promoting by removing old or damaged cells, but it can also have a negative impact by removing hard fought for muscle, bone density, tendon durability or fascia strength. Meanwhile we have anabolic effects which involves adding tissue, this can be muscle and lean tissue, but adding fat is also an anabolic event. So, our goal is to create methods that heighten the positive effects of both the catabolic and anabolic processes in the body. We want to remove old and damaged cells, while also promoting the creation of new lean tissue with minimal increases in fat storage.


The best way to achieve these goals is through progressive resistance exercise. This can be bodyweight, or using equipment. Note the name of this type of exercise. PROGRESSIVE resistance exercise. That is the goal, but why is it important to progress, and what do we mean by progression?
Let us look at progression, or to be more precise, let’s look at non-progression. Let’s say you reach a point where you believe 10 reps of 100 pounds in an exercise is ‘strong enough’. So, you always do 10 reps or 100 pounds.  If you never go over that your body will adapt to it, you will become more efficient at the movement and you will end up with the very minimum you need to do that 10 reps of 100 pounds. Any issue, ANY problem that increases stress or stops you training will drop you below that level. As you age, it will become progressively harder to get those 10 reps. If you reached 10 reps of 100 pounds with ease at 30 years old, by 50 you will be struggling to get it, by 65 years old you probably won’t have it any more…and you will blame old age. It will not be aging that took that lift away from you, it will be the lack of progression.


Now let us look at what we mean by progression.  When we talk about progression most people think of ‘intensity’ the actually weight lifted, but that is an oversimplification of progression.  Yes if you lifted 90 pounds and later lifted 100 pounds then you have progressed, but there are other options. The amount of reps done during an exercise, a harder variation of an exercise, taking less time between sets, even trying new forms of exercise that stimulate the body in novel ways and develop new skills, all of these are forms of progression.

Most people realise that you cannot keep adding weight to an exercise (or repetitions).  There is a limit, most people will never lift 1,000 pounds or do 1,000 pull-ups in day, but you can progress by cycling exercises so throughout your life you continue to progress and move forward.
Let’s return to the person who believes 10 reps of 100 pounds is ‘strong enough’.  My argument is they should be aiming at higher numbers (let’s say 125-150 pounds for 12-15 reps), but not do it every week. They should do a mesa cycle working up to that peak and then move on to other exercises, then return again regularly and aim at equalling or ideally bettering that goal. So suppose you have four mesa cycles in a year (3 months each). Mesa cycle 1 would be get to 12-15 reps of 125-150 pounds doing the exercise, mesa cycle 2 could be doing a variation of the same exercise or working the same muscle groups using other exercises, mesa cycle 3 could be working up to 3-5 reps with 175-200 pounds of that exercise, mesa cycle 4 could be another variation that works the same muscle groups.  You can also do variations other than increasing weight or reps, think about the rest time between sets, what you do before this exercise.  So, you could cut your rest time between sets from 1 minute to 30 seconds, or if you are doing a curl, do a chin up before you do the curl.  All these things will change the results and create new demands on your body.  You have more than a lifetime of tweaks to play with. No one will ever have time to try every variable or even every type of exercise available. So, progression is possible throughout life and expect to set goals and repeatedly conquer them throughout your life, go forward, ever forward.

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Saturday, 19 May 2018

Knowledge doesn’t matter


By Pete Ryan 

People can spend years accumulating every detail of a practice and yet this does not lead to success. How can the army of armchair experts on the internet know so much, and yet accomplish so little?
To answer this question we need to learn the difference between knowing and doing, also how to translate knowledge from the theoretical into the practical. Let’s take a simple example. Suppose you know you waste all your time scrolling the internet, you have things to do, but you will ‘get it done’ when you get around to it. Alternately, maybe you start something, but get distracted and so no job is ever finished. If this sounds like you, then maybe you have read about ‘block time’? That is putting aside a chunk of time so you do one task within that time frame. It may look something like this: 


You may know this, you may also know that structuring your day this way may help you get everything done that needs to be done, but if you do not apply this knowledge, then knowing it is useless baggage! What you need to do is not just gather knowledge, the plan has to be to increase what you know, AND find ways to put those insights into practice.



I use a similar idea to making any change. I do not try to completely overhaul your lifestyle, simply start by making one change. In this case, if incorporating a complete block time system would be too overwhelming, why not pick one or 2 times and block them out, between 10-12 you will workout and between 1-5 you will do work. Leave the rest clear, but stick to those two times. Set an alarm or use a similar way to remind you that those times are blocked out. From there you make changes, you can change those times if one or the other is not enough, or you could add in a new block of some other vital activity.


I have given you just one example, you can equally include this to anything, let me give you an example with myself. I have had an ongoing back issue.  I trapped myself in an ‘injury cycle’, so I would train up to a certain strength level, get an injury, recover and repeat, so my maximum strength stagnated.  I knew… KNEW I had to include some core stability movements, to increase ‘core stiffness’ during lifts (if you allow me use of Dr Stuart McGill’s term of ‘stiffness’ for maintaining correct posture during heavy lifting).  These exercises, like bird dog, planks, side planks are boring and time consuming, and what I really enjoy are deadlifts, squats etc, not dull movements like planks. So, I would do enough so the symptoms would go away and then I would begin a new training cycle, starting light, but at a similar weight disaster would strike again, the cycle went on for way too long. The thing is I knew better, any client coming to me would receive very different treatment, but somehow I thought I was special, or with me it would be different...but it isn’t and I am not special.  I need what you would need in this situation. A few months of backing off, relearning how to engage my core and then bringing those new skills to the table. I know that, but even knowing that isn’t enough, you have little incentive to train if the goal is sets of 10 second bird dog holds, but you have to get into a delayed gratification mindset. Do I have the right to expect a heavy lift if I haven’t earned it doing those exercises?



That is one example, but now think of your own goals and your own actions that are limiting or even stopping those goals. Now think of what would remedy that issue? I bet you have the solution. I suspect you already have the answer to that dilemma, but for one reason or another you are avoiding taking that action. The first step will be to decide why, once the why is discerned that we can move on to solving the dilemma. You have several courses of action:



  1. You know the problem and see the solution to implementing it.
  2. The problem is not currently soluble, so a new solution must be discovered.
  3. The solution is too large to implement, so break the solution into smaller steps and work towards the solution.


Those are the big 3 answers to virtually all your current issues. If you use that as a guide you will reach results. Let’s quickly look at these 3 option. The first is self evident, you have a solution and you can implement it.  The second is the most difficult as it means you need to find a new way to fix the problem. The third answer means that you need to break the problem into bite sized pieces. So, say your goal is exercising 4 days a week, start the first month simply doing once a week consistently, once there add days slowly until you are achieving your goal.
Most issues you ever encounter will involve a solution you already have the answer to so just knowing that you need to apply your current knowledge means that half the battle is already won. Just consider the solution.  Whether the problem is you do not eat enough fresh vegetables, you do not sleep enough, or you have weak legs, you know the answer, just put in the time to implement some changes and the results will come.


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Sunday, 13 May 2018

Too many programmes?


By Pete Ryan


The world is full of ideas, whether these are diets, exercise, business or lifestyle, you can read a new idea everyday for a year and still hardly of scratched the surface. The secret to discovering the ideal programme for you is to hold it up to consensus. Does this idea share the basic principles of the majority of other programmes out there?
If we look at training, the idea is obvious. Firstly the system should progress, it should do every major facet of the body, it should have an ‘outcome based result’ (that is as you do the routine you are actually moving towards your goal), it should not cause injury or pain, it should allow you to recover between sessions, and it should be enjoyable.
For diets we need to look at commonalities between what most experts say.  The first thing is it needs to contain enough calories to survive, but tailored to whether you are trying to add muscle (higher calories), or lose fat (lower calories), secondly you need to minimise junk food, thirdly increasing the amount of vegetables you eat is common amongst many diets.
If you look at the above examples you can see that many, many system can fit within this framework. If you want to lose fat, you need to eat less calories than you burn, minimise junk food and be eating a variety of vegetables.  To add lean mass, you need a surplus of calories, while still minimising junk food and eating a lot of vegetables. For exercise a routine the results will depend upon your goals, so it should actually improve you athletic prowess, your strength, your muscle size...or whatever your goal is, while avoiding injury, also allowing you to recover and have some fun doing it.
Within the boundaries above you can do whatever you like.  If you have been online then you have seen exercise routines and diets that do not follow these rules. I am not suggesting that these never work, it is just that the vast majority of experts in the field do not agree with those ideas as being the ideal for the majority of people. What I am suggesting is that you follow the advice that will work best for most people, while keeping you as healthy as possible.



My advice for diet is to eat as much whole food as you can, eat a wide variety of plant foods, minimise junk foods and eat enough calories to achieve your goals.  There are special points, like I suggest a B12 and vitamin D supplement, but apart from a few minor tweaks, I do not care if you choose potato, sweet potato, yam or rice; tofu, seitan or beans; nor do I care if you want spinach, kale, pak choi or another green vegetable.  All that matters is overall calorie intake and not eating too much junk and that you are enjoying your food.

For exercise I do not care if you do HIT training, DC training, German Volume, Matrix training, supersets or Bulgarian style exercise.  The important factors are that you are doing the whole body, you should have a system that progresses as you exercise (gets harder over time by adding reps, sets, weight lifted, or lowering rest times between sets or other ways to increase the difficulty), you should be moving towards your goal, you should not be suffering injuries, you should be recovering between sessions and enjoying the process. If that is happening then your routine is sound.

Let’s look at some good and bad examples of diet and exercise



For a bad diet I would like to suggest the “All meat diet”.  This is a relatively new dietary idea, you eat no vegetables and only survive on meat, so far the exponents of this diet have shown several negative symptoms; low testosterone, high blood sugar levels, high LDL cholesterol, but the people adhering to this diet swear that it is a magic formula for health despite having such bad blood markers. For a good diet let us look at a mainly whole food vegan diet. This gives you ample nutrients, increases health and vitality, lower inflammation and aids in the overall goals of health.
For bad training let us look at ‘bros’ who do biceps and chest every session. Over time this will cause imbalances in the body, lead to shoulder issues and the lack of leg and hip exercise will lead to the person developing ‘Chicken leg syndrome’, not ideal if their goal is an overall aesthetic look. For a good routine we could look at a full body routine done several times a week. This will hit the whole body every time you work out, you could have a focus each session, so day 1 lower body focussed (followed by all the upper body work), day 2 upper body pull focus (followed by legs and upper body push movements), and day 3 you could have an upper body push focus (followed by legs and upper body pull movements). You could use a double progression system to slowly ramp up the intensity, and 3 days a week allows you plenty of time to recover.


One thing to avoid is to hop programmes too often (with either the diet or the exercise).  Give something 8-12 weeks to really see how it is working and stick to it longer if you are enjoying it.
Above are a few suggestions, if you need more advice or help sorting out how to approach your training or diet then download the book “Introduction to vegan health and fitness” and use some of the resources below to work your way through the option available to you.

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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Aiming at failure


By Pete Ryan


I recently noticed that my behaviour has followed a different path. I was actually playing a computer game and I was at a specific point that I could not get past. As my frustration grew I made a realisation. At some point I had started to avoid situations where failure was a high possibility. This week I have decided to move away from that mindset.


Think about yourself as a child, did you walk first go? Did you learn to read and write without struggles? Humans naturally grow through failure, they do not generally grow through success. My simple idea is to try something that involves a high probability of failure regularly. Failure is the hard part of growing, without it we will stagnate and never become the person we were meant to be.  With this in mind I intend to add some things into my life that will push me to fail regularly.  These will then also help me develop as I discover what it means to push through to success, and conversely to learn when I need to realise I just need to give up and move on to another problem that does have a solution I can accomplish.


Don’t get confused, these do not need to be fantastic feats or impossible actions.  Try simple things. I will use myself as an example. Suppose I get some inline skates (I cannot skate). I would have to push past the “Everybody laughing at me wobble along” stage, before I can achieve any sort of skill at the activity. Perhaps you prefer something more forceful, how about arm wrestling.  If you go to a club, even if you are stronger you will probably be destroyed by your skilled opponents. You might even be the least able arm wrestler in the club for a while. This would be both humbling and off-putting. However, if you stick with it you will develop more skills and even if you stay at the bottom, you will achieve a proficiency and learn the art of arm wrestling to the best of your ability.

Whether you maintain these skills or leave them behind afterwards is unimportant. I believe adding activities that involve regular failure and having to master new skills will improve you and also acclimatise you to overcoming regular failure. This will help you a lot into the future as it translates directly into life, business and education.

Let’s quickly look at how you can introduce failure into your life. The first point is not to begin with something that will be critical if you fail. You don’t want to climb a perilous cliff face without a lifeline unless you are fully competent at climbing. Start easy. If you can’t swim, join a class, if you cannot do mathematics do a course. You can also learn a new skill, learn chess or anything you cannot presently do. The 'what' does not matter as much as how you feel about it.  You should be mildly concerned when you think of doing the skill. Does doing Judo give you butterflies in the stomach? Does ballroom dancing make you feel like you have two left feet? If so, then they might be just the activities you should be approaching.  Pick things you know will be hard, but not impossible. Pick something you might want to do, there is no point doing flower arranging if you have zero interest in it.


So, here is the challenge.


  1. Pick a skill or activity that you feel you want to do, but have little or no ability at doing right now.
  2. Find a place to learn that activity.
  3. Learn it and embrace the failures along the way.


If you can learn to aim at failure and begin to realise that failure is actually a positive outcome, it could lead your life onto very different pathways and before you know it you will be accomplishing things that you never thought was possible. 



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