Friday, December 09, 2011

If you don't let yourself fail, you're going to fail

It's my understanding that the media mass exhorting people to stick to this or that various difficult diet and exercise routine is incalculably large, and a google search confirms as much. I've never so much as glanced at it, let alone dived in, though, because for whatever reason--propitious or not--physical prowess has at least since high school been incorrigibly desirable to me. I've never smoked, drank, or used other illicit drugs, largely because of this. Yet running stairs or doing clap pushups are not mentally effortless activities for me by any stretch. A few tips from personal experience that are applicable (and hopefully helpful) to readers who want to improve quality of life through their outputs*:

- The first step is always the hardest of all. Not feeling sprite? Tell yourself you're just going to knock out ten minutes worth of work and then call it a day. I've done this forever and still do, and I suppose if I really did feel like throwing in the towel after a few minutes, I would. But I never have. Once I get the blood flowing, the lungs opened up, and let the adrenaline pumping, it's go-time.

- To facilitate this, dispense with the predetermined number of exercises and reps. This was difficult for me to do at first, but it makes finding fail a lot more realistic, and failing is how you get results. If you tell yourself you're going to do this progression of exercises and X number of reps for each one, tricking yourself with the ten minute trial won't work. As you're slugging through, you'll be apt to start thinking about how you're going to have to do 30 squat presses in half an hour and how fatigued you'll be then, so let's not push beyond 10 Y-presses now.

And some days are simply going to be better than others. Sometimes I'm able to get beyond 10 one-arm pushups per side, other days I'm collapsing at 6 or 7. If I obsessed over rep counting, I'd almost have to conclude that I was backsliding, which is a demotivating thought I need to avoid. I've broken the same rib three times playing football, and some days my right obliques are really tight with the consequence that my V-ups on that side are pathetic. That doesn't matter. What matters is that I do as many as I'm able to.

- Which segues nicely into an important phrase to remember: The mind always gives out before the body does. I say "remember", but it's actually something you don't want to think about while you're pumping, because if you rely on your mind to consciously tell you its thinking is flawed, well, that's a flawed strategy. Working out with others (even if they are on a screen) helps keep your mind from focusing on this and instead focuses it on surpassing (or at least keeping pace with) them, which you're a lot more capable of doing than your mind wants to tell you that you are!

If you're working out alone, have some sort of external stimulus to distract your mind from the exertions of your body. For cardio, I run stairs in a commercial stairwell I have access to, north of 200 flights per session. It's when I get my weekly Radio Derb and EconTalk podcasts in, or listen to an NFL game is my timing is right. Only once have I forgotten my iPod (and after that, I bought an AM/FM radio that sits in the car just in case), and decided to try to pull it off with nothing but the sound of my feet pounding and my lungs sucking. Frustrated, I finished earlier than usual and took multiple 30 second water breaks in between. I guess if you're going for mastery of mind over matter and want to override the signals your mind is receiving to let up through sheer force of will, go the Zen route. But if it's physical results you're after, don't engage the quit signals--distract your mind from receiving them in the first place.

* I'd convey what I've gleaned regarding eating what you want to be eating instead of what you want to eat, but the best I can come up with is don't have access to what you don't want to be eating (ie, don't buy it), and know that if you eat the right stuff, you are allowed to eat as much as you want (my daily calorie intake is around 4,000). Also, avoid calories in liquid form, because with a few exceptions, those calories are going to come almost exclusively in the form of sugar. Water (at least two gallons per day, in my case), a sugarfree energy drink or two (Rockstar is my personal favorite--and this is admittedly a personal indulgence, probably not something I should recommend), a cup of black coffee or tea, and low sodium V8 is all I do. Fruit juices, colas, beers--that's going to turn right into dough.


LDiracDelta said...

Not to be argumentative or detract from your posting, but I'm genuinely curious for someone as data-driven as you appear to be: How did you arrive at the idea of 2 Gallons of water a day? Have you read any studies to this tune? Do you feel better when you drink this much? I personally just visit the bathroom all day at that rate.

Audacious Epigone said...


I sweat heavily when I work out, so a lot of it is just replenishment, and always drink a lot of water before going to sleep at night to ensure that I'm well hydrated the next day--something I've heard is a good idea from people in multiple sports, although I've not read any studies saying as much. It may just be psychological, but I feel better when my urine looks like water instead of being yellow.

Van said...

A common source of failure for those wishing to add muscle is calorie intake. One easily needs 4,000 to 5,000 calories most days if he's really hitting the weights.

If you eat relatively healthy, it takes a lot of food to reach this.

Of course, its also easy to overlook the fact that you've adapted to your workouts, and have been spinning your wheels for a few weeks.