Yes, It’s Hard!

Yes, It’s Hard.

Sometimes it serves us to admit that certain things are just plain hard. It does us no good to dwell on that fact, but facing reality is important. Without a doubt, life is much easier than it used to be for our ancestors. Almost everyone on the planet now has access to water, food shelter, even technology like radio, television and the internet. This was not always the case. The simplest luxuries today like refrigeration and air conditioning were not available to even to richest people just 150 years ago. Still, as humans we adapt to our environment and become habituated to the world around us. It’s easy to forget how much better the standard of living is today than any other point in history because most people born after the 1990’s don’t know any different. The struggle to survive raise a family with food and shelter has been replaced with more modern struggles. Namely, these are struggles of the marketplace. While the marketplace has raised up even the poorest nations through mass dissemination of products, technology and information, a host of stressors has pervaded our culture as we find a way to make a living and try to dent the universe with our existence.

In a crowded global marketplace where incredibly large businesses dominate and make it difficult to thrive let alone succeed for employees and entrepreneurs, a stress of doing well can lead to tremendous uncertainty and anxiety. The purpose of life used to not be that complicated- you are born, you have to work to survive doing a certain craft or skill, (usually whatever trade your parents did like farming, masonry, etc.), you marry, have children, start a household of your own, and hopefully leave some wealth and real estate to pass on to your heirs when you die. Questions like, “Who am I becoming in this job?”, “Why am I on this planet?”, “Does this job have medical benefits?”, “How do I expand my market share?”, “What companies should I invest in to give me income later in life?”, “What major should I pursue in college?”, “What should I study to make more money and have a happy life?”- these questions were not usually applicable. Today, however, they pervade our very existence. We think about these questions so much because we are so unsure about what our purpose is.

While the marketplace has done so much for humanity, not the least of which allowing seemingly endless opportunities for people to amass wealth, we see examples of wealth and power and wonder whether we are on the right track ourselves. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor show that most Americans stay at job for an average of 4.6 years. This is actually slightly longer than it was in 1983, but much less than it has been in previous generations. The days of staying in a career for 20-30 years and then retiring with a pension are largely over. I believe this uncertainty in the job market has led to a high level of anxiety and uncertainty. Although the marketplace has led to vast choices for consumers and producers, the need for certainty can outweigh the benefit of having multiple choices.

We are, at the same time, presented with unlimited choices and overwhelming uncertainty about where our talents are best suited. The fear that we may be wasting our talents has led to job hopping as well as record numbers of workers consuming opioids and antidepressants. While this type of anxiety is not rooted in actual survival, (most of us know where our next meal is coming from and that we will have a roof over our head), it is still very real. It is, in fact, difficult to know how to succeed and be fulfilled in the modern world. Some things are just plain hard, regardless of how well humanity has it today. It’s hard to know how to choose a job or college major. It’s hard to know exactly why we are here and what our purpose is. It’s hard to know how to invest for the future. It’s hard to hire the right person. It’s hard to choose a career only to find out you are not fulfilled. It’s hard to pay bills every month and then look at your bank balance afterwards and worry about having too much month left for the money that’s left. It’s hard to make a living doing something that you’re passionate about, but it doesn’t pay well. It’s hard to wade through the endless information thrown at us everyday and decipher exactly what it means and what to do. It’s hard to anticipate how consumers will react and how markets will behave. It’s hard to competition-proof your company so your bottom line isn’t affect by others. It’s hard to deal with customer complaints. It’s hard to wait in line at a restaurant when you’re hungry or the DMV when you need a license. It’s hard to know what information and technology you all your children to consume. It’s hard to teach your kids how to survive in a marketplace that is always changing. IT’S HARD. It is. However, at the end of the day, I’d rather deal with all these hard things than go back where humanity used to be. I much prefer the benefits and anxieties of modern society than 200 years ago. I love my internet, refrigerator, car, air conditioning and the supermarket too much. I’m willing to adapt to an ever-changing business climate and deal with all the hard things associated with it. How about you?
Keep grinding,
Sean

Don’t Major in Minor Things

“I can’t get no satisfaction.”- The Rolling Stones

There is an area of my life where I am not satisfied. It’s true! Call me insatiable. Call me ungrateful. Call me whatever you like, just don’t call me comfortable, because I’m not. This area of my life nags at me for attention. It keeps me up at night. It forces my mind to work overtime on how to quash this unease. This dissatisfaction in my life has forced me to question why I have not paid more attention to it before. The answer I have arrived at is the purpose for this article.

The reason I believe that many experience dissatisfaction, sadness and a feeling of lack in their lives is because they focus on things that don’t matter rather than designing a life. In other words, if life was a university, they are majoring in minor things. Many are well versed in sports statistics, celebrity gossip, the new flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and so on. I’d liken this type of trivia to pouring trash into your mind. The mind’s capacity for knowledge is so great, yet we fill it with information and stories that keep us from achieving our true potential. I think we are guilty of this to a certain degree. Why? I would suggest the answer lies in our human desire to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Trivia is fun, it’s exciting, it’s good in conversation. However, the pleasure gained from it is fleeting.

Disciplined thought and action on the other hand, will lead to long term pleasure and avoidance of many day to day pains that plague us. However, it’s not sexy. Talking about your disciplined routines and life goals at a party or family event will likely get you awkward stares, and rolling eyes. Thus, we go back to majoring in minor things–to avoid the social pain we might face. We all have the desire to be liked by others and our ability to do so determines a great deal of success. However, in our desire to be liked by others, the danger of being distracted by things that don’t matter becomes very real.

If you are not where you would like to be physically, financially, emotionally, it’s because you are not making that area of your life a priority–A MUST, if you will. You always get your MUSTS in life. You find a way to make them happen. But, if you are focusing on other areas instead, you are essentially HOPING for change without making those areas a priority above all else. So, be careful what information you pour into you mind. Choose you majors well and take massive action be sure that you are getting what you determine you MUST have. If it must happen, you will find a way. I have decided to refocus attention on those areas I believe are lacking. I hope you find the will to do the same.

In health,

Sean

Forget About Body Fat Percentage (Maybe)

In the fitness world there is an obsession with knowing one’s body fat percentage or BF %. Of course, knowing your numbers in any aspect of life is certainly better than blindly walking through the world with your head buried in the sand. However, I’m going to comment on what I believe is an unnecessary fixation on the BF% number. First, most of what follows will be a commentary on athletes. If you do not train in the gym towards a goal, then yes, you should probably take a keen interest in what your body fat percentage is. Moreover, if you are sedentary and do not exercise, or you do but still have a large amount of body fat around your midsection, it’s likely that you have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat around your organs, which is very dangerous. If you need a kick in the pants to get up off the couch and get moving, go test your BF % and work to decrease it. Good. I’m glad that’s out of the way. Now we can move on.

Also, there is value in knowing what your lean body mass is. If you are eating one gram of protein and carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight, you’re likely taking in too many calories. A better formula would be to eat based on what your lean body mass is (total weight minus body fat). So, if I weight 180 pounds, but my lean body mass is 165 pounds, I should be taking in nutrients based on 165 pounds. This is especially true if fat loss is your goal.

Okay, so you’ve gotten through the first part of this and you’re thinking, “Sean, I do train hard and I’m an athlete. Don’t I need to know my BF %?” My answer to that is no. Let me explain. As a trainer and health club owner, I see too many people become distracted by obtaining a lower BF % and I believe this is the wrong goal. For most cross fit athletes, MMA fighters and other professional sports, the amount of body fat one has is nearly irrelevant. What matters more is performance and the ability to produce on command. For this goal, you need to have a little body fat for the body to tap into for energy. If, on the other hand, an athlete becomes obsessed with some abstraction like BF%, his or her ability to perform will be hindered by an unneeded distraction about knowing a piece of information that will not help them.

It should also be noted that body types range widely from person to person. Some folks might walk around at 10% body fat and looked cut and jacked out of their mind simply because they hold fat in different places. I know guys with 15% body fat with incredible abs. The same goes for women. So, if your goal is purely aesthetic, and you train hard and are healthy, the mirror is a much better guide than a BF measurement. Again, some people are genetically predisposed to store more fat in their legs and glutes. Some people store it in their midsection. Where your body’s fat stores are has as much impact on how you look as your BF % does. Bottom line here, bodybuilders and physique competitors should let the mirror be their guide.

Another very important thing to remember about body fat testing is the inconsistency in which results occur. The method of testing–calipers, bioelectrical impedance, hydrostatic tanks–they all produce different results. Most bioelectrical impedance machines (the ones where you grab the metal parts and hold your arms out) are very unreliable and produce varying results hour to hour. This is especially true if you are well hydrated or have an increased intake in sodium. My wife and I competed in a bodybuilding and physique show and our coach, IFBB Pro Jon DeLaRosa (www.JonDelarosa.com), kept our sodium intake high throughout the entire contest prep. About three weeks into the prep, one of my employees at the gym wanted to test Holly’s body fat and the result from the machine was so ridiculous that it made me laugh. It didn’t make her laugh though. Despite having become significantly leaner, the machine had her at nearly 30 % body fat, reading as overweight/obese. I reassured her not to worry and explained how the reading was off. But, Holly was nearly de-railed by a piece of false information. She should have trusted the mirror and herself. Calipers and hydro tanks are more accurate, however, it’s worth repeating that your BF % may not have any relevance to you, depending on what your goals as an athlete are.

In closing, if you are an athlete, don’t focus on BF %. It’s a complete distraction to you and will hinder your ability to achieve your goals. If you are NOT an athlete and you know that you have a significant amount of fat to lose, or your gut is solid from too much visceral fat, then you should know your BF% number and work to decrease it via training hard and fueling your body with the proper nutrients based on your lean body mass, not your overall bodyweight. Again, the real takeaway here is that there is no cookie cutter approach or metric that can be applied to the whole population for anything in life. That includes ideal BF %, BMI, sodium intake, or anything else. Know thyself. Don’t be defined or distracted by a number!

In health,

Sean

5 Lifestyle Hacks

(Disclaimer: Although we love to pretend, we do not live in a free country.  There are powerful forces that love to intervene in every aspect of our lives. That is especially true when it comes to your pocketbook and your health.  Please do not misconstrue the following as medical advice.  So, to protect myself I will state the obligatory, “Consult your physician before engaging in any diet or exercise program”.  That said, be your own advocate. Do your own research. Ask your own questions. Do everything possible to better your life. As far as I know, you only get one.)

If you followed the last 50 years of government advice regarding diet and exercise, its almost a certainty that you have a chronic illness, fatigue, a high body fat percentage and you have no idea what your body needs in terms of real nutrition and physical activity.  Don’t worry. It’s not completely your fault. After all, we remember that awe-inspiring food pyramid telling us to eat five to seven servings of carbohydrates and walk 20 minutes a day as part of “balanced” diet and fitness plan.  I have bad news for you: both of those recommendations are probably not suitable for you. What should you do? Say, “Screw it”, sit on the couch and pound some cola and chips while watching reality TV? NO! You care about yourself and your body and are dedicated to improvement.  So, if you’re looking for some tried and true life hacks to kick-start your health and physical fitness, the following tips are for you.

  1. Intermittent Fasting (IF): The old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day turns out to be an old wives tale.  In fact, new research shows that skipping breakfast altogether may turn out to be the single best thing you can do for your health.  Dr. Joseph Mercola and others have done a great deal of research about this subject and I suggest you do your own.  Fasting has been used for centuries as a way to detoxify the body and lose weight. This tactic is well known in the Paleo community, but it can also be used to build muscle mass and cut body fat. Many athletes and bodybuilders are beginning to embrace IF.  Actor Hugh Jackman, when asked his secret for getting so lean for the X-Men movies, stated that he only ate between 10am and 6pm.  Essentially, he skipped breakfast, worked out in a fasted state and then stopped eating food after 6 pm. He fasted for 16 hours, ate for 8. He did not cut calories. He actually ate more while he was trying to pack on lean mass.  This is the approach I use and it has worked very well for me.

How does it work?  Skipping breakfast and doing exercise in a fasted state triggers the body to release growth hormone to preserve muscle tissue. Additionally, the body is signaled to mobilize fat tissue to burn for energy. Most breakfast foods are high in carbohydrates, which triggers the body to release insulin.  While insulin levels are high, the body will shut off growth hormone production. If your muscles and liver have enough glycogen stored already, that high insulin will cause your body to shuttle glucose from those carbohydrates into your fat cells.  So what if you just skip carbs in the morning and opt for eggs? I’ll address that next, but I suggest unless you have some medical condition that prevents you from trying intermittent fasting, try it.  Who knows? You may reverse unhealthy conditions in your body and you might feel better.

2.  Carbohydrate Cycling or “Backloading”: I’ve already suggested skipping breakfast and especially high sugar, high grain foods in the morning.  There are those who do not eat any sugar or grain whatsoever, and they have changed their lives.  Personally, I have followed a no starch, low-sugar diet and I have been able to effectively manage an autoimmune disease without any painkillers or prescription drugs.  However, if you are an athlete who needs to refuel your muscle tissue or you just have to have some carbs to feel whole, try eating them only on certain days and eating them later in the day, after exercising.

Carb Cycling: By skipping carbohydrates for a period of time and then spiking your intake of them, you can refuel your glycogen stores allowing your body to perform at a high level while stripping off body fat.  This is carb-cycling.  Essentially, skip carbs for a number of days to mobilize fat stores to be used as energy, and then fill up for a day. You will learn how many carbs and what type your body likes after just a few weeks.

            Carb Backloading: Another approach is to eat your carbs later in the day.  This essentially allows your body to slip into ketosis, maximize fat usage through the day, and then reefed at night.  John Kiefer has published two books and other articles examining how the body can transport glucose without raising insulin levels in the body.  By eating carbs later in the day, after exercise, the body can take in carbohydrates to refuel without the body’s insulin level skyrocketing.

If you need carbs in your diet, you may consider looking into these two life hacks.

3.  Eating More Fat: If your have not read Wheat Belly by William Davis M.D. or Grain Brain by Davis Perlmutter M.D., you really should.  Both books present a compelling case against high carbohydrate consumption and also for why people may not be eating enough of the right fat for optimum health. Grain Brain further argues that most bodies, and especially the brain, prefer to burn ketones for optimal health. The brain needs enough fat (butter, avocado, fish oil, heavy cream, nuts) to function and repair itself properly.  Both books suggest that Alzheimers and other brain abnormalities could really be a form of diabetes, caused by excessively high blood sugar levels.

The takeaway?  Fat is not the enemy.  Fat doesn’t make fat.  High blood sugar and insulin levels are most likely the culprits. Also, it is no coincidence that after the government’s “war on fat” occurred, the level of obesity and autoimmune disease began to skyrocket. Changing your diet will change your life. Embrace fat or be fat. Pun intended.

4.  Hit it and quit it! How long are your workouts?  Do you spend hours at the gym or on the bicycle or treadmill?  If so, raise your hand, and say, “Hi, I’m ________your name here_______ and I’m wasting time.” You may have been led to believe that the time you put into an activity is more important that the intensity you use.  The opposite is true.  Just as productivity is more important that activity, intensity is more important than duration.  Running is more effective than walking. Smaller rest periods are more effective that sitting on the leg press or preacher curl machine with your smart phone for 5 minutes between sets. The book First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds is a great resource for those who want to learn more about why exercise intensity trumps exercise duration. For now, as a multiple health club owner and personal trainer, I will tell you those who train using drop sets, supersets and high intensity interval training (HIIT) see much better results than those who workout without a plan and take a nap between sets.  In fact, while I suggest changing routines every 6-8 weeks to shock the body into change, I never recommend people stop using high intensity principles.

Note:  Please don’t confuse HIIT, drop sets and supersets with Crossfit.  Some preach Crossfit, and I applaud anyone who sticks to a plan. However, the amount of injury, chronic fatigue and overtraining I see from crossfitters lead me to suggest using it as a part of a training routine, not the entire thing.  Think Bruce Lee here. Take the best from all disciplines. Don’t be a fanatic without regard for the results.

How It Works: With Cardio: Instead of walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes, begin to walk for 30 seconds, then sprint for 30, then back to walking. Continue to do this for 10-20 minutes.  You’ll save time and increase results.

With weight lifting: After doing squats with, let’s say 135 pounds, drop the weight down immediately after the first set to 100 pounds and perform more reps. This is a drop set. A superset would be performing bicep curls on the machine and then immediately performing another bicep exercise. It’s also possible to move onto a completely different muscle group. (For example, doing bench press followed by pull-ups.)  Embrace intensity over duration. Save yourself some time. Don’t workout for longer than 90 minutes. Ever. 45 minutes is much better. See more results. Enjoy life more!

5. Wear a Watch During Your Workout And decorate your house with wall clocks.  I believe firmly in being consciously aware that time is ticking away. We all have the same hours in the day.  The bum and the millionaire get the same time during the day. What makes the difference? How people use and don’t use their time. Time is really the only asset we have that doesn’t depend on something or someone else.  During your workout, being conscious of how you are using your time. Capitalize on it. This will help you be more productive.  Personally I like to wear a Casio G Shock with a stopwatch so I can time my workouts and rest periods. Sometimes I’ll even wear an expensive watch to remind me that lost time is lost money and that craftsmanship matters in life and the marketplace.

At home, decorate with clocks.  They look nice and they will keep you on track. Once you begin to maximize your time, you’ll find you begin to resent the people and things that waste your time.  This is good.  Don’t waste your time. This is especially true when eating and getting exercise.  Most importantly, don’t waste time being ignorant. It’s your responsibility to yourself and your family to become educated and independent. Do your research. A mentor once said, “Poor people have big TV’s. Rich people have big libraries.” I believe this is also true with healthy people. You only get so much time in life. Don’t waste it!