Balancing Doing and Non-Doing

This article is going to be largely philosophical. I have always enjoyed sharing and dissecting ideas. In life, healthy people always have a balance between doing and non-doing. For example, a successful writer knows that they must write, but they know that they must also take time off to get new ideas and inspiration. Any athlete knows that recovery time is just as important as training time. When we skew towards one side, we experience uncomfortable (non-beneficial) stress. As many people are learning from the coronavirus pandemic, non-doing can impart a kind of stress as well. Similarly, too much doing is a type of stress that should be apparent. As with most things, we have to experiment and adjust along the way to find our correct balance of doing and non-doing.

A man resting and relaxing

Doing and Non-Doing are the Same

Duality is a key teaching in Buddhism. The idea that “this is because that is”. The defining principle in making strength and/or physique gains is progressive overload. Basically that your body needs to do more in order to change. But there is deep nuance in that idea. When you train for a while, you learn that the other side of the coin is fatigue management, basically recovery. It becomes clear that you cannot have one without the other. If you fall out of balance (too much work or too much recovery), you won’t make progress.

This applies to nearly all areas of our lives. If we work at our job too much, we get fatigued. If we are slack in our work (we should) feel guilty and miss opportunities for advancement.

Rest is when Growth takes Place

When we think of making improvements, our mind pushes us toward thinking of them solely as products of exertion. For example, a bodybuilder is usually thought of as becoming so by lifting weights. This is certainly true. But, every bodybuilder knows that the true improvements come during rest. Once we exert ourselves, adaptations do not begin until we rest. As alluded to earlier, there is a balance. Too much rest, no improvement. Too much work, no improvement.

Time is peculiar in that it is necessary for all achievements, but is not able to be manipulated. If it takes four years to get a college degree, thats just how long it takes. Perhaps some genius could squeeze it out in three, but for the most part, it is what it is. The hardest part of working toward any goal for most goal-oriented people is waiting and resting. We usually find that taking action is invigorating and sometimes immediately rewarding. We also have to remember that rest and time are also two key components.

Getting what we want usually requires a balanced blend of action (doing) and rest (non-doing). How do you balance these seeming opposites in your life?

How to Get More Deep Sleep

Deep sleep is the time when our body regenerates. It is when our muscles heal, and our body makes adaptations to exercise. Usually articles about deep sleep contain recommendations for supplements. I believe that at least 80% of deep sleep success will come from our habits.

Deep Sleep and Exercise

Exercise is one of the big ways to improve our sleep. The Goldilocks principle applies here. Not too little, not too much. If we exercise too little we don’t get any stimulation to our body, lymphatic system, and muscles. If we exercise too much, we run the risk of over-stimulating ourselves and not allowing our bodies significant time to repair. I used to get around an hour and a half of deep sleep each night. Since paying more attention to how much I am exercising and controlling intensity, I now routinely get two to two-and-a-half hours of deep sleep each night. I find that controlled increases (1-2 sets per week per body part for lifting, and ~10% increase in cardio each week are sustainable increases that won’t over-stress our bodies.

Eat Well

Once again focusing on the big basics all always create the best results. When choosing a healthy diet, we should always look to eat as many whole foods as we can. Once we get in the habit of eating a good amount of whole food calories (around 15 calories per pound for most people), we can look toward macronutrients. We should ensure that we are eating adequate protein (about 0.8 g/lb) and carbohydrates (about 1.5 g/lb) to make sure we appropriately fuel and recover from workouts.

Get Enough Sleep at the Right Time

cat sleeping

We all know that we should get around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. There is very little debate about this. In addition to getting the optimal amount of sleep, we should sleep at the right time. It seems that the best time to sleep is from 8 pm to 10 pm. This fits fairly naturally within our natural circadian rhythms.

Getting enough deep sleep is a huge component of a healthy lifestyle. What habits have you found essential to getting enough deep sleep? Thanks for reading!

How to Get Good Advice

One of the benefits (and subsequent drawbacks) of modern society is that everyone has a voice. Everyone. So Joe Shmoe from down the street can post on twitter how to become a millionaire with no credentials, and potentially have a successful (albeit fraudulent) business. Getting good advice in the 21st century means vetting all of your sources of information. Hopefully anyone who intends to advise us has achieved the results we want or at least is on the path.

Do Grape Vines make Apples?

The Bible has a parable in which Jesus says we shall know people by their fruits. What that means is that we will know who people are and what they stand for by their results in life. If someone claims to be compassionate, but abuses their spouse, there is a big disconnect. This is different from the innate imperfections and intermittent mistakes of well-meaning people, but I think you get what I mean. In order to get good advice, we must first find the people who have success where we wish to have it. Preferably self-made people. If you want relationship advice, who would be better? A newly wed couple or a couple that has been married for thirty years?

Unfortunately we also have to be on the lookout for fakes and cheaters. Let’s say you are an aspiring fitness enthusiast, and you are looking for good information. There are many people qualified to give you information, but there’s a twist. Someone who takes performance enhancing drugs may look like they know fitness, but they have a little secret. So even if they are well-intentioned, when you take drugs, the rules largely no longer apply. Some of my favorite fitness icons have recently admitted to taking hormones (or bio-identical hormone replacement). I’m not judging that decision, but good advice given to someone taking drugs vs. a natural is astronomical. It’s like a trust fund baby giving advice on how to become a millionaire. Laughable.

Good advice

How to Spot Bad Advice

Luckily for us, there are a few “tells” with people who are con-artists (or even well intentioned people with bad information). The first big “tell” is a short-term philosophy. All self-made success (with very few exceptions) is a long term game. There are no get rich quick schemes that work. A 30-day body transformation is questionable at best. Always look for good advice to be focused on consistency over the long term.

The second “tell” is aggressive marketing. Good advice need not be free, but you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by marketing. All reasonable people are willing to pay for value, but it can be pretty clear when someone wants to make money more than provide value.

Lastly, bad advice often comes from conflict ridden people. If the person is constantly involved in “beef” with others and can’t seem to escape the news cycle, there may be personal issues that are complicating their ability to be a good teacher.

Hopefully you got some good strategies for vetting information in our modern information overload world. Thanks for reading!

Advice for Times of Stagnation

Life presents us with many challenges. Some of them are of our own making, and some of them we have nothing to do with. We all feel at times we should give up. We think we should stop following our better eating patterns, slack off in our work, or stop saving money. Most advice about why you should keep going even in the face of setbacks is sentimental rather than logical. Meaning, once the feeling of motivation runs out, we have a good excuse to quit. There are, however, logical reasons that we can remind ourselves of that can keep us working toward our goals. Effective advice for times of stagnation can help us remember underlying principles and stay the course.

Changes can Happen at the Micro-level

When we embark on a new journey, we actually begin to change for the better the instant we decide to do something. Whether we know it or not, connections are being made in our brains to aid us in achieving our goal. That being said, visible and measurable changes take time to come about. A person who begins working out doesn’t see results after the first week, or even the first month. But sure enough, if they keep at it they can see results after three months and even a new physique after a year (working consistently).

This is because change happens continuously, but some changes are so small they cannot be seen or detected yet. They are certainly taking place, we just can’t see the results. It may seem like the progress has stalled, but micro-improvements are still being made. Plateaus are not indefinite, but rather temporary (seeming) stagnation before the next level. When you want to give up, remind yourself that change is happening, you probably just can’t see the results yet. Telling yourself this can help you keep going, even when things look like they have stalled.

Advice for Times of Stagnation: Growth is non-linear

When we think of growth or achieving a goal, we usually think linearly. remember Algebra class? Linear means a consistent rate of change. Many natural processes are more cyclical or seasonal. For example, a child can expect to have a number of “growth spurts” as they reach full development. No parent says “Darn he stopped growing for a week, guess they’ll be this small forever…”. We know (and accept…this is important), that growth doesn’t happen on a particular schedule, but rather cyclically, and often sporadically. When we feel discouraged we can remind ourselves that perhaps every season is not a season of growth. And that’s okay. This can help us keep going because we know that consistent action will reap rewards, even when we don’t see them yet.

The path to any meaningful achievement is seldom linear. There are times of stagnation, slowed growth, and perhaps even regression. If we can remember that this is all part of the process, it makes the pill a little easier to swallow. Thanks for reading!

The Oura Ring (Part 1)

Inspect what you expect. Tracking our health and fitness is important for a number of reasons. We can find what works and doesn’t work with our body dealing with sleep and nutrition. We can get a heads up for time periods when we may experience heightened stress. The reasons could probably make a book in and of itself. My personal experience with self-quantification has led me to the Oura Ring. The Oura ring is a normal sized ring used to track various metrics. I plan to talk about the benefits and usefulness of the ring throughout multiple posts, so be on the lookout.

What is the Oura Ring?

The Oura Ring is a self-quantification device. What that means is that the Oura Ring will give you detailed data on what your bodily state is at any given moment. In the paragraphs below, we will discuss the specific metrics you can get from the Oura Ring, and in later posts, we will take a deep dive into those metrics and see what the numbers can tell us.

Design and Specifications:

  • Sleek design coming in a number of colors.
  • The size of a normal ring.
  • Easy charging station and data syncing.
  • Airplane mode available for low EMF use.

I have included some pictures below for scale.

What does the Oura Ring track?

Now this is where the Oura Ring shines. I have used a Fitbit in the past, and the continuous heart rate data (in my opinion) allows for a more accurate calorie count, but the Oura gives much superior data in terms of recovery and sleep.

The Oura Ring uses a very user-friendly interface to display:

  • Resting Heart Rate
  • Heart Rate Variability
  • Body Temperature
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Total Sleep Time
  • Time in Bed
  • Sleep Stages (time spent in each stage)
    • Deep Sleep
    • Light Sleep
    • REM Sleep
  • Walking Equivalency
  • Steps
  • Total Burn (Calories)
  • Daily Movement
    • Low, Medium, and High intensity time tracked

All of these metrics are broken into three screens: Readiness, Sleep, and Activity.

As you can see, the Oura Ring gives so much valuable data and insight into how well our body is functioning. As I stated earlier, in future posts we will look at how to use this data to make meaningful predictions about our health and well-being.

How to Track Workouts

Tracking workouts is one of the keys to success in fitness. Every person seeking fitness should be doing cardio exercise and weight training. Although there are many methods to track fitness, they always boil down to a few essentials.

Tracking Cardio Workouts

Cardio workouts usually center around two variables. Duration and intensity. I am of the mind that most (80%+) cardio should be done at a talking pace (you can talk but NOT sing). This usually correlates to brisk walking (like you are late to class) or a slow jog. Since intensity is controlled for in this case, tracking cardio could be as simple as counting the minutes you are exercising. Of course, you can do more in depth tracking with a heart rate monitor and data collection device such as a Garmin or Strava. For the more intense 20% or less of workouts, they will likely take the form more similar to a weight training protocol where you count sets and reps.

In my opinion (and the opinion of many health care professionals), low to moderate intensity cardio is the foundation of fitness. A minimum of three thirty minute cardio sessions seems to be enough to maintain good cardiovascular function. I do cardio four days a week for 30 minutes to an hour. This usually consists of brisk walking around the neighborhood and/or nearby parks.

Weight Training Workouts

Weight training is slightly more complex than cardio because there are many variables that you can change in a program. The most important variables seem to be total volume, relative intensity and rest periods. Changes in any one of these areas can have BIG effects. For weight training, I believe one must be a little more meticulous in tracking.

In a properly designed program, a person would have a moderate amount of volume (say 12-20 sets made of three to six exercises), moderate intensity (60-80% 1 rep max), and moderate rest between sets (30 seconds to 3 minutes). Most training programs fall within these three criteria. Keeping track of all that requires that you (at minimum) track exercise selection, weight, sets, reps, and rest period. I have found that a simple note on my iPhone does this well enough. I do however use the Strong App to track my workouts. The resulting ease of use and subsequent data makes tracking workouts much easier.

Now, the obvious sequel to this is how to use this data to achieve manageable progressive overload and get bigger, faster, and stronger over time. We’ll look into that in another post. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Instant Pot Black Beans

I talk a lot about nutrition and health, so I figured I would add some healthy recipes to the site to give an idea of what I eat on a daily basis. This recipe for black beans uses an Instant Pot, which is a MUST if you want to increase legume intake (excellent source of fiber). Are you eating 20-30 grams of fiber a day?!?!? Beans are delicious, super duper cheap, filling, and a good source of protein.

This recipe will take about 10 minutes of preparation and 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium white (not sweet) onion
  • 1 cup DRY black beans
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 small bay leaves

Directions

  • Finely chop the onion and thinly slice the garlic (or press it if you feel up to it).
  • Set your Instant Pot to the “Sauté” function and wait until it says “hot” or until a splash of water will sizzle.
  • Add olive oil (optional) and sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant, about five minutes.
  • Add the bay leaves and continue sautéing for another minute.
  • Add the black beans and 2-3 cups of water.
    • Add 2 cups if you want thicker beans (if you mash some of the beans they would be a refried texture)
    • Add 3 cups if you want something closer to a black bean soup.
  • Cook the beans for 50 minutes and leave pressurized for another 25 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. Mash the beans (or use an immersion blender) if you want thick refried style beans.
  • Enjoy!

How Long Does it take to Lose Fitness?

This is a question that I have searched the internet for many times and have never found a satisfactory answer. In my experience, losses to fitness come very quickly, but different aspects lose ground faster than others. I will say that these observations are based on my personal experiences, but I have also found other anecdotal data that confirms my thoughts. Sorry to the cold, hard science folks.

Muscle and Strength Loss

In my experience, muscle loss is the slowest process among the fitness indicators. With a sufficient caloric intake, I have been able to go up to two or three months and not visibly lose any muscle. Of course, this is not advisable, as other markers of fitness will quickly decline. Muscle seems to be very resilient. If your body has gone to great lengths creating it, it seems to go to great lengths to keep it. Building muscle is a very long and hard process. Now, I’m not sure why anyone would ever need to spend two months outside of the gym (I was taking time to focus on cardio), so that week long trip at a hotel with no gym is not likely to be devastating for your muscle mass.

Strength on the other hand is a measure of your muscle’s efficiency. Powerlifters know that in the week before a meet, you taper (or drop intensity) of your workouts. Obviously this is to allow your muscles to super compensate and get their strongest right before the big lift. When I am doing dedicated strength training, I find that strength levels fall off within about three to four weeks. Once again, you are hopefully still training in some capacity so that when you get back to strength training you come back with an increased work capacity.

Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance, or work capacity (when talking about lifting), is exactly what it sounds like. How much work your muscles can do in a given period of time with a given amount of rest. Work capacity losses in my estimation are very fast. Holding glycogen levels equal, a lack of training work capacity (usually high volume training), can cause fitness losses within a week and a half to two weeks. I find that if I stop training with high volume for two weeks, my first sessions back at it are very tiring, and recovery takes two to three times as long as it normally does.

Muscular endurance training (high volume) also seems to be the most sensitive to over-training. When we increase the amount of lifting (work) we do, we are increasing the amount of stress we place on our bodies. Bigger and stronger people doubly so. Dramatic volume increases, more than maybe three sets per body part per week, seem to be very stressful on my body. Work capacity needs to be gently increased over time, interspersed every four to five weeks with a deload.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardio fitness definitely declines the fastest after a lack of training. Cardio fitness is the slowest to build, but also has the highest capacity for improvement, especially as we age. My experience has been that levels of cardio fitness begin to fall off within three to five days of no training. Of course, if you are lifting weights, you are doing a kind of cardio, but not one that would give you the same benefits as low intensity steady state cardio. Having a high level of cardio fitness necessitates that you train with higher frequency and duration. Just ask a Tour de France rider how many hours they spend on the bike each week. Most health and fitness organizations recommend three days of cardiovascular exercise each week. I imagine this is because the compounded benefits of cardio can quickly dissipate if frequency is not high enough. On the other hand, lifting can be done as infrequently as once every other week (read the book Body by Science) and still post impressive benefits.

No matter which type of fitness you are trying to preserve, the most important thing is consistency. Hopefully my experiences have shed some insight on how long it takes to lose fitness. Thanks for reading!

How to Keep your Life in Balance

One of the big lessons I have learned as I get older is that life is many shades of grey (maybe not 50 haha). There are very few hard and fast rules, but rather principles that should guide us a we flexibly navigate life. Not surprisingly, these principles hold true in most areas of life. It reminds me of the oft-quoted Bible verses about there being a time for everything. People who live one dimensionally and by very strict rules will inevitably have trouble in life. Someone who is always agreeable will miss opportunities to stand up for themselves. Likewise, people who are aggressive will miss out on benefits nature only rewards to the gentle. It’s not that being agreeable is “good” and being aggressive is “bad”, it is that there is a time to be each one, and more likely a good response is somewhere on a spectrum rather than an extreme.

These principles show up in most areas of our lives. A good teacher is a warm demander. A seeming paradox! They are emotionally warm, but have high expectations. Likewise a good parent loves their child unconditionally but also disciplines them. Any balanced approach to our lives requires that we navigate seeming opposites. Let’s take a look at a few areas this applies to in our lives.

Health and Fitness

A healthy person with a good relationship with food knows there is a time to be very disciplined in eating, and a time to enjoy eating. If we can keep our ratio balanced (say 80% healthy food, 20% fun food) our fitness and health will benefit. If we skew too much toward healthy food, we can become orthorexic, and if we skew too much toward fun food we become fat. So we see again, fun foods aren’t “bad”, they just need to be balanced by healthy eating. Many dieters also know that eating tasty high calorie food when dieting can help reset your metabolism and set the stage for more fat loss.

Similarly, any sensible exercise program has the majority (maybe 80%) of training as base training. For lifting, this would be multiple sets of 5-12 reps. For cardio, this would be talking pace, or long slow distance cardio. If we dabble too much in intense exercise (HIIT, very heavy lifting >85% 1RM, sprinting, etc.) we can quickly become overtrained. Interestingly, we can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

Money

A few years ago I stumbled upon Mr. Money Mustache. After reading about the FIRE movement, I became very interested in ways to become more frugal. When dealing with money, our default stance should be toward frugality. But we have to remember that the whole point of becoming financially independent is freedom. And sometimes that freedom comes with a literal price tag. We are frugal so we can enjoy our vacations with family and the occasional nice dinner. If we err on the side of spending frivolously, we go broke. If we skew too intensely toward frugality, we miss opportunities to have interesting experiences and enrich our lives. My wife and I cook most of our meals at home to save money, but we also enjoy (every couple weeks or so) delicious fancy dinners. Once again, if we keep this in balance (daily frugal habits with the occasional splurge) we get the best of both worlds.

Work and Play

Lastly, we see that work and play must also be balanced. Hopefully, we are on the path to financial independence. But in the meantime, we must balance our work as a necessity, with play as leisure. Most people don’t love their jobs. And that’s okay. We don’t go because we love it, we go because they send us a check every two weeks. If you do like your job, consider yourself lucky.

Because of advances in technology, most people are always on the clock. Emails flood our inbox at any and every hour of the day. Unless we make a conscious decision to set boundaries between work and play, we can easily get out of balance. My wife and I were recently taking a walk on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. When I looked at my phone, I had over 10 emails and messages (none of them urgent) that I had received during that one hour walk. Apparently no one else was outside enjoying the weather! I try to make a habit of “unplugging” as often as possible. Think about it, there were emergencies before cell phones, so if something is urgent, people will find you.

Hopefully you have gotten some useful insights into ways to keep your life in balance. Thanks for reading!

Surprising Benefits of Speed and Reactivity

I said in my last article that science can be used or mis-used to prove almost anything. I have learned through experience that the only science that makes a difference in your life is the science you experience. Meaning, someone can say eat 1.8 g/kg of protein per day, but if I haven’t tried it and confirmed the benefits, it means nothing to me. So I won’t say this is science, because it isn’t, but I will share my results of a study with a single subject. Me!

In this article, I will talk about my experience with introducing speed, agility, reactivity, and quickness (SARQ) into my training. We all know that the foundation of fitness is cardiovascular health and muscle strength. I would like to posit that powerful fitness and health benefits (albeit optional) can come as a result of including SARQ training.

How I Stumbled into SARQ

I have been working out fairly consistently for the better part of five years. First, I did mostly strength training, then mostly cardio, and I have settled in a happy medium. My workout routine over time morphed into the Physical Activity Guidelines (hey, scientists might know what they’re talking about?!?! haha).

I will confess that maybe 80% of fitness will come from routine cardio (3x per week) and weightlifting (2x per week). But I took a slight diversion from my incline walking, elliptical, and weightlifting routine and tried something different a few months ago. LA Fitness has a dance studio with some punching bags in the back. I decided to go over and do a couple of rounds on the bag. I noticed that in the days after the workout, I began to feel more energetic and sharp. I was better at thinking on my feet and felt an energy level slightly above what I am used to. Seeing as how the only change in my program was the boxing session, I began to look up the benefits of boxing.

Why SARQ Falls through the Cracks

Now, this isn’t science yet, but think about it. Kids have built in SARQ. It’s called playing. Very few adults have a grown-up equivalent. Think of a game of tag. It’s fast paced, you have to run, change directions, dodge opponents, and think on your feet. Many adults never do the physical equivalent. What I was learning was that boxing was activating parts of my nervous system that were under-active. Even with my lifting and cardio, I wasn’t challenging myself to move quickly, be agile, or be reactive.

Even just a short heavy bag session forces you to move your arms and fists faster than you have in maybe years, and you have to be reactive to get your stance and blocks back as fast as possible. Bonus points if you can spar with a partner!

Now obviously boxing isn’t the only way to increase SARQ fitness levels. You could play a game of pickup basketball (or volleyball, soccer, etc), join a kickball league, play catch with your son or daughter, or do Brazilian Jiujitsu. The main goal is to make sure that the activity activates your speed, agility, reactivity, and quickness. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

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