The Best Version of Yourself is Overrated

830am.

Warm sun, clear skies, fresh air.

Another day of lockdown, another day without the burdens of regular life… another day to get things done!

Today, i’m going to:-

  1. Write 2 pages,
  2. Complete a video assignment,
  3. And create a social media post.

That was 47 days ago, and I have since done… none of the above.

“Procrastination? You’re not alone bro”.

Yes, I know what’s wrong, I’ve been here before. But clearly, knowing isn’t enough.

After 47 days of self-chastising, going to sleep proclaiming tomorrow as the day, and still getting jack done, i’ve decided, like many other problems i’ve faced in the past, to seek clarity through writing.

Revealing the Unknown


Like puppets attached to strings— or closer to home— patungs to sticks, “Unknown Forces” guide our behaviour. For better or worse? Let’s see.

Ki_Sigit_Ariyanto_Dalang_Wayang_Kulit

Although I have done squat to progress my top 3 priorities, i’ve:-

  1. Finished reading 4 books.
  2. Finished reading hundreds of bookmarked articles.
  3. Dissected a ton of nutrition and training papers.
  4. Completed an online investing course.
  5. Conducted (what I consider) in depth research of a dozen companies to potentially add into my portfolio.
  6. Am midway through an online well-being course.
  7. Completed a personal brand market analysis.
  8. Learnt a new meditation protocol, and since applied it daily to my practice..
  9. Improved my basketball handling skills through several YouTube tutorials.
  10. Consistently performed 100 push ups every other day.

“Clap Clap, give yourself a medal”


(Inserts sarcasm)

Yes, I know. We are at a cultural zeitgeist where I need to be grateful for the trees, the birds and the poop I take within 5 minutes of waking up.

All of the above are… ahem… great achievements, if I may say so myself.

Yet, when I sit down after a productive day, there comes a sense of unease. “I deserve to relax”, I tell myself as I turn on NetFlix. But the most entertaining show only serves to deepen my guilt.

Despite having acquired more knowledge in the past 47 days than I’ve had in the past 6 months…

I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything at all.

“But why?”

I’ve been compulsively reading, learning, studying about everything! I go from courses on my laptop, to articles from my phone, to books, podcasts, interviews, TED talks…

Even while i’m meditating, my thought process is literally, “more calmness, good. Centered-ness, yes! So much Zen! Oh yeahhhhhh!”

“What for?”

All in the name of becoming the best version of myself.

FlamboyantPreciousArieltoucan-size_restricted

inspired by?

A Yale personality test calls this a Strength:-

Love of learning: A yearning to add systematically to what one knows. To mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether formally or on one’s own.

Thanks, Yale. but lately, “love” is the furthest word from how it all feels.

More is… Good?


It’s a recurring message sold to me throughout life- the more I work, the better the outcome.

I bought it, so I applied it to everything, even learning.

When I learn, there is a frenetic urgency in ticking things off as “complete”.
Course materials on analyzing stock market downtrend, check. Research article on shoulder rotation capacity post surgery, check. Video on the possibility of low cost space travel by 2050, check.

“The more I learn, the better I become”.

It’s so ingrained in my OS, that I needed a coach to highlight a blind spot:-

Coach: “You tell me you’re doing so much… but why is there nothing to show for?”

Ouch. I defended myself. By all accounts and metrics, I am “succeeding”- I’m making decent income, I have stable financials for my age, I’m learning so many new things. I’m in great shape (I was desperate).

Coach: “Okay, I understand…”

Great. I was relieved that the conversation could be steered somewhere else.

Coach: “But…ahem…”

Coach: ” You’ve been saying you wanted to do this for so long, why is there no progress at all?

Strip me bare and lay me out in the middle of the Shibuya Crossing.

I still wouldn’t have felt as exposed as when I heard those words.

shibuya-crossing-tokyo-japan-asia

The Futility of Hard Work


“People intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.” – Aldous Huxley

I’ve been using learning and growing as a distraction from doing what is truly going to bring me to the “next level”.

Instead of doing scary, unpredictable and truly “move the needle” work, I chose to put my head down to “work” till I burnt out. Burning out was predictable, easier… almost comforting.

Without hard work, I had nowhere to hide.

Over the years, I’ve built up a potent arsenal of “burnouts”: reading, working out, wealth building, networking, learning.

To be fair, they serve important purposes in my journey. For instance, working out helps stimulate courage and creativy, an essential concoction in producing daring work. And without wealth, I wouldn’t have the luxury (literally and figuratively) to pursue what I really want.

But when I gave those tasks undeserved pedestals, it became a problem

Before I knew it, these tasks have swept the real, scary, life-defining work under the rug, and I was too cozy hiding under the guise of busyness rather than working on what’s truly important.

Authenticity: Revisited


“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I had some tough questions to answer. Again, couldn’t have done it without the keen eye of a coach.

Coach: What are you learning for?

I learn to improve my understanding of things.

Coach: Why do you want those improvements?

So that I can be of value and service to the people I serve.

Coach: Who are the people you serve?

People who struggle in achieving their fitness goals following the unattainable standards and methods set by the fitness industry.

Coach: You’ve been in the industry for the past 10 years, how much more knowledge do you need to be able to help them?

… a bit more.

Coach: You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Either way, does all the scientific papers, podcasts, videos and courses help you serve your target audience better?

Coach: Be honest. What are you learning for?

(dripping in sweat as I relive the moment to type this)

I’m not good enough.

I’m not sure if I can ever live up to the the ideal me. What if I put myself out to the world, and they don’t accept me? I know it’s all in my mind, but I am run by it.

Hence, I retreat to “upgrading” myself, learning and reading, it’s still part of the process of putting myself out to the world, but it’s the least scary step.

In doing so, I don’t feel so useless anymore. It feels good, in fact, it feels like progress. I’ll keep doing this to hide from taking the next step. Because the next step might very well be the end.

Putting my dreams out to the world will expose it’s flaws. I don’t want to have my dreams crushed.

To be, or not to be… the Best?


“Continuous improvement for it’s own sake is a waste of time” – Michael E. Gerber

Since this revelation, I’ve come to realize the difference between meaningful work and indiscriminate work. One leaves me tired, exposed, doubtful, cringing at myself.. yet, fulfilled, and the other… just tired.

When learning became an excuse from what needs to be done, it became a fucking miserable, draining ordeal (in hindsight, that was perhaps my internal compass’ way of course-correcting).

I had to stop my reckless upgrading.

There’s no point being the best version of myself if I become the wrong version of myself.

Unlike previous posts, I don’t have “concrete” strategies on how and why these work. Ultimately, this article serves as a reminder to future Brad in the event that he hits the same road block. I hope it serves you, somehow.

The essence of how I got out of my destructive cycle of “upgrading”:-

  1. Self-enquiry: What’s the most important task in your life right now? Are you sure? If so, are you doing it? If not, why?
  2. Self-talk 1: Confidence comes after you start, not before.
  3. Self-talk 2: Pain ceases after doing begins.
  4. Seek help: You can’t see what you don’t want to see. Seek help from a coach.
20191203_072710

Customary unrelated picture to close a post


P.s., Today, I picked up a book. I’ve read it before.

I don’t remember it ever being so good.

Training Success: Redefined

Writing your own training program is one of the most satisfying things you can write.

Outside of, of course, writing an eventual FB top comment.

Inked20190817_104244_LI.jpg

But many don’t do it. Instead, they follow a generic routine by their favorite influencer.

Squat 4 sets of 10 superset with the hunt for the perfect gym lighting.

Hip Thrusts 3 sets of 15 superset with 10 minutes of picture attempts to get the perfect butt angle.

Curtsy Lunges 4 sets of 24 reps superset with picture editing, caption brainstorming and hashtag copy pasting.

IMG_20170808_154946_013.jpg

#Fitspo #Fitspiration #Booty #fitbody #GetFit #Cardio #Cycling #FitFam #FitLife #Fitness #FitnessMotivation #FitnessAddict #GetStrong #LiftHeavy #GirlsWhoLift #GymLife #GymTime #NoPainNoGain #PersonalTrainer #Sweat #Weights #WeightLifting #Workout #TransformationTuesday #FitQuote #FitnessMotivation #MotivationMonday #Fitspo #GetFit #Goals #YouCanDoIt #FitnessGoals #TrainHard #GoHardOrGoHome #NoExcuses

We want to look like our idols, I understand.

But could they be the reason we fail?

Redefining Failure


Failure: The inability to follow through an exercise program long enough to achieve desired results.

Why do we forfeit our quest to achieve a very important goal midway through?

Why do we give up on fitness regimes less than a month in, until January (insert next year:_____) comes along?

I have a theory.

You’re not meant for each other.

separation_.jpg

Your training program and you, I mean.

Personal trainers, fitness influencers and fitness models, we live in a tiny bubble of 1 rep maxes, ketogenic diet, protein powders, waist high leggings, and more importantly, scheduling freedom. Our training program does not work for everyone.

The onus of designing your training program should go to someone who knows you best.

YOUr mom 

As a certified fitness trainer, I believe we should distance ourselves from telling clients what to do, and lean more towards having an ongoing dialogue with them on what they can do.

Over the past few years of coaching, this approach has proven superior in delivering successful results.

Redefining Success:


  1. Goal oriented
    The program must lead you to your desired end goal. If your aim is to build muscle and lose fat, then what you do has to reflect that goal.

    Example: A resistance training program is more “goal oriented” than yoga for the purpose of muscle building.

  2. Consistency
    The program is designed with adherence in mind. You must be able to repeat this training program without fail, after taking into consideration potential interruptions from work, life and whatever that may come up.

    Example: if you have to run a company, keep your family intact, take late night business calls, you’re more likely to see success with a 3/ week than a 5/ week program.

Training Program Design


“Personal incongruency is what causes so much of our pain.

Not being you will destroy you”

– Tim Denning

The following are questions that can guide your training approach for years to come. The dialogue I use as an example illustrates the most common fitness goal requests I get from male clients. 

Client and Me.

Q1. What do you wish to achieve with training? (Be specific)

“To look good…”

“Understood. But could you elaborate on that? What do you think you are lacking now?”

“I think I have a weak looking physique, I want to look stronger.”

“What would you say a “look stronger” look is?”

“Ummm, broader shoulders, bigger pecs, and bigger arms I guess.”

“Okay, how big though? Do you have an ideal physique in mind?”

“Hmmm, think Brad Pitt in fight club.”

tenor.gif

The first rule of fight club: Get ripped.

“Alright, that’s not too far-fetched. You don’t carry too much body fat now so it’s just a matter of setting up muscle building program, with a heavier emphasis on upper body growth. What do you think?”

“Sounds like a plan!”

Q2. How many days can you train in a week? (Be realistic)

“Okay, I’ve given a lot of thought to this. I am going to train 6 days a week, but I can only train in the morning, so I’ll start waking up at 6am instead of my usual 8am to lift…”

“Hey, hold on…”

“…I usually go to bed around 1am but going forward, I’ll start going to bed at 10pm…”

“I think we shouldn’t get too far ahead of…”

“…but hmmm, come to think of it, somedays I have client calls from Europe at 11, but I guess it’s fine to not slee…”

“SHUT UP AND LET ME SPEAK”

“Hey, I think 6 days a week might be pushing it a little bit.”

“But I want to achieve my goal as fast as possible…”

“I totally understand, and trust me, I am as desperate as you are in achieving your goal. But this desperation has to be tempered with patience. But I also believe that the best training program is the one that you can stick to.

I’ve tried the balls to wall approach only to be set back by burnout or injury. Going all out for 3 weeks, and be sidelined for a month is a bad strategy. A successful training program is as much consistency as it is goal oriented.”

“Okay… if you put it that way, I can realistically train 3 times a week…”

“Sweet. 3 times a week sounds good. Let’s work with that.”

Q3. What do you think is the best program for your goal? (Work within limitations)

“Okay, since I can only train 3 days a week, should I do like… Monday Chest, Wednesday Back, Friday Shoulder?”

“To be fair, that split can work. But consider this, muscle damage from most training takes 2 to 3 days to recover from. If you have trained your chest on Monday, it would have recovered and ready to go again on Wednesday.

A typical bro split that hits chest, legs, biceps, back once per week is an inefficient use of your training capacity. Why train a muscle group just once a week when it can be trained 2-3 times a week?” 

“So, you’re saying, Chest, Back, Arms, Legs on all days that I train?”

“Yes, pretty much! However, a caveat to this, consider capping most of your body parts to 10-12 sets per week.

Thus, if you’re training 3 days a week, with a focus on upper body muscle gain, your routine should look roughly like this:-

Untitled

There are, of course, more nuances to designing a training program, but this is a good start if you’re new to a structured approach to training.” 

Check this video out for a more in detailed explanation on exercise selection, personal modification and progression:

Q4. Why do you want to achieve this goal? (Be authentic)

“Oh, you know, to look good and to be healthy.”

“Totally cool, I think everyone starts off with that goal in mind. But most people, as they warm up after training with me, will open up about deeper, more personal desires they wish having a better physique would provide… You can be honest with me.”

“… my desperation is that obvious huh? Okay… to lose some fat… build muscles… look good… so… I can be confident enough to ask Anna from HR out.”

“Cool. Thank you. To open up like that was very brave of you. I appreciate it.”

“Okay, so how is this information going to help?”

“After this week of training, you should go ask her out.”

“Are you mad?!”

“Hear me out. The confidence, readiness, or whatever it is you think you’ll achieve by looking better will never come. In fact, once you start seeing a modicum of success with training, it can become a dangerous source for procrastination.

I’ve heard it all. I will only post my progress picture once I hit 74kgs, I will only wear sleeveless once my arms are bigger, I won’t wear a bikini unless I lose this flab, I’ll only sign up for a marathon once I can hit a 5k/30 min on the treadmill.

I, for one, believed that having a better body would help me gain confidence, so I can have my voice heard and gain respect among peers. It never came through a better body.”

“So what are you suggesting?”

“Here’s the cheat code to fitness, whatever you think can only begin at the end of this journey can, and totally should begin right now. I applaud you for having come this far to changing your body, but it will not directly change other domains of your life.

Better confidence with people won’t come through repetitions of push ups, but through repetitions of going up to them and striking a conversation.

A better life won’t come through reps of bicep curls and tricep extensions, but through asking yourself, like how you asked yourself what “look good” means, what a “better life” means to you, and going out to achieving that.” 

“This was really more than what I signed up for. Thank you.”

“No problem. Training begins Monday morning, see you here at 730…”

“And oh, don’t forget…

…ask Anna out.”


Some details to iron out:-

  1. This is efficient, not complete. Anything beyond a 3 day a week, full body routine still works, but diminshing returns in terms of muscle gain should be expected. Training 6 days a week doesn’t mean twice the results of a 3 day a week program.That said, if you want to train more, train more. I have enjoyed periods of higher frequency training, exercising more often makes me feel mentally sharper, and I highly encourage it among clients, too.

    Experiment with alternatives to your usual regime, yoga, cardio, sports, dance if you find a traditional bodybuilding routine mundane.

  2. A not-exhaustive list of exercise substitutes for the 3 categories of compound movements:-a. Lower Body: Deadlifts, Back Squats, Front Squats, Leg Press, Barbell Hip Thrusts, Romanian Deadlifts, Sumo Deadlits.
    b. Upper Body Push: Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, Military Press, Dips, Hammer Strength Machine Press, Smith Machine Bench Press.
    c. Upper Body Pull: Pull Up, Chin Up, Lat Pulldown, Seated Row, Dumbbell Row, Bentover Row, Inverted Row, Seal Row.
  3. When should you consider adding movements/ being “fancy”?I’ve received trainess who, prior to working together, spent session long doing box jumps, medicine ball tosses, burpees, battle rope drills, jumping lunges, kettle bell swings, being gased out with no progress (muscle gain) to show.

    I’m not saying these “fancy” exercises don’t have their place, but they should take back seat compared to the compound/ hypertrophy inducing resistance exercises.

    A modified program would be a Monday program + 3 sets of 45 seconds kettlebell swing (45 seconds rest)Do what’s important first, and don’t sweat trying to progress these “filler” exercises near the end.

    DSC_0135

Lessons from a Men’s Circle

I was dejected, hurt, saddened, frustrated…
Not words a typical “MAN” uses, but I can’t shrug it off anymore. Something was missing, and I think I know what.

“I don’t think I’m spending enough time with men”

As a straight male, perhaps not the best choice of words to say to your girlfriend.

The Men’s Circle


Last year, I was invited to attend a men’s circle. I had no idea what to expect, my friend almost talked me out of it:

“So i’m invited to this Men’s Circle…”

“What? Sounds an awful lot like a Jerk Circle”

“What’s a Jerk Circle?”

Google it”

Wary and worried, I attended anyway, and luckily I did.
Alongside the discovery of meditation, reading the 4-hour work week, lessons from modelling, losing weight eating Nasi Lemak, this video, this blogpost, and attempting to walk around filming myself…
The Men’s Circle ranks high as a personal “quake moment”. It was a bi-monthly gathering I never knew I needed.

Here’s how our 830pm to 1030pm sessions went:

8.30pm: We (ranging between 6 to 10 men) sit in a circle, on the floor, with cushions to pamper our rears.

Sessions were held at a yoga studio. Dimly lit, mostly with orange lighting, carrying a faint, but constant waft of essential oil.

Zen.

But we’re far from Zen. No timing can be worst than 8.30pm on Mondays. Most of us rush from dinners, family time, office, through peak hour traffic to arrive there. Thus, with the intention of calming down, we start off with 5 minutes of breathing meditation.

Namaste.

8.40pm: Then, the best part of the night, lead by the cult leader facilitator- 10 minutes of personal sharing. When it’s your turn, you get to recount and open up about life since your last circle.

One of my sharing: my frustrations on the inconsistency of state, and how it affected the quality of my conversations, work, relationship, health.

I remember, because this particular session spiraled into passionate discussions of mind body “hacks”, which became the inspiration for this post.

But as we got tighter as a circle, we explored deeper.

I’ve listened to “successful” men speak on being ousted from the company they founded, stripped of millions, and forced into bankruptcy, overnight. I’ve seen middle-aged men cry when recounting a parental divorce… 30 years ago. I’ve seen men go from confusion, to frustration, to rage, to absolute despair in the weeks of unraveling a cheating spouse.

Stuff we don’t talk about in bars or at the gym water cooler.

“Oh, a group for men to bitch about their stupid problems?”

Spot on.

But there’s a happier ending to this.

From bankruptcy, not back to riches, but now being able to better appreciate the beauty in day to day life. From family issues, with no one in talking terms, to mustering up the courage to organize a family dinner for the first time in years. From an ugly divorce, to mending a broken heart, to being able to accept someone who he knows is good for him.

From anxious, negativity-avoiding, everything must go my way every minute of the day, to being able to accept and act on less than stellar day. Because I now know, there are better days ahead.

Most of us have made progress. While our wars haven’t ended yet (and I’m not sure if it ever will) , we’ve won enough battles to know that the only option is to keep fighting.

So yeah, spot on, a bitching group for men wanting to get better.

10.30pm comes by, and I don’t want the night to end.

Sensitivity is a Strength


The men’s circle made me realize how difficult it is to establish authenticity and be vulnerable in day to day conversations.

Of course, one doesn’t just go around asking “What’s truly bothering you?”, “What’s holding you back from living an authentic, happy life?”.

It doesn’t work; I may or may not be speaking from experience.

Compounded with the hi-bye, “I can only do a quick lunch”, 280 characters or less nature of communication; not exactly fertile ground for deep conversations.

But all this makes such connections even more important.

The person speaking is granted opportunity to seriously discuss some event, usually unhappy or even tragic. Everyone else responds sympathetically. These conversations are important because the speaker is organizing the troublesome event in his (or her) mind, while recounting the story.

The fact is important enough to bear repeating: people organize their brains with conversations. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves.

The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. To put it another way: It takes a village to organize a mind.

(Rule 9, 12 Rules for Life)

There is something psychologically healthy about opening up.

“But… why men?”

Despite the massive progress towards gender fairness, some things, I find I’m more comfortable discussing among men.

Different life experiences from being of different genders just doesn’t allow for certain conversations to go as far or as empathetic when it’s between men and women.

I appreciate a sincere female friend’s “I know how you feel”.

But it’s very different from “I know how you feel, bro”, from a male friend who is giving you his full attention.

(Is it the same for women? I’m inclined to think so. Do correct me if I’m wrong, I’m really keen to hear a different POV)

Perhaps it’s the conditioning from being told how to “be a man”. We’re not supposed to, thus we now struggle to show our vulnerability to women.

Perhaps it’s the brotherhood simulating presence of father and brother like figures that allows us to lose our armor; we no longer need to be strong and alone anymore.

Perhaps it’s an age thing. When you’re almost 30, you’re supposed to have your shit together. When you don’t, commiseration is somehow a smoother ordeal when it’s with people who you’re not directly tied to, because they can be a direct reflection of what you’re lacking.

Whatever it is, man or woman, the best way to deal with your darkest struggles is to expose it.

“First, you’ve got to get in the shit.
And then you can maybe come back and sing it”

-Keith Richards

Helping others for your own good


I always feel like a million bucks on post circle Tuesdays.

Being able to articulate my struggles is a bi-monthly catharsis I think everyone needs some form of.

But another side of the coin, one I only realized after reading this– it feels good to be help.

“…we like to be bothered. Not at all time and over all things, nor at the expense of our own critical needs, but fundamentally, we have a powerful urge to feel helpful. We need to be needed. All of us suffer from a fear of superfluity, which the requirements of others has a critical capacity to appease. However nice presents may be for our friends, the real gift we can offer them is an insight into our problems.

People can’t feel their valuable sides until they are called upon to exercise them: they won’t have a sense of their strength until they’re needed to lift something. We should risk doing what we at heart have always longed to do: to reveal some of the fear, sadness and angst we genuinely feel to those we care about. We will be helped in our pain, we will remind others of their capacities”.


We suffer more in imagination, than in reality. Charity – a preoccupation on something other than yourself – is an anxiety killer.

It doesn’t take much to feel better:-

  1. Ask for help
  2. Offer help (3. act like you need help)

The Art of Changing Your Mind With Your Body

Body Over Mind

Mood follows action. Motion creates emotion. Move and be moved.

The benefits of taking action transcends the body and transforms the mind.

“Feeling down? You’ll be fine, just get your ass moving!”

Me:“What an utter load of horse shit”

As a psychology graduate, this didn’t come easy.

Enter the body


It was late 2017, my mind was failing me.

“What’s the big deal”? It’s only a break up.

Surely, like all previous break ups, I will think myself out of sadness.

“I’ll figure it out”

I was wrong. I wasn’t just thinking, I was overthinking. And about the wrong things, at the wrong time, all the time.

It wasn’t the break up that bothered me, but the thoughts of “where did I screw up?”, “what did I do wrong?”, “how could I have handled our last fight better?” that ate me up.

I couldn’t function; I barely slept. My eyelids twitched furiously. 10-seconds into a conversation and I had no idea what the topic was.

You know how a broken DVD’s scene skips from 12.25 to 12.31? That’s how I was experiencing reality.

At this point, I truly believed I was doomed to lifelong suffering…

Sadness-tom-pumford-254867-unsplash_X1200.jpg

But at the peak of my misery, be it via luck, choice, or my inability to think straight…

I lifted weights. I joined a dance group. I played pick-up basketball. I even tossed myself back into the dating scene. It was glorious.

Almost always forgetting about a date until the last minute, I turned up to dates in short shorts and a tank top drenched from training. If my dating profile wasn’t douche-y enough, showing up sweaty with an arm pump certainly did the trick.

You do irrational things when you run on < 4 hours of sleep.21192569_10156229320434947_6443354129717545953_n

Why am I telling you this?

Against all rational odds, through doing, not thinking, I found mental relief.

I felt amazing.

Call it positive thinking, optimism, motivation or hope; being in this state was pivotal. Clarity returned to my thinking, and I was able to tackle my problems in a more methodical approach; the first of many steps to solving them.

Instead of “What could I have done?” I started asking “What can I do to move forward?”

It’s been a year since, and I still experience glimpses of darkness: days I don’t want to get out of bed, and a sudden sense of melancholy/ loneliness/ helplessness/ self-doubt/ self-loathe…

But now, I’m better equipped to crawl out of the abyss. These steps were life-changing for me, and I hope you’ll find them of help.

Changing Your Mind with Your Body


Train more often

The more often I lifted weights, the better I felt.

This is the primary reason why I’ve gone from a minimalist (2x/week) training regime to a high frequency (4-5x/week) training regime. To accommodate this increase, training sessions were reduced in intensity: lesser weights, lesser volume and shorter time spent in the gym. This way, the body can recover in time for the next session.

A properly structured training session can be the turning point of a low-energy day. I become more alert, have a better mood, and am less prone to go through the day in a brain-fog.

I also find exercise a powerful precursor to creativity and focus. The ROI I achieve from sparing an hour to exercise often outweigh the returns of using the same time to grind through work. Creative bursts and inspired streaks often come after I train.

Details: “To do lists are evil, schedule everything”.

I highly recommend scheduling your training sessions in advance, defend it at all costs. The viscerality of putting time to task makes you less likely to mentally jiujitsu yourself out of going to the gym.

20180905_004139.jpg

Pro tip: Be able to read your own handwriting

That said, allocate more time than you think you need. Anticipate delays from water fountain chats or days when you need longer rest between sets.

Rushing through training to get back to work refreshed often backfires. If you perform a rushed, restless and crammed training session, it’s likely you carry this haphazard approach to a task at hand.

 

 

 

 

Also make room for gym room shenanigans #PRIORITIES

Take your time and finish your allocated regime for the day, which brings me to my next point.

Follow a program

There’s an apt Chinese proverb that I’m going to butcher in translation:

只缘身在此山中,

云深不知何处去

Direct translation: “You only know your body is deep in the mountains, but because it’s so foggy, you don’t know where to go”.

Mountain

Interpretation: “It’s hard to assess a situation when you’re right in the thick of it”.

Ambiguity is the enemy. In the gym, your mind shouldn’t be thinking of what to do, you should be there, ready to do. If you don’t know how many sets, reps, weights or what to perform in the gym, you’re going to conjure up all kinds of excuses to foo foo your training session, more so after a tiring day.

You absolutely need a plan. Detailed in “Step 2: Pattern Interrupt”, getting myself into a dance group and basketball games got me moving without having to think; I commit to getting there and the accountability gets me moving.

Weight training is a bit different. I’m a lone lifter, and to ensure I follow through, I write my training program every 2 months, detailed with specific set numbers and weight ranges. When I’m at the gym, I focus on execution, rather than deliberation.

Details: My programs are written on a notebook. With Instagram a mere 2 clicks away, I find having to click into my phone to view training logs a huge distraction from the flow of my training regime. Outside of the music switching and some light reading, I keep my phone at bay during sessions.

Power Nap

For the longest time, I’ve carried my capability to “function” with little sleep like a badge of honor. That honor was short lived when I realized how little control I have over my sleep deprived body. Having involuntary eyelid twitches was a life changing experience, same can be said for the cringe-worthy dumb shit I did.

Today, I am a proud nap convert.

I start my day at 630am, which gets me around 6.5 hours of sleep (a huge upgrade from 4 hour nights). When I get mid day breaks, whether on my bed, an empty library, poolside, or an empty treatment room at work (sorry healthworks!), I lay for 30 minutes, which accumulates to 20 minutes sleep time.

It doesn’t sound like much, but in these power naps, time slows down, dreams feel like ages. Then, I wake up physically refreshed, mentally sharp, and more uplifted. 20 minutes is short enough that it doesn’t mess with my night-time sleep.

The prerequisite for this is, of course, the ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. With that, my next point

Meditate

“I thought we were on the topic of controlling the body?”

Bear with me, I think meditation can be viewed from a standpoint of physical control.

This quote kick-started my meditation practice:

“People who have no awareness of their thoughts lose their train of thought without even being able to comprehend the notion of losing one’s train of thought

You will derive different benefits from your meditation practice, but a personal takeaway was the ability to detach my actions from my emotions.

An example of this skill in action:

I get really angry at something my mother says.

Rather than letting my body be consumed by that emotion and act in anger, I am able observe that emotion, feel how it’s welling up within me, and decide whether or not to get on board with it.

With anger, most times, I shouldn’t.

Then, I put my feelings aside, and act the way I should: Respond calmly, logically to my mother’s statement. This non-reactive approach keeps me from letting my feelings take me for a ride.

Another attribute I derived from meditation: the ability to take action despite every single cell in the body plotting against it. You detach from a low energy state and get things done, or at least, take action to feel better enough to get things done.

2 years into my practice, I go through my days being less reactive. I don’t feel compelled to tailgate the drivers that cut me off in traffic to their destination.

Obviously, the benefits of meditation are not as instantaneous as exercising or napping. But it is synergistic; you’ll find it easier to actually exercise or nap the better you get at meditating.

Details: I don’t have a fixed timing, but I prefer meditating in the morning. I usually have an hour before leaving home, and I spend 10 minutes on my practice right after washing up.

Some days I don’t get the luxury of unrushed mornings. Then,  I pick out 10 minutes in the afternoon, sit at a quiet spot and meditate.

Coffee

I’ll need to preface this with a disclaimer: Don’t use caffeine as a crutch to bypass the side effects of sleeplessness, it will come back and bite you. I’ve had periods of work grind where I couldn’t even drive home without coffee. Even if your car is stronger than the toll barrier, I still strongly discourage it.

However, when consumed on top of optimal rest, caffeine can provide a powerful mood/ productivity/ strength/ motivation boost, one of the reasons why it’s the most popular drug on the planet.

Details: Find your dosage, I function best on 80-150mg of caffeine daily, or the difference between 1 and 2 espresso shots (varies based on beans/ locations or types of coffee).

I err on the high side when on training days. On days I don’t train, I either err on the low side, or omit it entirely (don’t worry, you’ll live).

Screenshot_20170708-222742.png

Check out my video on how to mix coffee with protein powder here.

Timing matters, too. I don’t drink coffee first thing in the morning. I used to, but I realized that punching my nervous system upon waking saps my energy dry in 2 hours. Instead, I drink coffee only 3 hours after waking up, after the natural dip of cortisol (usually around 10am).

Phenomenon explained here.

Small Wins / Instant Validation

(Hardest strategy to write)

I’m self-employed, but work is repetitive. Programming for clients is done months in advance, and training sessions are solely focused on execution.

Most of my creativity is spent on writing. I believe two things in writing:

1. You have to be vain to write well.

With vanity comes a need for validation. But with sayings such as “you got to do it only for yourself, people’s opinion don’t matter”, it took work for me come to terms with the fact that I absolutely crave validation, and I should be okay with it.

Validation doesn’t come often enough when long form articles are painstaking work.

So, when I’m topless, cross-legged, hunched over of my computer working on a book chapter, craving validation, I acquire it in the form of “Likes”.

I do this by sharing excerpts of what I’m working on via IG and FB. I justify it by saying I provide value, I get feedback, I help people with what I post, but mostly, I like that buzz that I get from someone acknowledging what I do.

“It feels kinda good to be valued, nom’ sayin?”

Posting segments of my work on social media feels like mini check-points to an otherwise monstrous task. It also feels like a small win, one I desperately need to continue doing what I do. Because I also believe this:

2. Good writing is a necessarily lonely process.

images

I feel like I’m at the top of the world when I shut myself out from the outside world. I create best without distractions.

Words come easy… but it’s rather lonely.

When I crave human interaction, rather than foregoing my work desk and going out for a 2 hour coffee chat (which absolutely kills momentum), a mini peek into social media is all I need to get back to another hour of work.

Perhaps I’ll come to a point where I’ll forego the need for validation, but at this point, this works.

Details: Way left field to what I write about on The Malaysian Body, I run a side blog (@honestEatsKL) and a YouTube page where I detail lots of what I eat, and I post lots of my work musings/ book snippets on FB.

Be where you are

Details: The captions of this IG post.

Experience your emotions fully

All of the strategies above help you feel better and start doing something to get better, but ultimately, to permanently get better, we cannot neglect the underlying issues.

From various, complex bio-psycho-social factors probably derived from unaddressed issues during childhood, when certain things happen, we experience triggers: strong emotions that surface and take over.

Shunning these emotions via exercise, coffee, meditation, instant validation and motivational hoo haa pep talk is sweeping the problem under the rug. One way or another, It will come back and bite you.

Don’t run from these emotions. It’s okay to not be okay.

Details: “You can’t think yourself out of sadness”. Let me suggest you feel through it.

Sadness, anger, frustration and fear are clues. Whenever you experience strong emotions, sit with it , let it build up, and don’t hold back.

Allow the emotion to process entirely, and let the body’s natural reaction surface and run it’s necessary course. Cry, scream, move however your body wants to; don’t hold back. Let all the pent up emotions be released, let the body take over

This exercise is best done in isolation, but there are helpful support systems/ safe spaces that facilitate this catharsis.

After the entire process, it’s time to move from the body back to the mind. With pen and paper, detail how you felt. “Why did I feel this way?” is a good start, followed by “What should I do to be better” is a good follow up. 

It often requires several sessions to actually feel like something’s actually, permanently changed. It is hard, painful and repetitive work; if it’s easy everyone would be walking balls of bliss.

“It’s more difficult to rule yourself than to rule a city”. This video was the inspiration of this strategy.

You are in control


You have no control over the outcome of a medical intervention, an investment decision, if you get a raise, or if A.I super-intelligence enslaves the human race tomorrow.

More reason to why you should take control of what you can, especially if it’s something as important as living well.

Don’t hope to feel good, work to feel good.

Through these strategies, I hope you also discover more ways that works uniquely for you. Like a muscle, the more you practice, the better you get. Realize that the capacity to feel good is in your own hands.

Make yourself a priority. At the end of the day, you are your longest commitment.

P1040692

You’re your biggest catch


There is a big difference between actual depression versus being in a temporary rut.

What I detail here is definitely not the be all end all to solving depression. But I believe these steps are better than none, and may contribute to helping you in small ways. But you will get better, faster with professional help.

To sufferers of depression, I can’t say I know how you feel. The internet is an easy avenue to peddle lies, I don’t champion that. Here are resources and contacts of qualified professionals that is going to change your life, but only if you decide to take control:

Befrienders.org
24 hour support
Tel: 603-79568145

Other Resources:
Malaysian Mental Health Association
Lifeline Association Malaysia (Mandarin site)
Read This If You’ve Thought Of Calling Befrienders M’sia But Never Had The Guts To

 

 

 

 

The 6-Step Heartbreak Recovery and Protection Guide

I write this post for myself: A reminder that no matter how low things turn out in future break ups, I have gone through it before, and I have taken these steps to get out of it.

“You can do it again, noob”.

I’ve always been hesitant to give advice online, I think everyone has it in them to solve their problems in their unique ways.

However, I do hope this provides a “framework” to help you with your recovery strategies should you get into a similar situation.

Also, I’m pretty excited to share this with my future kids when they get dumped, too.

Story Time


She ended things where we started things: a café where we had our “first” date.

Drama much?

Her: “I’m not ready for a relationship, I want to work on myself”.

We lasted a year and a week. She walked out, I shut down.

I rebooted.

I chased after her, she was already in her car. I opened her door, kneeled by the side of the road.

Me: “Let’s try this again”. Drama much?

Alas, it works better in Korean dramas. Sigh, let the recovery process begin.

Step 1: Cry your balls out


(may not be applicable to ladies)

Remember that scene in Mission Impossible 3 where Tom Cruise electrocutes himself and momentarily dies to defuse a micro-explosive in his head? (Fast forward to minute 5).

Crying is this step. It feels like death, but it is necessary. Unfortunately, unlike the movie, there’s no happy ending.

Call a friend, a family, or meet them up. Tell, question, curse, bitch and blame; it’s not healthy, but right now, just do it.

Most importantly, cry like an idiot and #feel the tsunami of emotions.

a36.jpg

Thank you Nicholas, Ee, Nicole, Mom for indulging my tears, Robyn, Sam, YP, Alex and Cecilia for the much needed reality check.

Why this step is important: To know that there are people that are still damn close to you after you’ve lost someone closest to you.

However, this feeling can be fleeting. Especially when the phone calls end and friends gtg.

Then we move on to step 2.

Step 2: Pattern Interrupt


A.k.a., doing the shit you don’t want to do.

What you want to do: Booze, stalk her social media, check her “last seen”, read old texts for “clues”, contemplate what’s gone wrong, read sad stories, listen to Backstreet boys.

I did some of these.

(Okay, all of these.)

The last thing you’d want to do: Play basketball, have dinner with family, watch a motivational video, hit the gym (I actually took a break for 2 weeks when it was clear things were falling apart), take a dance class, and ESPECIALLY reading articles like this.

I snapped my fingers, and recognized the need to pattern interrupt, and break away from negative emotion. I put on my workout gear and had the shittiest training in a long time.

That said, I acknowledge that this step is rather easy for me to take, I meet people and communicate for a living. I couldn’t jeopardize my profession by being in a low state. The “snapping of fingers” was very much a necessity.

For you (or future me), the “snapping of fingers” is the hard part, but just do it. I don’t have any concrete strategies for this step, except:

giphy.gif

 

Understand this: These activities don’t serve to “drown” your sorrows, but it gets you into the habit of acting amidst sadness. From this, recognize that a good state can be “switched on” in the saddest of moments, at the snap of a finger.

You’ll feel better. But like step 1, fleeting. So let’s move on to step 3.

Step 3: Fact & Reality Check


Fact 1: Do you know how unlikely it is that you’ll never meet another person amidst the 3.5 billion people in this world? If you really believe in that, give yourself a slap in the face right now.

Fact 2: #YoMindABitch. When a break up is fresh, you’ll only look at the positives in the relationship. Come on, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. In fact, don’t look too far, go to the reason for the break up.

But first, pen and paper. “Trust the weakest pen over the mightiest mind”, because #YoMindABitch.

The reason: my desire to grow my career drifted us apart. The reason she left was because I was putting too much time in my passion. Am I able to compromise? I’m not sure. Was she able to compromise? Clearly, no.

So that’s a 3 to 1 odds stacked against the relationship being successful. However, #YoMindABitch, and at this point it is highly likely you think your “love” can overcome a 3 to 1 odd. But before you go full steam ahead and try to spam her with sorry texts…

Write down the absolute buzzkills in the relationship: Differing beliefs, values, outlooks, and desires in life; it wasn’t just drifting us apart, it was toxic for my career and life.

“Hey bro, bout time you stop hatin dontcha think?” True,  we shouldn’t only invoke all the negatives in the relationship.

In fact, I wrote down all the good times, they deserve to be immortalized. We had some really amazing times. As they’re cherished, they shouldn’t be craved.

Inked20170906_211249-01_LI.jpg

 

Again, fleeting: this logical reasoning is no guarantee you’ll stop feeling like this, but now at least you have a concrete pen and paper writing to refer back to when #YoMindABitch strikes back.

Step 4: Sink Back Into Your Emotions


Very much like step 1, completely goes against step 2, because it’s necessary only after step 3.

This may sound very “out there”, but I believe repressing residual emotions can be problematic in the long run.

This is why it’s so hard to let it completely go. #YoMindABitch, we WANT to have residual emotions, and have it grow, grow, grow till it pops and ends up hurting us again. Why?

As painful as it is, it allows us to cling onto familiarity.

Once step 3 allows you to embrace facts and reality: relish in the pain, rewind the clock, and “go back” into the break up.

maxresdefault.jpg

“Back to the matrix, Neo”

But with this purpose: Digging out any residual emotions that linger. Perhaps the most painful step, but the most important.

Ideally, do it without company, this path is best taken alone.

Indeed, easier than it sounds. I think I’m more capable of this step after a year of meditation practice, reading stoic material and also “presence” work.

A good place to start would be these resources: The Power Of Now, On groundless fear (a monthly listen of mine), and Headspace (get the app).

Here’s a not so apt song before we move on.

Step 5: Grow


Not what you want to do, but definitely what you need to do.

Back to #YoMindABitch: You don’t want to grow. Growing means change, and change leads you further away from the person you were -“you” in the relationship. You don’t want to “win”, you want the both of you to “win”, and grow out of this together like it was some short nightmare.

Remember, don’t wish upon unlikeliness of another person’s behavior change, grow on your own.

32bcdc75bf23272fa4ec55d76e8d5bc0--change-is-hard-oil-change

“Every problem presents an opportunity to learn from the problem”. When it ends, it feels shit. But flowers bloom being fertilized by shit.

In hindsight, every single break up was a huge leap forward for me.

First break up: started lifting.

Second break up: (which was followed by losing my car and my phone in the span of a week): realized that I can recover no matter what the adversities are.

Third break up: realized that I was being trapped by sunk cost fallacy, and letting that relationship go was the first step in letting every other losing investment in life go.

This break-up made me realize that every issue in a relationship needs to be resolved together, and it gets difficult, bordering impossible if only one partner’s willing to put in the work.

It also led to an intense week of self-inquiry: I learnt, read, wrote and meditated consistently every damn day. Everyday, a new “discovery” was being made. I’ve also completed 75% of my book, more writing in the past week than the past 3 months combined.

Are break ups the equivalent of “Limitless” pills?

a0pkm.gif

Learning, not dwelling about a problem is the first step to taking the right next steps for the rest of your life.

Having invested so much, starting over is tough. But here’s a shitty analogy that might help:

It’s like restarting a Warcraft character again, it sucks balls. But now you know clearly what you want, and how to approach things better. Your character will grow stronger, more accomplished and be better from the experience.

Understand this: You don’t get who you want, you get who you are. Keep growing and the right person will come. With growth, the person that you’re going to get with the long run will be better for you.

This is your responsibility at your end of the bargain. And honestly, I’m not going to rule it out for you, you may get her back IF you grow in alignment with her. The universe works in weird ways.

But never have that thought anchored in you. Your actions should be in the abundant nature of self-growth.

Step 6: Find other “identities”


When you break up, you lose a part of what defines you: “I’m no longer a boyfriend, a lover, a partner…”.

And it’s normal, we anchor a part of our “identities” to the relationship. However, it becomes a problem if that’s our only identity.

Perhaps why teenage loves are quite hard to recover from, you rarely have anything else that defines you besides being “Katy’s boyfriend” in school other than “the nerd with frizzly hair”.

1936082_141241551559_3019634_n.jpg

Don’t let one thing define you. Diversify your identity like how you would your investments.

Have other “identities”: I’m a writer, a personal trainer, a son, a friend.

Don’t anchor your identity to the external: reason why people who let their riches, cars, looks and fame define them rarely achieve lasting happiness; those things rarely last and are constantly challenged.

A juxtaposition: I’m not that zen, I’m writing this because I need an outlet, and if you’re reading this, and contacted me, thank you, I know that I’m not alone, and that’s a drug I still crave. More than money, recognition and appreciation have always been my motivation.

But I’m conscious that this, too, ends.

Coming from this point of view, I know that I should never anchor my happiness to “success”. What then? To be present to the process.

I’m constantly finding my “identity”. From writing about varied topics, to making random food review videos, to writing a book. Funny enough, this process of discovery is what’s making me happy, right now.

I’m not sure if the search ends here, but as of now, I’m thoroughly enjoying this process.

In closing


I’m not pretending that this is the be-all-end-all to dealing with break ups. Things get way more complicated, especially if it’s a divorce or a disloyal partner*.

Don’t count on this article to tell you that things will all be fine and dandy.

Instead, acknowledge that IT IS going to be hard. The most important things to do are the hardest things to do. At this point, I’m better than I was a 10 days ago, but I’m still work in progress, but i’m seeing a much brighter future at the end of the tunnel.

Snap your fingers and just do it.

*yeap

Content Left Right Center

I swear, WordPress is a bitch (will I get banned writing this). Can’t seem to create seperate tabs for Videos and All articles.

Anyway, a lousy excuse for the lack of writing: At this point of time, between running workshops and attempting to be working on a book project, I’m depleted of motivation to write on my blog.

Everyday, RM1.10 is depleted off my annual RM400 subscription. #FML

However, I’m finding great joy editing videos and putting out content on YouTube! Contents are a mix of stuff I enjoy (reviewing food) and the intricacies of the world of fitness. So for the 7 subscribers here,  do check out my YouTube channel, sample of the videos I make:

(Will create a separate tab once I learn how to and have time!)

Do you need to Deadlift?

Never have I seen an exercise EXPLODE like the deadlift.

I frequent several gyms that had members queuing for machines, to members queuing up Olympic bars.

While I think it’s a huge step forward (minus the unnecessary weight slamming and cringe-worthy technique), there are several misconceptions that needs addressing when it comes to the “The King of All Exercises”.

It is not “The King of All Exercises


The conventional deadlift is like coconut oil, chia seed, bulletproof coffee in the realm of exercises. People think it cures cancer, gives you immortality and shit.

However, to call it a MUST DO exercise is far from true.

Before adding an exercise into your routine, the #1 question to ask: “What is the purpose of this exercise in relation to my training goal?”

To Build Muscle?
The conventional deadlift is not the best leg (hamstring), back (latissimus dorsi, rhomboid) or butt (gluteus maximus) builder. It is a decent exercise for these muscle groups, but there are superior movements:

Back: Bentover Rows, Chin Ups & Pulldowns.

Hamstrings: Romanian Deadlifts, Lying leg curls & Stiff Legged Deadlift.

Butt/ Quads: Squats, Hip thrusts & Leg Presses.

These exercises train those muscle groups for their a) specific anatomical function, b) stress those muscles through their full range of motion, and c) provide a much longer time under tension compared to the conventional deadlift.

To Get Stronger?
The body is capable of deadlifting a shit ton of weight (more so than other compound movement), true that.

But strength goes beyond how heavy you lift off the floor. Getting “stronger” can be achieved with any properly coached movement; being able to jump higher, run faster, toss further, curl heavier, curl more reps, curl with fuller range of motion equates strength gain (I’m a big fan of curls).

A beef I have with the conventional deadlift: The movement subjects everyone to liff off 211mm (bar height from floor), which makes no sense for a 6’6″ basketball player who has piss poor deadlift leverages compared to a 5’8″ soccer player (thus the superiority of romanian, stiff legged deadlift in my opinion, in this case).

The shorter athlete with better success in the lift would be deemed stronger compared to the taller athlete but we’re not only comparing unjustly, but fitting everyone into a preset mold.

Just because we are designed to mechanically lift heavy off the floor, it shouldn’t be viewed as a be all end all for strength gain. Specificity matters a lot for strength gain and it that’s when question #2 can perhaps help: “What do I need to get stronger for?”

If your goal is to get stronger in deadlift for the purpose of powerlifting, the conventional deadlift, lifted off the floor in a dead (paused) position, is the KING for that goal. However, if your goal isn’t solely powerlifting related, not so much.

Specificity matters and I encourage everyone to discover that.

You don’t have to go extremely heavy


To my knowledge, the meteoric rise of deadlifts came with the meteoric rise of Powerlifting.

Which is amazing: Periodization, accessory lifts, activation exercises, mobility work, proper technique (questionable) are all brought into the spotlight.

Unfortunately, it came along with the meteoric rise of meatheads slamming sissy heavy weights; I’m sure we’ve all seen the beginner who lifts one rep, with said rep taking more than 5 seconds, with form that resembles a fishing rod.

rod-to-fish-with

Don’t get me wrong. For advanced powerlifters, heavy singles or triples have their place in training. But it shouldn’t be something you do 4 times a week if you’ve merely been deadlifting for 2 weeks.

Benefits from the exercise can still be derived from much lower intensities at higher repetitions (4 to 6), which is 32894324x better, especially for beginners.

4 sets of 6 reps for 24 total reps facilitates learning better than 6 sets of 1 rep, even more so if you’re executing the movement with proper form with a more manageable weight.

I don’t find many fitness maxims to be true, but in this case: Leave your ego at the door, the gym, your lower back, the commercial plates not designed for slamming will thank you for it.

The deadlift is not a squat


That Said


In the spirit of self contradiction, I want to highlight that the Deadlift is, hands down, an amazing all round exercise; I personally implement it as a movement every now and then for clients and myself for various purposes.

Here’s how you should be implementing it in your program:

Use proper form

Prescribing technique online is always tricky, but the main takeaway to work upon:

  1. Don’t round your lumbar spine (lower back).
  2. Don’t overarch your lumbar spine.

These 2 tips alone will significantly reduce your risk of going from zero to zero-er.

Get enough rest in between sets

Let’s all agree that proper technique is important in all exercises.

But when you’re putting your spine in the hands of a cold, rusty, heartless 140kg bar, it’s no joking matter.

Things can potentially turn out real TEARrible.

audience-2.jpeg

Thus, getting proper rest in between heavy (near maximal) sets is CRUCIAL to ensure you’re ready for your next set: fresh enough to maintain proper form for your target reps.

A blanket recommendation would be to take between 2 to 4 minutes of rest, but longer is not uncommon with heavier weights (1 to 3 rep maxes).

Lower your rep range

Deadlifts are i’ll suited for high reps (with sufficient intensity, I wouldn’t recommend going above 6, the benefits tend to diminish and the risk of injury heightens as set fatigue builds up).

If hypertrophy is your goal, volume would be the main driver. In that case, the romanian deadlift and stiff-legged deadlift would suit better, and provide a decent carryover to the conventional deadlift, too.

A Dead End


Fact: Deadlift = great exercise. Not the “best exercise”.

I’m not sure if any exercise that can take the throne.

In a similar vein, there is no MUST DO exercise. Exercise selection is contextual and arguably adaptive to help you do what you want to do and look how you want to look.

A handy question that helps provide direction in the sea of exercises that exist: “What is my training goal?” Answering this question very specifically is the first step to tailoring a training program that fits you best.

That said, I’m a big fan of implementing deadlifts to introduce an increase in training intensity, especially for clients who’ve been holding themselves back from adding weights to the bar. This somehow teaches them to ramp up intensities in other exercises, a good way to introduce the concept of progressive overload: the most crucial yet underappreciated aspect of strength and muscle gain.

13631527_10154991308909947_7124956989339549725_n.jpg


P.s., I’m “ramping up” my activity on YouTube, where I’ll post a combo of fitness related videos + random shenanigans! If you’re a fan of either, do subscribe to my YouTube channel HERE! Thanks a million!

 

How To Not Bankrupt A Gym

Yes, this post comes in light of the recent downfall of a large fitness chain. The Malaysian Body is trendy like that.

VVO_fac_1.jpg

The fall of an empire

I’m not even shocked, something felt amiss when they mentioned “relocating” their Sri Hartamas location.

Well, this isn’t even the first time a fitness center went bust this year. In January, Gorgeous fitness abruptly ceased service. Havoc ensued in it’s Klang outlet, and the manhunt is still on for it’s founder.

16298870_1138519639597795_4010846472247904781_n.jpg

(Gulp)

It’s a sad state, especially for members who’ve just committed long term contracts.

In any case, this post aims to showcase how not to run your fitness business to the ground.

Who am I?

My credentials, experience and expertise backed by years of managing one of the largest gym franchises in the South East Asia will not be revealed here.

Or anywhere for that matter. I don’t even manage my family’s Whatsapp group.

At the very least, I am from the fitness industry. Take this as advice from a personal trainer/ fitness equipment supplier. I’ve been helping clients turn fat into muscle build muscle and burn fat for 10 years. For the past 2 years, I have been with FITBOX .

IMG_20160929_150054.jpg

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from equipment dealing:

Fitness equipment cost a shitload


Large fitness chains usually purchase brands from Germany/ USA (Technogym, Precor, Life Fitness), where a regular treadmills costs at least RM30k per unit. Let’s say that your elliptical, stair climbers & bikes cost around the same price (they usually are), multiply that by 50 (average number of cardio equipment in gym): RM1,500,000

For the sake estimation, say the free weights machines total the same amount: RM1,500,000 (They’re slightly cheaper, so let’s have the totality of flooring, accessories, and potential discounts off bulk purchases included in this very meager estimate).

Sum total of equipment cost: RM3,000,000

For an average of 15,000 sq ft location, renovation cost should be at least RM500,000 

RM3,500,000, before operations begin.

And so it begins. Rental for a 15,000 sq ft space is around RM30,000 (meager for the space, especially in prime location), and you have 20 staff with an average of RM2,000 salary, plus other costs, it should bring costs to around RM80,000/ month x 12 = RM960,000/ year.

Being at least RM3,580,000 “debt” even before asking customers for a single cent: Great start.

Month 1: say you have a (very) miraculous start of 1000 members signing up with an average annual fee of RM2500 (above market average), that would give you a quick injection of RM2,500,000

Then you have a (super) miraculous number of 50 new members a month, 600 new members a year: RM1,500,000leading to a revenue of RM4,000,000

Financial year 1:

Very frugal cost : RM3,500,000 + (RM960,000) = RM4,460,000
Very positive revenue: RM4,000,000

RM500,000 debt, even in the best case scenario

(I omit the profit from personal training and the hidden costs the business, I think they largely even out. The nitty-gritty is not the purpose of this article, )

Are We Fucked?


Don’t go cancelling your gym memberships yet.

I’m not saying that large fitness chains are bound to fail. Be my guest and point to successful case studies in the comments section. They exist, and they should be exampled for the way they’re run.

I’m merely trying to show the financial reality of operating a fitness center.

If you ever have 5 million dollars lying around, and you’re toying with the idea of starting a gym… go toy with something else.

Typical fitness businesses are approached in such a backward manner it’s a miracle any of them come out of the red.

If you ask me, it’s the same problem in startups: investors pouring money into a product that has yet shown any potential for revenue.

Even if you don’t have cash to play in the big league, you’re not free from these numbers. The main point of this post is to provide an insight to people who want to own a gym because…

“I’m passionate about fitness!”


You’re sick of the morning traffic, sick of your desk, sick of your boss, sick of replying e-mails, sick of stalking your ex on Facebook at 345pm, sick of the drive home…

When you get into the gym… Musics’ blasting, blood pumping, heart racing, adrenaline rushing, endorphin releasing, you experience rebirth! Suddenly…

“STARTING A GYM IS THE BEST IDEA EVER(RRRRRRRRRRRR)”

QbAV_f-maxage-0.gif

I’ve been in the industry long enough to see countless passion ending in heartache. I’ve tasted it, myself, too.

Passion doesn’t insulate you against the reality that equipment, electricity, staffing, rental, renovation need money.

You must be thinking, “Oh, I don’t have that kind of money, I’m planning to start a small gym”, you’re not entirely free from the perils that plague large fitness chains.

Anyway, enough negativity. If it’s of any value, a good thought process to follow on your journey to gym set up:-

The primary source of revenue for your business = Gym members. So you need to fulfill the gym members’ needs. What do they need?

1. Feel Like They Belong

I wholeheartedly agree that Powerlifting, Crossfit and Bodybuilding are awesome disciplines, and it’s great we’ve found light in these practices. However, such communities come with exclusivity: the opposite of inclusiveness.

Scenario: Topless, sweaty bodies, barbells and bumper plates bouncing all over the chalky mats, screams, shouts and grunts from members that blend in harmony with the blasting background of EDM music.

“That’s fucking awesome”

I think so, too.

However, how many people, who have never touched a barbell, ever, would actually step foot and train in such an environment?

8800f3853621fab77301606e0ab8d34a.jpg

There’s an anecdotal fallacy in the industry: Just because I enjoy something, everyone else should. To all fitness professionals (myself included):

We are not representative of the larger population

I’m not saying that there’s no place for niche disciplines. However, from a financial standpoint: People that can afford higher end fees and services are primarily outside of the fitness industry: Corporate employees, middle to late 30s, who have amassed a decent amount of wealth, at the expense of neglecting their health for the past 10 years life. I personally think they’re a large, under-served population.

Put aside the question of affordability: 10+ years of bad health practices and cumulative stress, they are the ones that actually need to get into fitness.

Rather than create an exclusive bubble that caters only to the Bodybuilders and Cross-fitters of the world, it would be financially prudent, and just right to aim to serve them.

This is a long-winded way of saying this:

Instead of building a specific community: create a place for a specific group of people seeking for a community. As I pointed in the above example, under-served, stressed out and not very healthy corporate employees.

How do you do this? Instead of setting up a niche environment off the bat, create one that aims to include everyone.

This means no metal music, no unnecessary slamming of weights, clothes have to be on while training etc. And only then, establish further modifications that benefits (in descending order): the business, your existing following, and your personal ideal.

(On a side note: Having sponsored many Crossfit competitions over the past 3 years, it’s no doubt that the Crossfit community has grown. But we’re not sure if the growth is enough to feed the rising number of boxes. Crossfit is no longer a niche, we feel. We advice box owners to really find a niche and stand out in this highly saturated market)

2. Achieve Fitness Results

“Fitness Results” is broad ranging. However, when most people say they want to be “Fit”, most of the time, they’re saying: I want to look like Captain America/ Wonder Woman.

gal-gadot-wonder-woman-ultimate-571x300.jpg

Dang. I want to look like her

The most optimal method to achieve said goal: Resistance training and a nutrition plan that suits a person’s lifestyle.

If you’ve been in the industry for long enough, with a deep passion for improving and upgrading the health of yourself and others… and you have an ounce of sense, you’d be able to filter the bullshit that plagues the industry.

Cough detox Cough vibration plates Cough body sculpting Cough alkali water. I digress Cough.

With this in mind, you can prioritize: You don’t need a RM30,000 elliptical or RM12,000 leg extension (yet), nor is there a need for a RM4,000 Olympic bar. Also, majority of customers probably don’t give two hoots if your dumbbells are from ROGUE or the Chinese brand ROUGUCHA.

Cover the basics: Barbells, dumbbells, benches, a multipurpose cable machine, a piece of cardio equipment (preferably not a treadmill). Heck, even with a yoga mat, you can bring beginners far.

Having a large budget doesn’t mean you have to splurge it at one go. Get the bread and butter, let the business run, and add equipment based on reliable feedback from your established following.

This will cut your cost by a shitload, meaning you can invest in…

3. A Cosy Environment

With the money saved from equipment side, invest in something for the members.

A foosball table, a comfortable sofa, community computer desk, 1GBPS wifi, a reading section with recommended reading lists; make the gym “loungable”.

DigitalGymInterior.jpg

For illustration purposes ONLY

People will enjoy their time in your gym, and would highly recommend their friends to come and hang there, too. This effect compounds.

In Closing (…touchwood)


This is merely the tip of the iceberg in what makes a successful gym. The question of scale, staff, location, establishing a niche, operation costs, social media, advertising is something that requires much work and research.

But hopefully, your foray into building your fitness empire starts with these key steps I find largely lacking in the current fitness sphere. No doubt finances have to be out of the read, but to do so without doing anything to give back is unsustainable.

Remember, you never have to break the bank to start a fitness business, and most importantly, keep adding value to the people you serve.

quote-not-adding-value-is-the-same-as-taking-it-away-seth-godin-85-74-63.jpg


Frankly, by writing this post, I risk losing customers: The inability to make concrete, long term planning is the reason we, as suppliers, are largely insulated in this industry.

In fact, we thrive when disgruntled corporate employees decide to trade their suits and ties for Dri-Fits and compression pants.

In all honesty (what weight do these 3 words really have? You decide to believe or not) we take pride in helping grow the industry, in the way a SME can actually afford to. Incidents like this send waves through the industry and beyond, leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

And as cliched as it sounds, we hope via this post, we can protect this industry that seeks to protect health.

 

 

How To Get Abs & Get Everything Else

Does having Abs change your life?


I train a lot of young adults (17 – 24 years old), and many believe that by improving their physique, life instantly changes for the better.

The most sought after attribute: a chiseled set of head-turning abs; perhaps the only reason i’m still in business.

(The female equivalent for Abs would be the Glutes)

The title was “inspired” by them…

and this request that came through e-mail:

Screenshot_20170605-123436

Social media, peer pressure, a trend towards healthier living in developed countries… We can argue till the cows come home as to how self-love has manifested into such a specific anatomical form. But that’s not the point of this post.

Before we go on, I must say this: It is an absolute privilege to work with many of them.

They are hard working, disciplined, respectful and motivated youngsters. They go into the weight room with a hungry desire to improve.

While the scope of my responsibility as a personal trainer ends with delivering an effective workout, I rarely mind my own business:

“Even with 6 pack abs, 16-inch biceps, huge chest muscles; the perfect body…

You won’t instantly get the girl,

You won’t magically be more confident,

Your friends won’t just respect you more,

You won’t automatically be the cool kid,

Your life will not immediately be better.”

drugabuse_shutterstock-241649371-sad-man-strong-steroid-addict

On the other side of the generation spectrum…

Though many of my corporate adult clients don’t give two hoots about abs, looking better is still top priority:

The promise of an instant job promotion, employer recognition, self-confidence, sales conversion is tied to how one looks.

office abs

Yeah. That’s not happening.

But in my humble opinion…

Having “Abs” does change your life


Constructing the “perfect body”:

A dissatisfaction with your image. Get gym membership. Do solely treadmill work because the weight section is intimidating. Realize that the treadmill is leading you nowhere (pun intended). Research. Train a body part a week. See some results. Keep going. Realize that results are slow. Research and tweak. Train a body part 2-3 times per week. Progress further. 

Want to get lean. Cut out usual foods. Extreme cravings. Binge eat. Cycle repeats. Lasts 2 years. Realize how destructive this is. Research. Try calorie counting. Life-changing. Went full retard. Constantly stressed by going 50 calories over limit. Research. Realize it really doesn’t matter. Found zen. 

Life happens.

Long work hours. Gym closes in 30 minutes after arriving. Can only work out twice a week.

Make it count.

IMG_20170608_163514.jpg

That’s about 9 years of training career condensed into 2 paragraphs.

It takes constant, consistent, small steps to find what works for you and GET ABS®.

Get Abs… & everything else


Confidence around people, being a better communicator, having the ability to deliver flawless sales pitches.

All of this takes work. Not barbell curls, crunches and bench presses.

Real work.

But similar principles apply: you have to go through rep after rep, failure after failure, never ending troubleshooting, having these steps compounded over years.

Skill: Level Up

You know the bullshit they say: It’s what’s inside that counts? Well, the principles of building what’s outside is pretty much the same in developing what’s inside.

Well, beyond the importance of patience and consistency, an important lesson that 10 years of bodybuilding/ Abs sculpting taught me:

“Hey, perhaps this funny experience, this thing called LIFE isn’t impossible to navigate at all”

The notion that you are in control of your body- the very vessel that navigates you through life, is a stressful yet comforting thought.

Finding your Real Work: What one thing that if I improve on, will produce the biggest step towards my desired life?

Rarely, it’s how you look in the mirror.

1545716_10154678623729947_4139147038601676521_n.jpg


For me, it’s growing The Malaysian Body & reaching out to people who need the information I put out: People holding desk jobs, whose desire to change are held back by the almost impossible standards set by the fitness industry.

Real Work Step 1: Put out more quality content, consistently.

 

60 days of #NasiLemakDiet Later…

This quote is the catalyst to the #NasiLemakDiet

“Just because the problem is hard,
doesn’t mean the solution has to be”

No doubt, losing weight is hard, but… what if the solution were so simple, you can eat 1 Nasi Lemak a day and get the shredz and the girls (and guys)?

cat-get-the-fuck-outta-here-meme

After 59 Nasi Lemaks in 59 days:

day 0 to 59-01

I’m still alive and have a face that deserves a slap

In a previous post, I talk about how the #NasiLemakDiet is set up for success.

In this post, I’ll talk about some diet struggles, random shenanigans, insights, and Nasi Lemak recommendations.

6 Lessons from 60 days of Nasi Lemak


1. Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

For a diet to succeed, there needs to be a deadline, there needs to be consequences. But more importantly, there needs to be room for shit to happen.

I don’t think setting huge goals is the way to go. Gigantic tasks paralyzes creation. You’ll likely spend most of the time asking: Where do I start?

Instead, set achievable goals bounded by achievable deadlines: In the early 70s, IBM has one of the lowest sales quota in the industry, but they kicked all their competitions’ asses. Why? Low quotas allowed IBM’s sales people to overshoot their sales quotas easily and not have a daunting and unattainable goal hanging over their heads.

It’s easier to set path towards a goal that’s visible along the horizon, rather than take the entire mammoth by the horns.

20170405_172100

300-500 calorie deficit over 60 days

Personally, balancing between urgency and patience is the single biggest factor in adhering to 60 days of #NasiLemakDiet, and I believe it applies to other aspects of life, too.

2. Don’t Believe your own Bullshit

2 weeks into your diet, you’ll hear voices:

“I’m not going to fit into my clothes, screw diet”
“Oh man, I’ll lose all my strength in the gym”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I’m losing my Boobs!”
“Hmmm, if eating more increases metabolism, this snicker bar will help”
“I took the stairs today, I deserve this ice cream”

Our inner voice will be our greatest deterrent. You can choose to will through it, but you can also tackle the problem through smarter goal setting

Eyes on the prize, remember why you set out on this journey.

why

Write your “Why” down

3. Rewiring Social Media

Survivorship bias is the logical error of focusing on people or things that “survived”, but overlooking those that did not due to their lack of visibility. (wiki)

When failures are overlooked, any idea seems bulletproof. However, for every successful UBER, there could be 1000 failures that never made the front page of “Entrepreneur”.

The fitness industry is no stranger to this logical fallacy. In fact, we thrive on it.

“Success” testimonials by clients is the most effective strategy to draw eyes to gym memberships, diet plans, supplements, training regime by a fitness “icon”.

In reality, the ones that make the spotlight are the tip of the iceberg, floating on the fats that cling unto unsuccessful clients.

FAT

Social media perpetuates survivor ship bias, and I’d like readers to approach the #NasiLemakDiet with this awareness: I am a “survivor”.

I am a personal trainer, I have had 8 years of exercise experience, I have existing muscle mass and strength. These explain the superior results.

If you’re new to lifting weights, it’s unlikely you’ll replicate the results at my rate. But I can say with certainty: With time, you will see results.

Despite the numerous factors surrounding this equation (read here), weight loss boils down to Calories IN < Calories OUT.

“It works for me, it will work for you” is not the main reason behind the #NasiLemakDiet. I merely wish for you to take action, fail, and repeat and learn.

4. The Best Nasi Lemak!

Here’s another logical fallacy: The guy who has eaten 60 Nasi Lemaks for 60 days straight is the best judge for the tastiest Nasi Lemak. I probably have the worst taste bud to offer Nasi Lemak recommendation.

Personally, I find that all good Nasi Lemaks follow a set recipe for success: fragrant santan rice, crispy fried chicken, spicy sambal with a touch of sweetness.

So, after 60 days, here’s my verdict:

1mpj15

But here’s an insight: You won’t go wrong crowds: Village Park, Nasi Lemak 223, bumbung are all decent selections.

However, for those expecting a listicle…

5. Two Must Try, Off-The-Radar Nasi Lemaks:

Nasi Lemak Wrap, La Juiceria

Skeptical

Regular readers would know my stance on “Eat Clean”, however, I cannot deny this: La Juiceria’s Nasi Lemak Wrap is a winning idea.

The fiery sambal is like paint to a canvas: the quinoa and tortilla wrap.

Adding to the taste is the well marinated (skinless) rendang chicken, crispy lettuce and cucumber. At the heart of the wrap is a soft boiled egg, with just the right runny-ness of the yolk, so you’re “eat clean” remains eat clean.

IMG_20170323_172007_092.jpg

Sambal fail: Is this still “Clean”?

Note: Anchovies and peanuts are served separately, and Quinoa replaces rice in this “Nasi Lemak”. Though i’m sure they have an option to swap it with brown rice.

Rating: 8/10

Address: Ground floor, Verve Shops, Mont Kiara. Operates from 8am to 10pm.

HKL_6532-1024x683

Nasi Lemak Jalan Setia Indah: 

The aforementioned crowd rule applies to roadside stalls, too. You know a a spicy dish is worth your while when people sweat for it queuing under the 12pm heat.

This is my “go-to” stall for lunch. This family run stall serves a nice spread of dishes along with sambal that errs on the sweet side of the sweet-spicy spectrum (also has a unique hint of smokiness).

As a sucker for crunch and a hater of peanuts, the fresh ulam (shredded cabbage and leaves), is my favorite dish, along with their curry chicken breast that’s surprisingly tender.

Rating: 7.5/10

Address: Along Jalan Setia Indah, opposite 99 market. Operates from around 930am to 4pm.

20170405_150611

6. You WILL look like crap

Your weight will remain unchanged in the first few weeks of dieting.

If this doesn’t make you feel like crap, this will: Look in the mirror, you’ll probably look worse than your pre-diet state.

You now look softer, smaller, and “fluffier” than before. What the hell! Right? Here’s a simplified explanation to why “fluffyness” happens:

At a caloric deficit (where carb intake drops), muscle glycogen depletes. Muscle glycogen is what gives our muscle the “full” look. Thus, depleting muscle glycogen will make you look like you shrunk, or lose muscle “tone” in the first phases of diet.

“Then why don’t I look leaner?”

While fat loss is bound to occur at a microscopic level, it doesn’t immediately reflect visually. For every cell of fat we lose, we’re left with “fat pockets”. While these empty “fat pockets” no longer hold fat cells, they’ll be filled up with water, causing us to largely retain the “soft” look.

Imagine having to wear an oversized jacket, hiding our results.

too-big-sweater.jpg

Saturated fat pockets + shrinking muscle size = Perfect combo to looking like crap. This is where the self-defeating talks occur.

prometheus-gainz-diet-week-1-muscles-gone

For lovers of surprises, good news: fat loss suddenly shows once the water flushes, and it’s not uncommon for dieters to lose 2kgs and appear slimmer overnight.

For Type-As (myself and many clients) who much prefer steady fat loss rather than a jumpy one, this can cause massive stress, increasing cortisol, which further promotes water retention; a vicious cycle.

Sadly, during the course of a diet, it’s not uncommon to face this several times.

I have no way around this, but here’s an analogy I find pertinent:

“Fat loss is like a holiday season drive on the NKVE, it ain’t smooth, and the hardest part is when you’re closest to your destination”

But the destination will be worth it.

Beauty In Chaos


Rice, anchovies, dried chili, cucumber, egg, chicken, coconut milk, wrapped within paper and leaf; basic ingredients taken for granted

Basic ingredients that amalgamate into the national food of Malaysia.

An ubiquitous personal reminder: no matter where I’m at, whatever I’m facing, how chaotic situations are, however stagnant life is, it’s not far away from an amazing end product.

Nasi Lemak Chaos

Nasi Lemak is a beautiful embodiment of order in chaos, something I’m trying to embrace rather than correct at this point of life.

In the mass 21st century movement towards better health, I hope to create appreciation, not hate for the foundation of our culture – Malaysian food.


Follow @houcheelim on Instagram as I plow through 40 more days of fat rice!