EPISODE #151: Guardian Fitness in Action

Hello and welcome to another Guardian Broadcast, my friends. I’m going to try to be very brief here, as we move into Thanksgiving week.

First, I want to offer a moment of disbelief and empathy to all our fellow Guardians who have been affected by natural and manmade disaster this past year. I cannot believe the hurricanes, storms, rains and flooding, and now the wildfires that so many people in this country have had to endure. I’m truly sorry for that, and please know that you’re in my prayers.

Second, I want to say that this year, I am thankful for YOU, my fellow Guardians. This Guardian Broadcast is not my preferred way to communicate with you. I’ve always imagined Heaven as being a place that’s almost like a big, non-stop dinner party. A place where we all know that an incredible dinner is coming, a wonderful speaker, and the best dessert. But where, there is absolutely no rush, because we’ve all got all the coffee and wine and hors d’oeuvres we could ever want, and we’ve got about a million years to just glide around the crowd, mingling with every fascinating and beautiful person who has ever lived. So, I’d prefer a two-sided conversation. Now, a couple years ago, we actually spent something like $35,000 having a website built that would allow for some of this, but it’s just never seemed like the right time to launch that thing. Eventually, we will: but not right now. Still: I am more grateful than you can possibly know for your time and attention, and *especially* your willingness to stick with me in this mission and try our curriculum as it’s released. I really, truly can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. So, for as long as I have you: thank you.

Okay, this week I want to talk more about the tactical side of fitness and exercise. I’ll try to be brief.

First, I strongly recommend that you reject any idea or notion that “routines” or “programs” or “regimens” exist. Because I don’t think they do. I think people give fun sounding names to fitness and structure it in ways that simply makes it easier or more fun to do, or less intimidating to approach. But I have learned that there’s no magic. There’s no excuse, either. If we want to lose weight, we must eat fewer calories than we burn. Simple as that. If we want to gain or grow ability or muscle, we have to recognize one simple reality: that muscle is *nothing* more than the body’s reluctant response to challenge. If we expose ourselves to more challenge than our bodies are presently equipped for: they grow. They respond. If we don’t: we won’t! It’s as simple as that. So: if you want to lose or gain, you’ve got to make yourself uncomfortable and you’ve got to do it often.

Second, you don’t have to do it that often. The human body is the most incredible piece of creation in the entire universe, and I am floored by how forgiving it is. We can literally erase twenty years of neglect and abuse in about six months. It’s astonishing. And in my experience, fitness is the same way. If we spend even 5 minutes per day of exposing ourselves to challenge, our bodies will adapt. To me, that speaks to the infinite, unfair generosity of our creator, because if I were God, I probably would have jerkishly set the bar higher than that. But: that’s not the way it is. 5 minutes of challenge per day, and your body responds. 20 minutes, and it responds a lot more and a lot faster.

Third, remember the “spread out” thing from the last broadcast. Don’t feel like you need to do it all at once. More on that in just a second.

Fourth, to encourage you: there have been *so many* studies about how beneficial exercise is to the body. One study demonstrated how the skin cells of an 80-year-old de-aged to match the health of a 50-year-old, after just a few weeks of even mild strength training. Not only that, but strength training corrects and re-balances hormones in both men and women. We feel better. Our heart rates decrease. Our blood pressure and all sorts of things balance out and moderate. So: hit it! Get some.

Okay, now I promised you some tactical stuff.

So first, I would challenge you to keep it simple and just do a little bit every day. A little physical activity every single day. Now, what kind and how much? Well, that will totally depend on you and where you’re at, but just remember and keep in mind that cardinal rule: CHALLENGE YOURSELF. It should be hard.

To go further, I must speak about the three kinds of strength.

At one end, we have Endurance strength. At the far end, we have RAW strength. And in the middle, we have EXPLOSIVE strength.

It’s important to recognize that these are three different functions. It’s like our muscles know these are three different needs our bodies can have, and so they have different fibers and chemicals associated with each one. And you can grow your RAW strength without growing your endurance strength, and vica versa.

For example, for a year I did nothing but focus on endurance strength. I got to where I could do 100 push-ups in a set. I got to where I could do, and I’m not joking, 42 pull-ups in a set. And when I got there, I was surprised to find that while I had a lot of endurance, that amount of resistance was pretty much my limit. For example, when I added a 20lb weight vest, I struggled to bust out 30 push-ups. Put my feet up 12 inches while wearing the weight vest, and I struggled to hit 20. With the vest on, my pull-ups went from 40 down to 18. And that was only 20lbs! So, I realized I needed to be more balanced. I said: “It doesn’t make much sense to be able to do 40 pull-ups. I think I’d like to be able to do 20 really heavy pull-ups.” And so on. So, I sacrificed some numbers for strength. And, realistically, probably being able to do 5 or 8 REALLY heavy reps is an even better balance, but I think we need to each find our own balances. The bottom line is: we need to train all three kinds of strength.

If you want RAW strength, the formula seems to be to do 8 to 12 repetitions of weight or resistance heavy enough so that you can’t really do more than 12. And, it seems like you don’t really want to do them to failure: it seems like you want to stop 1 or 2 reps before you would have failed.

If you want endurance strength, it seems to me that you DO want to do these reps to failure for the final 1/3 of your sets – but otherwise that you keep raising the bar. So this week, I’m going to do 8 sets of 5 pull-ups per day for 3 straight days. Then next week, after resting for 4 days, I’m going to do 9 sets of 5. The week after that, I’ll go back to 8 sets, but I’ll do sets of 6 reps instead of 5. And on, and on.

For explosive strength, it seems like even fewer reps than that. Explosive strength is the clapping push-ups, or the pull-ups where you rocket upward so that your hands hop off the bar. Gymnast stuff. When I practice this, I don’t even let myself get tired. If I COULD do 8 explosive reps, I will only do 3, maybe 4.

Next, I have to harp on rest again. I think of it like this: exercise is when you tear your body apart at the microscopic level. But REST is when it rebuilds. REST is when you grow, NOT when you exercise. And in my experience, you grow for 5 or 6 days after a bout of STRONG activity, such as 3 straight days of working out. Or, one really, really taxing day. But as a rule, I let 3 days of rest pass per muscle group before I do more exercise. So, I might do 3 days of upper body, then 3 days of lower body while I let my upper rest. Or, I might just take a week off! Who cares? I’m the master of my body, right? And so are you. Either way: rest is very important, and I love how it forces balance and moderation in an area where it’s easy to go overboard. Because you do NOT want to be the ‘all or nothing’ kind of person. Life is a long game, and the winners are people who are steady and consistent.

Next: another nod toward keeping it simple. And that is: you do not have to get fancy. In my experience, you can literally get in great shape by doing nothing but push-ups. Seriously. Add in pull-ups, and you’ll get in very, very good shape. Add in attention to legs, and it’s that much better. NOW: I am not an expert. And there’s a whole school of thought on why only doing a couple things like this is a bad idea, and these people speak of the benefits of cross training. They are probably correct. But my advice? Master the push-up for about three years, and if you find yourself plateauing and craving more results: THEN move into other stuff. The push-up is a great way to build good habits, really impressive results, and most importantly: a love of fitness.

Lastly, a few tactical points:

First, it seems that your muscles need to experience challenge in bouts of 40 to 60 seconds in order to respond. So, you can spread your exercise throughout an entire day or three, but make sure each set takes 40 seconds or more, without exhausting you. Go slow if you need to.

Next, challenge yourself on both sides of a rep. Pull up hard or push down hard, yes: but also go slow when you are moving with gravity. Resistant against gravity and you gain twice as fast and you gain more balance.

And lastly: squeeze fitness in every chance you get.

Okay, my friends. Remember what I said about balance and about challenge. There are no secrets, no gimmicks, no shortcuts. In life, the prize goes to the one who works hard and doesn’t shy away from challenge. We live in the land of the blind. All you need is to develop one ‘eye’, and you will be king.

Make it so, my friends! Peace be with you, and have a happy thanksgiving.

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