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Creating Weakness

by Brad Pilon

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It’s been a while since I really felt ‘right’ about my lifting. For the longest time, I thought that I simply didn’t care as much as I used to, but now I’m sure that I still care. In fact, the problem wasn’t one of caring, but of belief.

I didn’t believe that lifting needed to be what it seems to have turned into…

I started lifting weights in high school for a number of different reasons, but none of those reasons were competitive sports.

I am not an athlete.

I can remember when I was first introduced lifting weights for the purpose of bodybuilding, and I can remember how it was portrayed as a ‘thinking persons’ activity – a physical sort of philosophy. The way Arnold and Frank Zane and Lee Haney all talked about weight training, it was more akin to yoga and meditation then it was football or MMA. It was a physical chess match between you and yourself, and it was this approach to weight training that appealed to me.

Lately lifting has turned into sport where we compete on youtube by posting videos of our best lifts, or compete in crossfit or powerlifting or even obstacle courses, we race and we challenge based on time or speed or weight… or level of pukey exhaustion.

We create haphazard workout programs based on the latest ‘proven’ scientific theories, instead of doing what we WANT to do.

The science has taken over, and the art has died.

This isn’t a judgment on how you train now, but on how I have trained in the past.

Pushing to the point of breaking, always sore, always ‘almost injured’. Sure I looked good, and I was strong but from a 1,000 mile high view it all seems so superficial and desperate. And I’ll be honest – it wasn’t that enjoyable.

Yet, this is not, and never was the only approach to bodybuilding and weight training.

From my experience effective weight training is nothing more than the beauty of discipline manifested through mundane consistency.

It’s more poetic than simply ‘following a program’ could ever allow. There are almost infinite combinations of exercises and variations of each specific lift that you can use to meet your individual goals.

But what is the true goal?

My view is that the ultimate goal is to use weights to create weakness so that we may ultimately grow stronger.

That’s the simplest way I can describe weight training – create temporary weakness so that we may grow bigger and stronger.

Weakness can be created in a number of different ways – it is not limited to attempting to move a really heavy weight a couple of times, or moving a lighter weight as many times as you can. It’s also not limited to one set to failure, or 10 sets per exercise.

It works as a goal for almost every method of weight training, excluding the actual practice of exercise technique, but even then a case could be made for executing proper technique in a state of weakness… but  I digress

When it comes to creating weakness what I want to talk about today is the middle ground, not lifting heavy, or light, but how to really get the most out of exercises using the 6-12 rep range.

I’m not going to be pulling data from studies or attacking other people’s opinions on training, and I’m going to speaking mostly about breathing…  So if that sounds ‘meh’ to you, you can probably stop reading now…

Still with me? Good.

Alright – time to lay all the cards on the table – I think proper breathing is the key to a great weight training session using moderate weights… Now I’ll explain why…

Take a deep breath and then exhale. Breath as if you were meditating, or doing yoga, or trying to calm down after someone cut you off in traffic.

In, then out. Fill your lungs, but not in an uncomfortable way, pause briefly, then let it out.

Do this ten times (yes, TEN times), and try to notice how things change when you concentrate on your breathing…

You think less about other things, and you are a bit more aware of… you.

In the most basic form, you are meditating when you are paying attention to your breathing.

What I want you do now is complete a couple more breaths, only now I want you to pay attention to their timing. I can count 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand on the inhale, a brief pause then 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand on the exhale (you might be a bit different, there’s no ‘right’ here).

The speed of your breathing is what we are going to use to dictate ALL of your lifting when using moderate amounts of weight.

You will inhale on the concentric and exhale on the eccentric portion of every rep at this exact pace of breathing.

You will pick a weight that you can complete 6-12 reps at this speed then you will do everything in your power to maintain this pace of breathing AND this pace of lifting throughout your entire workout.

As phoo-phoo as it may sound – when it comes to getting the most benefit out of lifting moderately heavy weights I think your breathing should guide your lifting –  In other words, your breathing dictates your rep speed, not the other way around.

When you can no longer complete lifts without holding your breath or maintaining this breathing rate, your set is done.  Take a short break (30-60 seconds) then attempt another set. When you can no longer complete 6-12 reps without your breathing breaking down, then you are done with that exercise. Take a break and move to another.

This is how you create weakness. It seems like simply another way of discussing time under tension, but it’s slightly different – the focus isn’t on the weight – it’s on your breathing.

It’s also NOT super slow lifting, a 2 second concentric and a 3 second eccentric is pretty standard advice, I’m just giving you a reason to prioritize rep speed in your training.

It may take 2-3 sets of an exercise to create this weakness or it may take 5-6 (depending on the muscle group and the chosen exercise). The weight is irrelevant – you choose whatever weight allows you to complete 6-12 reps while maintaining your breathing rate.

This weight may vary slightly from day to day (up or down) but over the weeks the weight will slowly increase.

And this brings me to another weird revelation – if your goal is muscle size, then the increase in weight needed is a side effect of training, not the goal. If we could build muscle while never ever increasing the weight used, that would be fine.

The goal isn’t strength or strength progression, because as far as I can tell this is an inevitability of consistent strength training. You will get stronger, so there is no sense in worrying too much about getting stronger. If you are consistent, and you don’t get injured, and you are creating weakness with each workout, you will ultimately get stronger.

When you use heavier weights it become near impossible to use this breathing technique – you need to hold your breath for portions of the lift. The solution is simple – don’t use weights that are so heavy that you have to hold your breath.

When you use lighter weights it becomes easy to follow this breathing technique, but difficult to create weakness in 6-10 breathes, and again the solution is simple – increase the weight.

It may take 2 exercises or 3 or 4, but you will reach a point where that muscle group is ‘done’ then you move on, but always keep your focus on your breathing.

Again this isn’t rocket science – it’s the exact same advice you’ve heard countless times before, 2-4 exercises per muscle group, 2-6 sets per exercise, 6-12 reps per exercise using a weight you can handle with strict form.  The only difference is I’m defining ‘weight you can handle with strict form’ using breathing rates as your guide, as opposed to simply moving the weight at a slow steady pace, since ‘slow and steady’ become subjective when you start to get fatigued.

The problem with this style of training is that it’s actually extremely difficult – difficult not to get distracted, difficult not to allow your breathing to quicken, or to hold your breath and it’s extremely difficult to concentrate on breathing for this long (30 minutes to an hour typically).  There is a very high level of focus and ‘absorption’ that is required in this style of training – you truly need to be absorbed into your training.

NOT concentrating on your breathing is the easy way out. So is holding your breath and pushing/grinding the weight. The same goes for screaming and grunting.

Again, pushing heavy weights works, fatiguing on light weights also works.. and this – controlling medium weights is yet another technique that works. And in my opinion the key to controlling medium weights is to breathe. Concentrate on breathing and allow yourself to get absorbed into you work.

You will feel challenged, and you may or may not be sore the next day, but the main difference is the feeling immediately after your workout is unique, and hard to describe – so I’m not going to try – but it is cool and is different then the overall body heavy body fatigue you get from heavy weights or the exhaustion from light weights used to failure…

Create weakness by pushing heavy weights, fatiguing with lighter weights and CONTROLLING medium weights. Try using your breathing as a measure of control.

BP

Weight Gain Loops

by Brad Pilon

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Part of the large part of the Etiology of weight gain is an incredibly strong feedback loop – And I’m not talking about insulin or leptin or some other hormone.

No, I’m talking about something MUCH stronger.

But before we go any further, lets clarify what I mean by Etiology. Etiology is basically the study of why something occurs, and in my opinion the only thing more important that finding a cure for obesity is understanding why it occurs in the first place.

As I stated earlier this goes far beyond hormone imbalances or sugar cravings. Also, let’s be clear – overeating is the tool, it’s the hammer, or the nails… it’s what ‘makes’ us gain weight… but it may not be the ‘why’ that causes us to be gain weight… to find the ‘why’ we have to go all the way to the root – Why we overeat in the first place…

And I’m convinced that a large part of the etiology of weight gain, or more correctly a part of the etiology of some forms of weight gain (I’m of the belief that they’re not all the same), is the feedback loop created by the affect that our emotions have on how we eat.

For many of us, we over eat as a way to deal with our depression, boredom, loneliness or general unhappiness with our day-to-day lives. It’s an escape – a way to avoid dealing with the actual issue – whether it be an unhappy marriage, a bad job or some other issue that causes us to be unhappy.

So we eat. And it DOES help… a little bit, and only very briefly. And the minute we’re finished eating we begin to feel bad about the fact that we ate… so we reinforce the habit by eating more to help ease the pain behind the fact that we ate too much previously. When this cycle keeps going for a while we end up gaining weight, and now we eat to avoid the pain of our weight gain, AND the pain of the fact that we overate when we knew we shouldn’t have overeaten…

So we eat because we ate, and we eat because we gained fat, and we gained fat because we ate, so we eat some more…

On and on it goes.

To try and fix the problem we search on-line, learning about foods to eat or not eat, hormones that may or may not be out of whack, or 4 reasons why our workouts are making us fat, but in the end all of this is just a distraction from dealing with the real reason behind our weight gain.

After all, usually we’re googling ‘how do I lose fat’ instead of ‘how to I get my husband to stop being so mean’.

And that’s the kicker in all of this… the real reason ISN’T out of whack hormones, nor is it our body fat, nor is it the extra food we ate over the last couple months… yes all these things are important (sometimes very important) and they certainly add to the complexity of weight gain, but the REAL reason is the unresolved issue or feelings that we were trying to avoid by overeating in the first place.

Yes, we can absolutely lose weight without addressing these issues, but chances are that weight loss will be temporary… it might last months or even years, but without dealing with the true issue you will always be looking for a reason to avoid dealing with said issue.

While this all sounds dark and gloomy, remember that regardless of whether diet-induced weight loss can fix your true issue, it can, in a roundabout way, improve your ability to deal with those issues (so all is not lost).

A reoccurring theme in studying the long-term effects of weight loss include feelings of improved confidence and improve self-worth. And it also includes the feeling of accomplishment, and these things MAY help you deal with your other underlying issues.

In the end, the important take away from this post is that while many of us like to concentrate our attention on super sciency things like Lipase density in fat cells and how this affects weight loss, the truth is, weight loss is a multi-disciplinary, multi-factorial study – and until we accept that there is a giant human component to both weight loss and weight gain, we’re going to be stuck with an extremely low weight loss success rate.

There’s more to eating than just food. And there’s more to weight gain than just too much food.

So if you know someone who is struggling with their weight remember, yes they are gaining weight because they are eating more than they need to, but sometimes the reason they are eating more than they need to can be very complicated, personal, and possibly overwhelming.

The bottom line is not all weight gain is the same, and not all weight gain is caused by food.

(I hope I made myself clear concerning my use of the term *caused*)

BP

Why Carbs Make Us Fat

by Brad Pilon

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I can explain all the science you need to know about why carbs make you fat… And I will do it three words.

Ready? Here we go…

CARBS. ARE. AWESOME.

Seriously, this is the MAIN problem with carbohydrates. It’s why cutting carbs from you diet works.  It’s why paying attention to the amount of carbs you eat works and it’s why for the most part carbs ARE responsible for our obesity epidemic.

It is EASY to overeat when you are eating carbs. Heck, it’s not just easy, it’s fun. and it’s down right delicious.

There are roughly 3,000 calories in a 72 ounce steak. Now, I know some of you are thinking “72? why so small?” but for the rest of us humans, a 72 ounce steak is so big it’s gross… so imagine eating one 72 ounce steak EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Now Add some eggs for breakfast and maybe some veggies throughout the day and you have a non-carb diet that can probably make you gain a noticeable amount of fat after a couple months… but you have to eat an entire 72 ounce steak daily.

That’s not easy, nor is it convenient and I bet even the most meaty of meat eaters would get sick of that much beef within a week or two.

Now replace that daily 72 ounce steak with a bowl of cereal, a large frappuccino drink and a bagel, a sandwich and a large soda, an 8 ounce steak,  some mashed potatoes, a bun, another large soda and maybe a dessert and you have a very easy to eat 3,500 calories…

All foods that are easy to eat, easy to find, super convenient. Some you can eat on the run, in your car, or even while walking down the street.

When you’re on the road in your car and you need a quick snack so you pop into road side station… can you get some foods that are purely protein or fat? maybe you can find some jerky, but you can definitely get food that contains carbohydrates, the kind that you can eat out of a bag in your car… and you’ll pay a heck of a lot less for a bag full chips, pretzels or crackers then you would some sort of protein/fat meal.

Carbs are everywhere. They taste great, they can be crunchy or soft, thick or airy, chocolate or vanilla. They’re convenient, they’re easy to carry, they don’t need to be refrigerated but can taste great hot or frozen, They have a great shelf-life… really, they’re awesome. Heck, carbs can even make protein and fat taste better, and protein and fat make carbs taste better.

That’s why carbs make you fat. Forget the rest of the scientific theorizing and posturing… Some is right and some is wrong, but none of it is as important as the fact that carbs are awesome.

This is also the exact reason why watching your carb intake will most likely make you lose weight. As we’ve already discussed they are the MOST abundant, most convenient food type in our food supply, and the one that comes with the most variety of flavors…

This is why watching your carb intake makes sense. Without debating metabolic advantages, insulin/leptin levels, how are ancestors ate, their affect on our microbiota or any of those ‘love to debate’ kinds topics, we can see that monitoring carb intake makes sense because they are a part of the food we are most likely to overeat. In other words, generally speaking the less carbs you eat, the less food you eat (again, generally speaking).

To quote Epictetus again – “No man is free who is not a master of himself.”

Learn to occasionally say no to carbs-rich foods.  It’ll hurt (you know why) but that is what makes the practice of restraint exactly that… practice. You don’t ALWAYS have to say no, but the more you do, the easier it gets.

Make no mistake, I want you to eat carbs, I just don’t want you to overeat carbs, because I don’t want you to overeat ANYTHING.

BP

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meal Skipping

by Brad Pilon

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I’ve never really understood the concept of ‘meal skipping’.

To me, It’s a very funny way to describe ‘not eating’, since you’re not really skipping a meal if you weren’t planning on eating a meal in the first place. In fact, when you stop to think about it ‘meal skipping’ is what you call it when someone isn’t eating when YOU think they should be eating.

So essentially, what bugs people is that you are skipping one of THEIR meals. Weird.

A lot of the time ‘meal skipping’ is used as a derogatory way to describe some form of extended not-eating… like when you don’t eat during one of the major eating times. Only, if you think about it, the ENTIRE DAY is a major eating time – breakfast in the morning, which bleeds into lunch in the middle of the day, which bleeds into dinner in the evening.

Oddly enough, by being a person who uses ‘meal skipping’ in a derogatory manner (suggesting it’s bad for you) then they may also inadvertently be against eating when hungry. After all, if you are not hungry in the middle of day and therefore you decide not to eat, then you are effectively ‘meal skipping’.

This begs the question – If you’re going to be pro ‘eating when hungry’ then don’t you also have to be pro ‘not eating when you’re not hungry’??

Along the same lines, the idea of meal skipping being derogatory also means that meal size shouldn’t matter. According to this logic if I eat a giant 2,500 calorie breakfast at 8 AM and have a giant 2,500 calorie lunch at 2 PM, I should still eat dinner at 6 PM, even if I’m so full I feel sick. Because that’s when people eat dinner…

But that’s the kicker – Not everyone eats dinner at 6 PM. Most North Americans do… but many Europeans do not. In fact, there are millions of people who don’t eat dinner until 9 or even 10 at night… so did they all skip dinner?

In the end the derogatory use of ‘meal skipping’ is really a way of saying – “It’s not good for you to not eat at the times that I think you should be eating.”

…Nutrition- the play ground of the self-righteous icon wink Meal Skipping

I’ll cap off this rather muddled post with one of my favorite quotes from Epictetus that perfectly captures my thoughts on the concept of ‘meal skipping’ and the people who use the term ‘meal-skipping’ to put down the way other people choose to eat.

“Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.”

BP

Why can I eat carbs?

by Brad Pilon

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Yesterday I read another article that took the position of excess calories not CAUSING weight gain. Instead, the authors argued that somehow sick/diseased/altered body fat caused us to overeat, thus causing body fat. Their theory put the blame on insulin and carbs (excess insulin MAKES your fat sick).

While I have concerns over this line of thinking that I’ll share in a different post, the main question that swirled in my head was “If so many people have issues with eating carbohydrates, then why can I eat carbs?”

The easy answer to this question would be the ‘snowflake’ defense – That I’m a unique little snowflake, special in this world. I have some sort of rare unique ability to process carbohydrates…  But that’s not a probable answer.

I, like most of us, am average. Sure, we all have areas in life where we excel, but physiologically speaking I’m not gifted by any means, but I do eat carbs… lots of them. And not just the ‘healthy carbs’ either, I’m an indiscriminate carb eater.  Some of my carbs may be healthy, but others are pretzel balls covered in an absolutely perfect ratio of chocolate to hard-candy-shell that only the geniuses at M&M’s could perfect.

So then… Why can I eat carbs?

Am I impervious to gaining fat?

I was 45 pounds heavier in my twenties then I am now, and it was an extra 45 pounds of fat.  In fact, I spent my mid twenties hovering between 20-30 pounds heavier than I am now, and I gained that weight by overeating. Even now my weight sneaks up by a couple pounds whenever I go on vacation or just generally enter a period of ‘not caring’. So I am capable of gaining fat. I work at staying lean just like everyone else.

Is it my Genetics?

It’s a tough question to answer without actually doing genetic testing, but if I had to guess I’d say no, it’s not my genetics – My family is an excellent sub-section of the population, some skinny, some not so skinny, some diabetic, some celiacs, some tall, some short. Genetics plays a role for sure, but I doubt I won the genetic lottery.

Is it my diet?

Again, I doubt it. You can ask any fitness/nutrition professional who’s ever met me, and they’ll tell you I eat like a typical person. I don’t eat fast food very often, but I do eat bagels, white bread, nutella, pasta, M&Ms, peanut butter, muffins, M&Ms, fruits, veggies, ice cream, artificial sweeteners and most types of meat. I don’t eat massive amounts – but I do eat most of these items on an almost daily basis. So in terms of the actual foods I eat… there’s no magic. I do my best to eat responsible amounts, and like I said I’m not a big fast food person, but other than that – my diet is fairly typical.

Is it the fasting?

Maybe. I’ve been following Eat Stop Eat since 2006, almost 8 years of fasting once or twice per week is how I dropped my extra weight and it’s also how I kept it off. I’ll be the first to admit that this also means that once or twice per week I have no carbs at all (on the other days I just ate the way I normally eat). So it is plausible that my occasional fasting plays a role in my ability to eat carbs on a regular basis and not gain weight… But it also could simply be a matter of weekly total intake – since the fasting is what allows me to eat a little bit more on the days I’m not fasting…

Is it the exercise?

Even more likely. I’ve been lifting weights since I was 12. I enjoy weight training, and other than a few injuries and a couple experiments I did for this blog, I’ve never gone more than a week or two without working out. Other than building and maintaining muscle mass exercise also has a very potent affect on insulin levels and sensitivity. So it could be the exercise.

Is it the body weight?

Also Likely – I think I was 29 when I first started fasting – that’s when my weight moved back into the 170s and my body fat moved back to the 10-12% range. And it has been in this range for 8 years now. For most men a lot of damage occurs between the ages of 35 and 45. Obesity, diabetes, heart conditions – this tends to be the age where it all starts to set in. Perhaps I’ve coasted through the beginning of this age and am reaping the benefits. Who knows? It may all catch up with me in the next 3 years and by 40 I’ll be unable to eat carbs or gluten.

Am I just being Naive?

Maybe. Maybe I’m slowly poisoning myself. But truthfully, of the list of things I do that are slowly poisoning me, eating carbs probably doesn’t make the top ten list. I have the sleep patterns of a parent with young children, If I don’t smarten up my workouts are probably eventually going to take their toll and switch from building me up to tearing me down, I drink alcohol, I drink a lot of coffee, and I sit and type for living… all of which are probably greater evils than eating carbs.

The truth is, while there is no real way to tell the exact reason that I can eat carbs, my opinion is all of these factors contribute to my ability to eat the way I eat and look the way I look. I workout, I eat responsibly, I fast, and my genetics may have something to do with it…

In the end we come all the way back to the lifestyle answer. Being active, not eating too much and the occasional fast all combine to keep my body weight and muscle mass in check, and this allows me to eat carbohydrates in various forms and not get sick, gain weight, or otherwise destroy my health

BP

 

PS- Obviously I’m not the only person who can eat carbs and not get fat – there are millions upon millions of people in the world who are lean and who are NOT on some form of low carb diet… so the answer again points to lifestyle (at least in my eyes).

Fit vs Right

In the last couple of weeks I’ve spoken in-depth about the importance of focusing on what fits as opposed to focusing on what’s right.

In other words, paying attention to what works for you as opposed to the specific … Read More

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My college ‘Cheat-day’ Stories

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When I was in my twenties, I was a big fan of ‘cheat days’. Every Sunday my roommate and I would order twin large ‘meat lovers’ pizzas, and eat them while watching hockey.

We’d follow this up with ice cream … Read More

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Reverse Taper Intermittent Fasting

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The concept of the Reverse Taper Diets is still one of my favorite ideas.

Without getting too technical, the concept was that you should be in your largest calorie deficit (eating the least amount of food) at the beginning of … Read More

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Flat Belly Forever

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I’d like to introduce you to Flat Belly Forever.

It’s a new book, research conducted by me, that attempts to answer to the question:

 Why can two people in a controlled research study eat very close to the

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The Dangers of Metabolic Adaptation

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The concept of metabolic adaption is scary to me. Not because it’s right or wrong, but because it’s often prescribed to dieters without any examination.

People are told that if they have been dieting for a long period of … Read More

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