Mindset: The Forgotten Aspect of Training
Struggling sticking to your meal plan? Not sure whether or not the results you're seeing are normal? Wondering if you're training and eating correctly? Unsure if those around you in the gym have some inside secrets you don't know about?
If so, then this blog is designed for you!
When I started Iron Paradise Fitness, I wanted to do things differently to everyone else. I'm not your typical 'meathead' bodybuilder, throwing weights around, grunting and shouting my way through a workout. I think of myself as a normal guy that loves the gym and wants to share my knowledge on how to achieve the best results.
From the day I started my fitness journey, right through to the present day, I've always wanted to get a true insight into what my heroes and idols do on a daily basis with their diet and training.
Watching Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson fights with my father and brother, always made me want to rush out into the garage and bash seven bells out of the dirty, worn, tired looking punch bag that hung precariously from a mildly rotten beam in the ceiling.
More so than the fights themselves, I was drawn into the training aspect of the sport. I wanted to know what it really took to be a top level fighter. I would delve into any resource I could find to understand their training regimes and approach to diet.
I remember taking training tips from the Rocky movies, even going to the extreme of drinking raw eggs before a morning run around the village on a cold winter morning. Thankfully, I wouldn't see many people while I was out as the bodily fumes I emitted must've been horrendous.
I soon progressed my interest from boxing training to bodybuilding, idolising Arnold Schwarzenegger, like millions of others around the world. When I watched Pumping Iron for the first time, I was hooked, and I new that bodybuilding is what I wanted to do.
These days, I'm also a huge MMA fan and am amazed and inspired by the variations in training approaches that such a demanding sport brings.
However, despite numerous magazine articles, YouTube clips, and all of the content available through modern day media, I'm still left feeling that we don't get to truly understand the more human and emotional side of top level training and diet.
How do they feel with the reduced calories required during a cutting phase?
How do they deal with injury?
How do they deal with motivational issues?
I'm sure I'm not alone in this feeling and if you have the same thoughts as me and believe an extra level of advice and insight could make the difference in your training, then this blog series is for you.
Through the accumulation of experience over the years, dealing with all the trials and tribulations that dedication to bodybuilding brings, I believe I'm now in the position to be able to offer that advice. That insight into what it's like to go through various stages of training and how to deal with the ups and downs that come with it.
What I wanted to touch on this week is the subject of negativity and how the negative thoughts and doubts that creep into your mind can be turned into positives when you're in the gym.
The mental aspect of training, particularly bodybuilding is often overlooked. Probably because is not seen to be manly to think consciously about emotions. Surely it's just a case of getting in the gym and throwing some weight around?
Whether their gym related or not, negative experiences and thoughts are part of our daily lives. It might be your boss at work causing you stress, family problems, or something as simple as one off workout.
The important thing is knowing how to deal with these instances and not let them effect you. In this article, I'll be talking you through how I've been overcoming some setbacks in my training and how I generally use negative energy to my advantage.
This week was originally designed to be the last week of my 12 week cut.
About 4 months ago, I set myself a goal of getting in the best shape of my life by the 1st August. I wanted to exceed the great results I'd seen last year, where I reached around 82.5kg and 8.6% body fat.
This time around, I would have the benefit of a full bulk cycle, and an uninterrupted spring/summer cut, so my spirits and aspirations were high. In my head, I had set a target of getting under 8% body fat and increasing muscle mass by 4-5kg.
In reality, I knew this would be a tough ask. My training last year benefited from a significant amount of muscle memory, with my body reacting really well to the new training regime, heavy weight training, and high intensity workouts, following a 4 year lay off.
As a natural bodybuilder, muscle gains will always become smaller and smaller every year. And as I'm never going to be a guy to put my health at risk in the pursuit of vanity, I'm happy to see any form of progress and more importantly, I want to enjoy the process along the way.
So, where did I start the week?
Monday started out at 82.9kg. At the moment I have been estimating my body fat, based on how I look in the mirror and comparing it to a body fat comparison chart that I've pasted below. The reason for that is measuring body fat is drought with error. To be honest, I could write a whole article on measuring body fat, but I'll leave that for another day. Basically, until I get to single figure body fat percentages, I go by eye. After that I use calipers.
Against this chart, I estimate to be dipping just under 10% body fat.
I should be super happy with that, right?
Every time I look in the mirror, whether it be first thing in the morning or at the gym, I fluctuate between being happy with where I've got so far and frustrated that the process hasn't happened quicker.
I'm sure you've been in the same position. At home, under the not so great lighting you feel flat and a bit flabby. But once you hit the gym, the right lighting really shows off your physique to the full. Highlighting the definition you've been sculpting after all those hard hours in the gym.
This picture of me from my arm session shows what I mean.
Seeing this type of picture is pure motivation for me. I compare it to similar pictures and the transformation is really satisfying. The definition looks great and the muscle bellies look full.
I always recommend regularly chronicling your progress with pictures, whether it's during a bulk, cut, or a maintenance phase. Sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees and you get stuck in the moment, forgetting just how far you've come. Take the time to remind yourself of the changes YOU'VE made happen. It'll give your motivation that kick we all need from time to time.
This week, Monday started out with back day. I've been making a conscious effort in recent weeks to avoid International Chest Day at the start of the week. I'm a man of routine and regularity, so the fight and stress for a bench and the right weight, is a stress I want to avoid. Focusing on a body part, other than chest, usually means I can stay in my own little world and channel all my energy into training.
I've been suffering with sciatica in recent months, which has really limited my lower back training. Deadlifts is a staple exercise that I get all my clients to incorporate in their routines and it's always been one of my favourites. I'm genuinely missing shifting that big heavy weight off the floor. Oddly, I love the eye-popping strain that comes with one of the most basic, yet challenging lifts you can do in the gym.
Missing out on this key exercise has let some doubt creep into my mind about the level of back development I'm getting. I feel paranoid that my lower back and overall muscle density isn't as good as it should be. Couple that with the constant, intense pain of the trapped nerve, and back day could have become a bit of a nightmare.
To combat those negative thoughts and in the absence of the deadlift, I've looked at back day as an opportunity to target some areas that have been slightly lagging behind. This has meant incorporating more heavy rowing, utilising different grip positions and angles to stimulate growth, both in terms of width and thickness. I start with traditional barbell rows as they've always been commonplace in my routine, then move on to t-bar rows, and then one-arm dumbbell rows to hit the back from different angles.
This has worked really well, and as I've progressed through my cut, I've been keen to bring out some of the detail in my muscles, particularly as the body fat starts to come down and the finer elements of my physique become visible.
While my back continues to rehabilitate I've taken the opportunity to include one isolation exercise, and move the rep range away from 4-6 reps to 8-10 reps.
The higher rep range lends itself better to isolation exercises, so that you can lift enough weight with good form. These exercise choices are allowing me to target the finer aspects of my physique, keeping my motivation high for the weeks ahead.
Aside from consistently reminding myself of progress, and looking for training opportunities during setbacks, I have a general approach to dealing with negative thoughts that I've learned from two books.
Both of these books are fantastic reads with some great ideas on how to control your thoughts, particularly the wild and negative ones. At some point in the future, I'll do a full review of both books. In the meantime, I highly recommend you grab a copy of both of them.
The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters
Steve Peters uses the analogy of an inner chimp to characterise the wild and primeval aspects of the mind. He's philosophies and techniques have been widely used in professional sport, including top level cycling.
If it works for them, then there's no reason in my mind that the same ideas can't work in the fitness environment.
Reading through the book, Steve will take you on the journey of goal setting and help you really focus in on what's important to you and most importantly how to get there. The use of the chimp to categorise the negative and rash aspects of your mind, makes the concepts easier to understand and easy to relate to your own experiences.
Read this book and I'll guarantee it'll open up new aspects to your training and gains that you never thought possible.
Control your inner chimp and succeed.
The Gorilla Mindset by Mike Cernovich
In the gym, I use the Gorilla Mindset notion of being engaged in the moment.
How often do you pick up a weight and push out some reps, without really engaging with what your doing? The Gorilla Mindset teaches you to focus the mind before an activity, take note of your surroundings, and visualise what you're about to do.
Feel the notches in the barbell as you wrap your hands around it and channel your negative thoughts from the outside world into the balled up aggression you'll need to drive out that extra rep.
One of my recent Instagram posts sums up how I use the theories within the Gorilla Mindset to help my training.
"No matter what's going on in life, there's something primitive and pure about pushing, pulling, and curling some heavy weights.
With your headphones on, you enter a satisfying world of quiet reflection and self inflicted pain.
Staring in the mirror before gripping the bar, your mind wanders, often stopping to remind you of the more negative thoughts in the dark recesses of your brain.
It's these negative thoughts that you use as the fuel to push you muscles that bit further.
With every stretch and bend of every sinew and fibre, you rid yourself of that negative energy.
At the end of your 60 minutes in the gym, you feel alive. Refreshed. Ready to face the world head on!"
People ask why I go to the gym almost every day. The answer is simple, "it's cheaper than therapy!"
Ultimately, negativity and doubt is a fact of life. Everybody has to deal with it, but it's how you deal with it that ultimately matters.
See the opportunity in your setbacks, be in the moment, and use your negative energy to your advantage and don't let it consume you. Hitting the gym is a great way of doing this, so make the most of it. After all, to keep improving you need to make progress. That doesn't have to be huge leaps every day.
Progress is really just one more rep away.