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Suck It Up! : The Science Behind Peak Physical Performance

Suck it up Princess!” – Randy Couture

The human body is the most remarkable machine ever made. It is capable of incredible feats of strength and endurance, is remarkably resilient, and is adaptable to almost any climate and condition. The body of the human is far more adaptable and resilient than that of any other animal because of the mind’s incredible capacity to receive feedback from the body and make decisions on how to respond. What makes this amazing machine so adaptable is the mind body connection and our ability to decide whether to continue or not. While we all may not be able to become ultramarathon runners, climb Mount Everest, or even complete a 10K, we are all capable of far more than we believe.

Here are some examples of the upper limits of human endurance:

⦁ Rainer Predl, an ultra-marathoner from Austria, came up with an incredibly special challenge. He resolved to break the record of the highest mileage on a treadmill within a 7 day period. With 853.46 km, he managed to set a new world record. Predl ran 168 hours during that week while making do with just 15 hours of sleep. And, in case you’re wondering, that’s over 530 miles!
⦁ A special form of ultra marathon is the 24-hour run where participants run as far as possible in a 24 hour period The male world record is 188.6 miles, set by Yiannis Kouros. Mami Kudo holds the female record of 156.7. The mileage is accumulated by running consecutive laps over a flat, three quarters of a mile course.
⦁ Dennis Kimetto of Kenya was the first to beat the 2:03 hours, finishing the 26.2 mile Berlin Marathon in 2:02:57 hours. This breaks down to over 26 consecutive miles of just over forward a half minutes each!
⦁ Wim Hof, a Dutch endurance athlete who is commonly referred to as “The Iceman,” completed a 26.2 mile marathon north of the Arctic circle wearing nothing but a pair of sandals and gym shorts. He’s also climbed 19,000 foot Mount Kilimanjaro in less than two days while wearing gym shorts as well as completing a full marathon in the Namib Desert-without any liquids.

Scientists have studied what separates these endurance athletes from their athletic peers as well as the rest of us mere mortals. What makes them different is not just their physiology, but the way that they process physical discomfort. They innately know that fatigue is a mental perception way before it becomes physical.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”-Vince Lombardi

The human body is designed to survive. Fatigue, at least in its initial stages, is a warning that things might get worse and that continued effort could result in damage to the body. It allows doubt to enter the mind, is accompanied by negative self talk and and an “I can’t do this” mindset which results in a person quitting prematurely. It serves a protective purpose and the act of quitting at that point in time insures that the physical body will be protected from damage. Simply put, we get scared because it hurts, so we quit. The body usually quickly recovers and a second layer of doubt sets in. We begin to question our decision to quit in a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” manner which is usually accompanied by a layer of regret.

Athletes that are able to push through the fatigue are usually no more physically capable than those that they defeat. Athletes and coaches marvel at their ability to “suck it up” and push through this fatigue barrier. Athletics is full of folklore and clichés such as, “victory will go to the athlete who wants it the most,” you quit too soon because “you didn’t want it badly enough,” or that you didn’t have the “will to win.” These criticisms are an oversimplification of what is really going on. Athletes that have this ability to push on instinctively process feedback from the body differently than those who give up too soon. While preparation in talent are undoubtedly a prerequisite for success, there are things the rest of us need to know in order to get to that next level.

Knowing how your brain works when faced with fatigue that is interpreted as a threat to its survival is one of the first things to understand. The central governor theory is a proposed process in the brain that regulates exercise in regard to a neurally calculated safe exertion by the body. In particular, physical activity is controlled so that its intensity cannot threaten the body’s homeostasis by causing anoxic damage to the heart muscle. This process effects athletes on all levels from elite Olympians to weekend warriors. It is how the athlete interprets these sensations that makes the difference, assuming that the athlete has done the proper preparation and is physically fit. It is when proper preparation and proper mindset merge that peak performances will occur.

An experiment done in Great Britain with college rugby players illustrates the point. The athletes were riding a stationary bikes and were told to maintain a certain RPM output. When they were active perceive limit of exertion, they were encouraged to pump it up a bit for five more seconds, “just five more seconds.” They were told that after those five seconds they would get a slight break. Every athlete was able to increase their RPM output by at least 40%, despite the fact that they believed that they were already at their limit. Their logic became “I can push harder for just five more seconds.” This is something that a recreational athlete in a spinning class knows. When complicated tasks are broken down to minute periods of time, the human body is capable of much more than mere perception. If you have ever been an athlete in training, had a personal trainer, or even participated in a formal exercise class now and then, you’ve probably had this experience. A coach encourages you to “push” a little harder for a small period of time. You dug down and found a little more effort than you thought you had. Why? This is a small example of how the human body is capable of more than perceived effort.

Naturally, before one pushes themselves to these levels they have to be in good condition first place. Pushing an out of shape athlete to this level of exertion is potentially fatal. However, if you know that you have prepared yourself physically, then practicing this during workouts now and again can increase your mental toughness and extend your physical capabilities. In a solo sport such as running, weight lifting, or a combat sport an athlete must do this himself. In a team sport like football, there may be a motivated team mate that elevates everyone’s game. As athletes, we’ve all witnessed this and even experienced it firsthand. We often forget times when we’ve had more in the tank than we thought. Train with this in mind and you will find an ability to replicate this experience over and over in your day to day training. Over time, the work you put in will be far more fruitful if you train with this in mind.

When feeling discomfort while working through perceived exertion, try to get specific about what you are feeling. For example, hunger is a different perception than thirst, pain is different from fatigue, and being out of breath is different than exhaustion. Asking yourself “what exactly am I feeling?” and pushing on can enable you to ignore and potentially misinterpret a physiological signal that may cause you to quit prematurely. Under extreme physical exertion, the mind becomes confused and this confusion can trick our bodies into quitting before we really need to. These sensations are often temporary and if a person breaks it down into small and manageable inputs, they’re often capable of much more and, in some cases, able to push right through it. Getting a “second wind” is not a myth. Training with this in mind, no matter what you are training for, will greatly increase your capabilities and your results.

Here’s how you can teach yourself to “Suck It Up”:

Make damn sure you are physically fit enough. Training in this manner is an acquired capability. Sucking it up is only possible if an athlete has done basic training diligently.
Learn to distinguish the difference between pain and exertion. Many athletes talk about the difference between “good pain” coming from exertion and “bad pain” which comes from injury. There is definitely a difference. Learn to identify in your training.
Master your self talk when things get tough. What do you say to yourself on a regular basis when working out? Are you usually positive, or negative? Use your internal dialogue to motivate yourself, making that internal critic a positive internal coach. Talk to yourself with the intention of pumping yourself up, rather than psyching yourself out.
Train to control your breathing. Breath control is one of the most critical components to alleviating panic, mental overwhelm, and physical fatigue. Breathing deeply from your abdomen can enable you to take in much more oxygen, allowing your muscles greater movement.
Train to control muscle tension. Learn which muscles are required in the performance of your sport or physical activity. For example, if you are a sprinter tensing up your shoulders and neck is counterproductive to developing speed. If you are boxing or hitting a heavy bag, a tight fist is only necessary at the moment of impact. Too much tension in areas that are not required will wear you out very quickly. Study your physical activity with the intention of becoming more efficient with your motion.
Break things down when you are training. Telling yourself things like “three more reps,” “just one more lap,” or “10 seconds,” during training conditions you to push through sticking points and when done consistently makes you far more mentally tough.
Do a little research about the nutritional requirements of your sport or activity. Make sure that you are properly hydrated and fueled before you try to suck it up in your training. There’s a lot of solid research on this available on the Internet, but there’s also a lot of BS out there as well. Choose your sources wise.

There’s always been a controversy as to whether or not athletics and physical training are character building. While that’s a debate for another time, I think you can see the benefit of being able to push yourself physically and mentally in your everyday life. Stop admiring RandywTowerthose athletes who have this mystical ability to “suck it up” and become one yourself.

“Well Princess, what are you waiting for?”-Randy Couture

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Zen Of Being Sedentary

“Mind your actions, as they become you.”-Buddha

In the year 2015, the IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report released statistics on health club memberships in the United States. The statistics, at least on the surface, are quite Couchencouraging. Here are their findings:
⦁ 52.9 million Americans over the age of six have gym or health club memberships.
⦁ 23.2 million Americans are referred to as “core” members, utilizing these facilities at least 100 times per year.
⦁ 43% of these gym members utilize group exercise classes.
⦁ There are 8 million personal trainers in the United States.

These statistics should be encouraging. From a percentage standpoint, that’s lots of people claiming to be gym members.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”-Benjamin Disraeli

Yes, the statistics are encouraging, yet why does it seem that there are more overweight, hunched over, depressed, and lethargic Americans than we ever had before? Why are millennial’s projected to be the first generation of Americans that will not outlive their parents? What’s really going on, if so many of us are engaging in formal exercise? With so many conspiracy theories circulating American popular culture, surely there must be some insidious forces at work, some agents of evil sabotaging the earnest efforts of hard-working Americans. Like a lot of conspiracy theories, the devil is in the details.

ScaleMost of us are aware of the impact of poor diet on our exercise programs. All that effort in the gym, hoisting heavy iron dumbbells and barbells, can be wiped out by a 3 ounce spoon of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream quite quickly. And, those “core” gym members who utilize the gym 100 times per year often will engage the gyms services daily from January 1 to the end of February, dropping off to a couple of times a month for the rest of the year. “Something came up,” “too busy,” or “I just don’t have enough time,” become the stories that a person tells themselves. “I’m going back next week,” becomes the excuse to keep that Planet Fitness membership card on your key ring. It looks cool, kind of a status symbol, and serves as visible proof that you will go back “next week.”

The biggest conspiracy is the relationship between human nature and the convenience offered by the modern lifestyle. Many of those “core” gym members do, in fact, put in a lot of hard work in the gym. An hour per day, three days per week, is certainly a sufficient amount of time put in to keep in great shape… isn’t it? Well the answer is, like a lot of things Zen, maybe…

The reality is that there are 168 hours in a week. Our hard-working gym member utilizes 3 of those hours in hard and purpose driven exercise. They may have the greatest program available, an enthusiastic and inspiring personal trainer, and a 20,000 square foot gym filled with the latest equipment to motivate them. The problem is not with their effort, but with how they spend the other 165 hours during the week. The devil that lies in the details here is not effort, enthusiasm, or even willpower. It’s a lifestyle where sitting in chairs, working at sedentary jobs 40+ hours per week, and spending five hours per day hunched over in active cell phone addiction can sabotage these efforts.

If you ask a typical person who exercises whether or not they are sedentary, they are likely to tell you with a mixture of indignation and pride, that they certainly are not. They are likely to follow it with, “I go to the gym three times a week,” or some other impressive and true statement that validates the hard work that they know they put in. It’s frustrating to many people who put in the effort that they don’t look or feel all the positive benefits of their hard work.

Statistically, a sedentary lifestyle is defines as one where a person is sitting 5 to 6 hours per day or more. While there are no statistics on how many Americans are doing this, it’s safe to say that it is probably a lot more than those who claim that they are bona fide gym members. It’s also safe to say that many of these hard-working gym rats have jobs and a lifestyle that is sabotaging their best efforts. If you throw “Screen Time” – the amount of time a person spends watching television or hunched over a computer or iPhone into the mix, and you got a lot of well-intentioned people living an out of balance lifestyle.

The human body is a remarkably adaptive, ever-changing organism that modifies its shape to the activities that it does habitually. There is a reason that the village blacksmith had that huge right arm, distance runners have lean, sinewy legs, and that hard-working person at the gym has poor posture, sloped shoulders, and an out of proportion butt. Relatively speaking, we tend to physically turn into the activities that we engage in most of the time. Since most of us don’t have the luxury of quitting our job and moving to Alaska to live the reality TV lifestyle, or the ability to distance ourselves from the social obligations of hanging out with our families, there has to be some kind of solution.

“Be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Many philosophical traditions look at human development as a process of constantly becoming. Life is a process of growth, change, and development-whether we are conscious of it or not we are in a constant state of change and adaptation. The direction of our change is determined by those things that we believe, think, and do. We literally become what we do. In no area of human development does this happen more definitively and subtly than in our activities. We don’t think of being sedentary as an activity, but nothing could be farther than the truth. Our bodies conform and ultimately take their shape from the activities that we engage in most often. That poor posture, protruding abdomen, and the accompanying physical problems are the result of our sedentary lifestyle. While the physical toll that this takes is quite obvious, the mental health impact is equally as profound.

Most sedentary positions result in the body turning in on itself. Sitting in that Lazy Boy recliner night after night eventually results in a body that is hunched forward in the shoulders, internal organs that are condensed into the lower abdominal region, and a development of a disempowering posture. This posture, if carried into your daily activity, sends a message to your mind that says “I am weak and powerless.” This feeling is reflected in all areas of your mental and physical life. The sedentary lifestyle causes attitudinal changes which result in a person feeling that their get up and go is gone. Expecting that hour of exercise you get each day to offset the 23 hours of inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle is expecting too much.

What’s the antidote? What can the dedicated fitness enthusiast do to offset the debilitating impact of the inescapable sedentary lifestyle? The answer is to take a break:

Throughout the day, be cognizant of how much time you are spending being sedentary. For each hour that you sit take a five-minute movement break. The movement can be nonspecific – such as moving your arms, rotating your neck, stretching your spine, or it workcan be formal-engaging in a routine of stretching, chair yoga, or brief walking. Anything that gets you moving and loosens up your spine, shoulders, and hamstrings will be very beneficial.
If possible, lay on your back with your knees elevated some time during the sedentary period of your day. This flattens out your upper and lower back without putting undue stress on either. Research indicates that knee and back orthopedic issues are virtually nonexistent in cultures where people toilet and sleep on the floor. People in these cultures have more knee and hip flexibility and better balance in old age. Certainly, don’t give up that American Standard flush toilet or that memory foam mattress, but I think you get the idea.
When you do those formal workouts, try to do activities where you are moving your body through space rather than merely sitting on weight machines or recumbant bikes. Reading on the treadmill or any other cardiovascular equipment is a waste of your valuable exercise time. When working out, emphasize the working!
Constantly remind yourself, both on days when you have a formal work out and those in which you don’t, to engage in both specific and nonspecific movement throughout the day. Remember to ask yourself, “What are you doing for the other 23 hours?” This will help you to not sabotage the hard efforts that you put in at the gym.
Consider giving up your gym membership in order to work out without equipment. I know this sounds like heresy, but here’s the logic. Nineteenth century Americans were far more fit and vigorous than those of us in the 21st century. They didn’t live as long, not because they weren’t healthy, but because they didn’t have the luxury of modern medicine to prevent them from succumbing to catastrophic illnesses. The combination of an old-school attitude towards exercise and a life, combined with 21st century medical advances, could be the secret to a triple digit life expectancy. There are hundreds of workouts that a person can do with minimal equipment using body weight, household items, and equipment where your body uses its own kinesthetic senses to balance, work, and create resistance. If you have cable television, there is probably an exercise channel that could get you going in the right direction.
Consciously work on your posture. Working the rotator cuff muscles, upper back, core and abdominal muscles is imperative. A strong, flexible back and a tight abdomen are not vanity. There were necessity for health, longevity, and a vigorous lifestyle.
Have a formal exercise regimen that you adhere to. Work hard during that “sacred time” that you dedicate to this routine. Just don’t forget “What are you doing for the other 23 hours?” Remember, your body will shape itself to the activities you engage in most often. Sit in the chair, you become the chair.

Business man flying through the air kicking.Keep in mind that, in 2016, it’s virtually impossible not to become a victim of the Zen of being sedentary. We ultimately become the things that we do most often. This applies to all aspects of our behavior, the shaping of our character, and is a primary factor in our physical development. We are in a state of constant growth that develops in accordance with our actions. Life is a state of constantly becoming. Be a little more mindful of what you are becoming physically as well.

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Confirmation Bias : How To Avoid Those Uncomfortable Political Arguments

“How can I be sure in a world that’s constantly changing? How can I be sure?”-Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, The Young Rascals

This year is developing to be one of the most controversial political years of the past fifty. Americans are trying to select a president, political alliances are changing, gender roles are being redefined, the nature of social relationships are different than ever before, and BBWthe ways that humans interact are all in a state of flux. There is a ton of objective research out there on every topic in existence to be studied, processed, pondered, and considered before one makes an opinion on anything. It seems that virtually no one ever changes their mind once it’s made up. People are arguing with each other, ending long-lasting friendships, and I’m sure that more than a few family gatherings have gone silent when politics is introduced to the conversation. Misleading statistics, false accusations, and out of context conversations pervade the popular media, leaving us all in the dark about what’s really going on. Despite this misinformation, everyone seems to have an opinion that they are convinced of, drinking the Kool-Aid because of something that they read online or saw on TV. And, once convinced of that “truth” no one seems to ever change their mind or reconsider an opinion.

The human animal does not do well with uncertainty. This is an evolutionary trait, dating back to the time when humans had to make quick and decisive decisions in order to survive. Once primitive tribal culture made a decision, it was usually too late to go back. Decisions had to be made quickly and decisively, it was literally a matter of life or death. Over 200,000 years later, most of us still make important political decisions using this primitive tribal logic. “Here’s what I believe, now I have to find the facts to support it.”

“Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.”-Wikipedia

Cognitive and social sciences have studied confirmation bias since the 1960s. It occurs when a person has a long held belief that is usually accompanied with some emotional attachment. The stronger the emotional attachment, the more that a person becomes convinced of the belief. When challenged, rather than reconsidering the veracity of that belief, a person frantically searches for something that confirms it, rather than challenge it. If a person can quote or recall some out of context conversation, statistic or soundbite, then they can move on to other things, feeling secure that they are on the right side, have made an intelligent decision, and generally end up feeling pretty good about themselves and their beliefs. In many cases, confirmation bias is pretty harmless. In 2016, not so much. Pay attention to how many emotional arguments, political discussions gone bad, and friendships that are impacted this year. My hunch is that you won’t not to have to wait very long. We all know how it plays out. You’re at a social gathering, and some controversial idea such as politics or religion comes up. Two people, who would otherwise be friendly and respectful of each other, have different views. There is a brief, yet sharp, disagreement followed by a long and awkward silence as both realize what’s happening but just can’t stop themselves. Someone else will invariably break in to interrupt by changing subject. Interactions progress from there, but awkwardness will linger and perhaps ruin what otherwise could have been a great time for a lot of people who have a shared social history.

Confirmation bias has always existed, but it’s never been so easy to fall into. Before the Internet, social media, and 24 hour news stations, it was the exclusive domain of the intelligent, learned, and the philosopher. Through most of man’s history, confirmation biases held by a handful of political leaders led to war, misdirected efforts of whole civilizations, and mass executions. Even some well-known and respected historical figures were aware of it:

“For it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.” -Thucydides, discussing The Peloponnesian War

“Opinion—hasty—often can incline to the wrong side, and then affection for one’s own opinion binds, confines the mind.”-Thomas Aquinas

“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion … draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects.”-Francis Bacon

When considering the seductive nature of confirmation bias, be sure to consider your own coupletendencies. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that this is something everybody does. It helps us rationalize long-held beliefs that range from complexities such as religion and the meaning of life, to what the best kind of diet for weight loss is, or what is the best form of exercise. Be careful what logic you apply to that person that you’re bound to encounter that holds a vastly different opinion than your own. Don’t be so quick to end a friendship or important relationship because of their view on the best candidate for the presidency, whether or not Great Britain should leave the European Union, or what their views on religion are. There used to be a saying that, in social situations, to “never discuss politics or religion.” Since that isn’t likely to happen, take an emotional step back when you find yourself, or someone else, in one of those awkward arguments that will inevitably flareup. If Thucydides, Thomas Aquinas, and Francis Bacon were subject to this all too human tendency, we’re all at risk, including your crazy uncle or your spouse’s best friend.

If you face confirmation bias this weekend, at work, or in conversation follow this three-step process:

⦁    Recognize it. If you understand what confirmation bias is, you may have that “ah ha” moment. “Here it is, confirmation bias.” Observe it as if it is some lake that you don’t have to jump into.
⦁    Accept it. Suddenly, it morphs from a heated and emotionally charged argument to a natural way that human beings process complicated and emotionally charged events. Remember, no one is ever going to change a strongly held political opinion because of something that you’ve posted on Facebook. Deal with it.
⦁    Let it go. By remaining focused on the relationship that you have with what you Boxingperceive to be a misguided and misinformed individual, you are avoiding the trap of your own biases. The winds of political and social change are likely to blow in a different direction soon enough. Allowing others to have their opinions, even if you think they are incorrect, is the healthiest for your sanity and sense of connectedness.

Confirmation bias has had a major influence in the areas of politics, religion, health, science, finances, and human history, often with dire consequences. Adopt a “wait and see” attitude in your personal life and in social situations.

It’s an election year, and you know it’s going to happen.

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”- Plato

Smart guy that Plato!

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

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