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Is Your Life Short Cutting Your Results?

Signals. It’s all about signals. So much about signals that hinging training principles on new age research is more and more of a scapegoat. (This is a conversation for another day though.) Most everything filters to this simple question: “What signals is this sending my body, and how will my body adapt in the best possible way for survival?”

The secret sauce to physique is physiology. We want a physiology that’s prone to build muscle and stave off fat gain. Create a physiology that does that and you win. It’s that simple.

So we have this philosophy that hinges on this: What does my lifestyle—what I think, how I act, how I train, how I eat, how I walk in the world—do for my physiology? What “hints” are being extracted from the lifestyle I live?

These “hints” cause adaptation. You can hint that you need muscle. Or hint that body fat won’t fly with you.

If a hint is perceived as an immediate need—something that threatens immediate survival—everything else is put on hold to a certain degree.

Building muscle and losing fat aren’t really “immediate” needs. The under-the-bar mobilization—the heightened arousal and nervous system activation—is immediate. But the actual process of building muscle and losing fat aren’t.

You don’t lift weights, eat a steak, and synthesize one pound of muscle one day later. Both of these things happen based upon the overall “tone” your physiology takes. It’s an undercover process.

If your “tone” is primed for muscle building the majority of the day, you’ll build muscle. Same can be said for fat loss. Simultaneously gaining muscle and losing fat? Then you have to create “hours or operation” for each tone every day, and then take advantage of those windows.

So ask yourself: what kind of “tone” does your physiology have most of the day?

If you want the kind of “tone” that’s going to build muscle or lose fat, eliminate the stuff the body perceives as immediate threats. Because these perceived threats go against the kind of resting tone you need for most performance and physique endeavors. Your body won’t care about muscle or fat loss if it something else is “more important.” “More important” idea is code for negative stress and stressful situations. Avoid them. Better yet, find a positive way to deal with them.

Stop worrying about traffic. Stop being so self conscious. Stop worrying about if whether or not your routine is perfect. Or if your diet is perfect. (If you’re one of those that does either of these last two, be sure to check out the bottom of this blog post.) These things jack up your heart rate and distract your physiology from the ultimate goal.

The opposite of a stressed out physiology is a serene physiology. And I dare describe a serene physiology as  a “healthy” physiology. Here are my five components to create a serene physiology:

  • Living primarily stress free.
  • Living a life full of camaraderie with friends and family.
  • Eating good foods 90% of the time.
  • Creating a sense of belonging by doing meaningful work and taking care of others.
  • Training and resting in the right balance.

So on one end there’s stress. The other, serenity. A stressful physiology is full of distractions. These distractions slow down whatever it is you have programmed to happen. A serene physiology is distractionless. Whatever you program via training and nutrition happens with less hiccups.

Training regularly and eating right sends an initial signal — it’s like dropping the chip on a Plinko board. The tone of your physiology is the board itself.

Got a stressful physiology? Then you have more interruptions on the board — more little pegs sticking out to disrupt your chip.

Got a serene physiology? Then you have less interruptions. Your chip reaches the end faster and with less hassle.

I see a lot of big guys talking about the importance of sleeping and napping. I want to say it’s because napping and sleeping provides an optimal “tone” for their physique goals. There’s nothing perceived as “more important” when you’re asleep — there aren’t any pegs on the Plinko board. Your body can chug away and follow through with the programmed plans created by training and eating right.

There’s also a lot of talk about how great athletes have a “parasympathetic tone,” otherwise known as being “parasympathetic dominant.” The parasympathetic branch of the nervous system is responsible for resting and relaxation. So great athletes are naturally more relaxed. (Unless they’re competing.) I wrote more about this in 12 Tips to Tune the Nervous System. So I think there’s something to be said about setting a good physiological tone.

I’m going to say you kinda already know what’s good given your goals. You know natural food is better than processed food. You know that meaningful barbell and bodyweight exercises are better than just about everything else. You know that you need sleep. You know stress is bad. You might not know the fine details that provide the 1-UP, but you know enough to turn on the game and play. It’s not complicated or scientific stuff. It’s been around since the early 1900’s.

But are you sending the right signals? Are you dropping the right hints? Are your priming your physiology? Are you nudging things in the right direction?

Probably not.

Or, at least, probably not as good as you could.

So take care of yourself to take care of your body.

Maintain genuine relationships with good friends and family. Read books and relax. Eat good food. Train hard. Appreciate beauty. Breathe clean air. Love yourself. Stop lying. Live a bigger, better life. One that makes you happy. One that makes you tick. One that adds to who you are. Not one that subtracts from what you could be.

It may very well be what you’re missing.

For everything you want in life, there is a price you must pay, in full and in advance. Decide what you really want and then determine the price you’ll have to pay to achieve it. Remember, to achieve something you’ve never achieved before — you must do something you have never done before. You must become someone who you have never been before. Whatever you want you’ll have to pay a price measured in terms of: sacrifice, time, effort and personal discipline. Decide what it is and start paying that price today.

This non-glamorous, yet essential, stuff is what The Skinny-Fat Solution is founded upon. The Skinny-Fat Solution is the resource I’ve been working hard on that delves deep into skinny-fat syndrome and how to break free from its chains.

The Skinny-Fat Solution has things you’d expect: a strength training manual (even a bodyweight strength training manual), a nutrition guide, and general best practices for training.

But there’s more. Because fixing skinny-fat syndrome — and reaching any physique goal — is more than just a training program. It’s also about how you carry yourself, approach life, and make use of your down time. And this is something I’ve been saying as far back as Solutions for the Skinny-Fat Ectomorph, Part I.

So while we are on the topic, I’ll remind you that this could be your last chance to snag a potential charter member spot for The Skinny-Fat Solution. As a charter member, you get coolio coaching videos, hyooge discounts, and access to a private coaching group.

Use the form below to sign-up. You’ll be notified when your charter membership chance arises. It always feels better on the inside.

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photo credit: Elliott P

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Despite 500+ comments on some entries, I’ve shut down the comments system. Comments prior to the switch are archived below. But I still love hearing from you. I send my letters from my personal inbox. You can reply to them and ask me anything.

  1. Anthony, great post.

    All of those “fight or flight” signals we send our bodies every day (I’m guilty of it while shuttling my boys to school and sitting in traffic on the way to work) don’t do anything to help us reach our goals.

    It’s all 100% true, and needs to be said. Yet I can’t think of any other post I’ve read anywhere recently that talks about the way our stresses effect our physiology.

    The analogy you use here is awesome:

    “Training regularly and eating right sends an initial signal — it’s like dropping the chip on a Plinko board. The tone of your physiology is the board itself.

    Got a stressful physiology? Then you have more interruptions on the board — more little pegs sticking out to disrupt your chip.

    Got a serene physiology? Then you have less interruptions. Your chip reaches the end faster and with less hassle.”

    Well done, my good sir!


    1. Thanks Ben. Mucho appreciated.

  2. Well, if anything was missing to make your resource something to expect, you´d just added it.

    1. Not quite sure I understand.

  3. 5 stars article Anthony, it’s probably the most important and most simple thing to do, yet almost no one does it, it’s so easy to get caught up in so many things and forget the essential, simply to be happy.

    1. Thanks Helder.

  4. Great stuff; I like telling people “Doing it right most of the time is fine. We’re just human and we only live once.” That’s why I’m such a huge proponent of a “no rules cheat day.” You just need to relax and forget about it all.

    The problem I have is I like to read a lot about fitness, which is awful because what I read today contradicts what I read yesterday and I’m sure tomorrow’s reading is going to tell me Santa isn’t real or my mom was the one putting the money under my pillow or something.

    1. Just have some stones. I love reading too. Nothing wrong with experimenting here and there as long as you keep your stones. Pebbles can come and go. And if you like a pebble a lot, grow it into a stone.

  5. Wow. The most epic post I’ve read pretty much anywhere. So, so good. Thanks Anthony

    1. Thanks for the kind words Bobby.

  6. Nice piece, Anthony. Gironda once told me the “tranquil mind” was the greatest hypertrophy tool and that most champions he knew had that ability to be calm, for the most part. I think Vince would have liked you (and he liked few trainers from what I saw).

    Question: you have said, and shown, that you became heavier and leaner, even as you got “weaker” in your big lifts. We know high frequency/high volume is behind that for training. But can you talk in detail about the dietary approach that was done during that time where you got heavier yet leaner? Thanks.

    1. Well, I’m not sure I got weaker, I just stopped caring about strength levels. I probably got a bit weaker as my body shifted away from the nervous adaptations for a 1RM. My diet strategy is in this post:

  7. Enlightening article, Anthony. I know that I should eat natural foods, sleep well, etc., but I never really employ my training discipline beyond my program, carb cycling, protein requirement, and caloric requirements. It’s like, “Ahh, I’ll be fine.” There have been some days these past weeks that I only slept for three or four hours. And I have been indulging my sweet tooth for months as well. The ramifications to me weren’t super tangible, so I just disregarded eating a lot of processed food or depriving myself of sleep on occasions.

    It also got me thinking about something else. It’s something that’s popped into my mind from time to time. Whenever I’m not working out or doing work, I’m slouching on the couch or sprawled somewhere. This article really solidified the problem here : “What the hell am I telling my body when I slouch on the couch? What am I telling my body when I have four rest days (*cringe*) in a row?” Relaxation has its time and place, but I haven’t been as active as I could be.

    Thanks for the article. I’ve been inching to revamp my lifestyle a bit. University work has been killing me. Well, it’s really my time management that has been killing me; it’s really piss-poor, haha. As thrilling as doing things at the last minute or hour may be, it’s detrimental to my life. Luckily, I’ve got a break coming up, so I have more time and willpower to implement some stuff in my lifestyle. Meditation sounds like a good thing to implement. Breaking homeostasis can be tough, haha. I’ve been inching to trick. I’ve been keeping it in the back of my mind for years, now. But the fever’s high now, and I really want to get out there. All this rushing I’ve been doing has prompted me to get my lifestyle in shape. Hell, my training has been suffering a bit. And that’s like one of THE last things that I would ever let poor life management affect. Bad things are right at my door. But I’m aware and I’m going to do something about it.

    Well, let me go back to the article. I really like the idea of hints in your article. It reminds me of that note you wrote on your old blog about giving your body certain signals:

    It’s one of those things that makes me go, “Ah! That makes total sense!” It’s enlightening. And it’s really universal. I was thinking it could apply to guitar-playing. If you send your body enough signals by playing for hours on end every day, then it will adapt.

    I like the lifestyle idea that you’re promoting. It’s a package deal. It reminds me of Mark Manson at Postmasculine. When it comes to dating advice, he doesn’t go for the quick fix. Sure, he covers the nuts and bolts of dating, but he promotes creating an attractive lifestyle that satisfies one first. The women come later.

    It seems that when it comes to physiological and psychological well-being, it is lifestyle change that must occur.

    I apologize in advance about the flow of this comment. It could be better. I’m just spewing brainwaves onto my computer screen.

    1. Stop apologizing!

      And it’s sweet you referenced that old article. Most people don’t dig back that far :)

      1. Thanks, Anthony. It’s good to be back!

        1. :)

  8. Dude, this is great stuff. I’m so glad people in the fitness world are starting to talk about quality of life beyond the gym. I hear so often that “training is a lifestyle”. If this is true then we’ve got to consider the whole picture. For better or for worse, I would consider myself “sympathetic dominant” and I’m just now getting in touch with the signals you’re talking about. I kept shooting myself in the foot thinking I had to just keep training harder and more often, and it burned me out and set me back. Overthinking and over-stressing kills progress on so many levels. Awesome job Anthony, looking forward to future material.

    1. Thanks good sir. Keep on keepin’ on.