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Anthony Mychal

Anthony Mychal is former skinny-fat dude on a philosophical-physical pilgrimage: flipping and freestyle acrobatics, flexing and physique training, thinking about and tinkering with physical freedom
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Anthony

Your genetics are junk

You’ve probably been thinking (ever since last letter)…

You started out good, man. You were talking about fat loss, muscle building, and being aerodynamic. You were talking about psychology and being a backyarder.

I was in.

But then you threw a psychedelic curveball. The secret? I don’t care about secrets. I just want to look seriously well built and do insanely cool shit with my body.

Just take me to the warp zone. Please.

Super Mario Warp Tunnel

I know what you want. But you have to bear with me. You’ll be happy with the road we’ve taken when we cross the finish line because there’s a commonality across all physical transformations.

  • You want to know how to build muscle? Then you have to know how your body adapts.
  • You want to know why you’re immobile? Then you have to know how your body adapts.
  • You want to know how many licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? Then you have to know how your body adapts.

Stress, recovery, adaptation — these things are the glue. Information doesn’t stick without glue. Enter: program hopping, confusion, hysteria, plague, oil spills, and weapons of mass destruction.

And, besides, you don’t hit a warp zone when you turn on Mario. You have to play SOME of the game first. It’s not like being able to delay gratification is an important characteristic or anything. Oh. Wait. It is. That’s right. My bad.

So, first, what is essentially a primer on evolutionary biology…

Unfortunately, I took the easy route in school. Settled for a degree in health and physical activity and a degree in health and physical education. (This.) So I’m no expert. Not even close.

I’m instead going to use a proven strategy to help me not only pass down information, but also help me sound a lot smarter than I really am.

This strategy? A little something called plagiarism.

And my victim, for the most part = Dr. Robert Sapolsky and his Stanford lectures.

I told you about the secret because it uproots a system of thought that dominated the world not long ago.

DNA’s structure was discovered by Francis Crick and James Watson in 1953. The dominant thought at the time was that DNA coded for every process, adaptation, and output inside of your body. Your quirks, your strengths, your weaknesses . All of it tied back to your DNA.

All Super Saiyans have gold hair and green eyes, after all. If something is coding for eye color and hair color, why not everything be coded for?

DNA Saiyan Coding

Mozart and his piano. Da Vinci and his artwork. They were born — coded — with a talent for those arts.

It was in their DNA. 

If your DNA didn’t code for something? You lose. You either play the piano like Mozart, or you play the piano like you have pickle fingers.

And if you’re in the latter group? Give up. Don’t try. You can’t get better. Your DNA won’t let you. You don’t have the midi-chlorians, man. Get over it.

This philosophy of DNA ruling creation is known as genetic determinism: who you are and whatever you become is a product of your DNA and only your DNA. Everything comes from whatever momma DNA and poppa DNA spat out as your DNA.

But science did what science (sometimes) does. It searched for the Good and the True. And the Good and the True has since revealed something about this quagmire, something best said by Dr.  Robert Sapolsky:

Genetic determinism? My tuchus.

We’ve hopped on the pendulum and swung far, far away from genetic determinism. We’re at the point where people (smarter than I can ever imagine being) say most of the DNA inside of you is junk.

Junk DNA.

Not like garbage junk though. It’s junk because it’s not programming for anything. It’s just floating around. It’s WAITING for directions.

And it gets directions from…

 (Ready for this?)

…your environment.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise after reading about the secret. If you were genetics and nothing but genetics, nothing in your environment would be able to change you. But, as I wrote before…

You are forever changed because of <the secret>. Your body went through one more stress cycle than it otherwise wouldn’t have. Your brain is imprinted with information it otherwise wouldn’t have.

You digested information from the environment and your body changed.

Turns out, your body is GOBBLING UP information from the environment. All the time.

The creature you are is only said creature because of your environment.

It’s well known: when a boy hits puberty, he grows. He builds muscle. Hormones. Whatever. In other words, a man’s body typically has some genetic programming that lights fire inside upon hitting puberty.

But what would happen if this boy lived in space? What if there were no gravity? Would he still go through puberty the same? (Assuming the boy isn’t Goku in a Capsule Corp. shuttle equipped with artificial gravity.)

CapsuleSpaceship3

(Hint: gravity is big. I’ve thought a lot about gravity. It’s THE link joining my mental models performance and physique. You’ll learn all about this…eventually. Delay gratification.)

And this is why Sapolsky, in his lectures, mentions something along the lines of…

You can’t even say that “x” gene does “y” without also classifying the environment in which “y” happened.

This mash up between your genes and environment is known as epigenetics, and there are three slices to the epigenetic pie: nature (genetics), nurture (environment), and randomness.

The wildcard of this triforce…?

Nurture.

You can’t tame randomness. You can’t modify your genetics. The only thing you can grab by the cojones is your environment.

Unfortunately, most people under appreciate the complex web of “environment.” When I think of environment, I think of dusty polluted cities. But environment is SO MUCH more.

This is what I’m going to write about next letter.

Might not sound all that exciting, but think about it…

Any sort of change, any sort of upgrade or transformation, depends on one thing: your ability to control your environment. It’s about you and the world you expose yourself to.

So, yeah. Kind of a big deal.

You’ll know all about it soon.

I have a secret

I have a secret.

It’s about you and your ability to physically transform.

Some of the questions people ask me are about HOW to make the magic happen. How do I build muscle? Lose fat? Do a backflip? 

But there’s also a different kind of question. One that I’m asked (or so it seems) more often.

Some people want to know IF it’s possible to make the magic happen…usually included with such question: a scapegoat footnote.

I want to look better, but I’m skinny-fat…but I’m an ectomorph…but I’m Frog from Chrono Trigger…but I’m <insert something negative and self-defeating here>. Can I even build muscle? Can I even lose fat? Or am I doomed? Do I have bad genetics? Should I even try? 

I want to trick, but I have no experience…but I never did gymnastics…but I clipped my fingernails yesterday…but I <insert something negative and self-defeating here>. Can I learn anything? Is it too late? Did I miss my window? Should I even try?

I can poo poo on questions like these all day. Look at the negative scripts! The excuses! Pssssshhhhh! How can you even talk like this! How can you even THINK of yourself in this way!

Bbbbbuuuutttttt, the truth…? You want the truth? You sure?

Alright.

(Last chance to back out. No? Fine.)

I asked these same questions not long ago. Sometimes I still ask myself these questions.

I get it.

You want to know if the juice worth the squeeze. If there’s no hope, why waste your time? Or you want to know if you can blame something else for a lack of progress, something beyond your effort, something like your eating, something like your training program (a la Master Roshi).

Master Roshi Training Program

To these matters (and more): the secret is your guide.

Muscle gain? Fat loss? Jumping higher? Learning acrobatics? Being aerodyamic? (I should just wrap all of these into one unifying concept: what it means to be an aerohead.)

You’ll see all of these things, all of these aeroheadisms, from a new lens…

…in about, ohhhhh, two sentences.

You’re wondering about your potential to change, and, well, I got something to tell you.

I already made you change.

How’s that for irony?

See the title of this letter? I have a secret.

Your eyes changed when you read the word “secret.”

Yeah. The black holes of your eyeballs. They dilate (get bigger) when you see something that’s of benefit to you. (Here’s a list of more dilation triggers from PsyBlog, if you’re interested.)

There’s an old cliche about the eyes being a window to the soul. All signs point to Mr. Cliche getting an A+ on his report card.

Changes in your eyes predate decision making [sauce]. So if you’re creepy enough to stare into someone’s eyes as s/he thinks, you’ll be able to predict the decisions s/he’ll make based on how the eyes react.

I want you to think about this for a second.

Your eyes are ALWAYS changing.

But you never think to yourself: GO GO GADGET EYEBALLS!

Inspector Gadget

The changes happen without your conscious control, which is why some poker players wear sunglasses. Your eyes can sabotage your secrecy.

And guess what?

Your eyes weren’t the only thing that changed when you read I had a secret. Your body’s wizardry didn’t stop there.

A secret about physical transformation?

Back in my skinny-fat days, my body would be mailing all sorts of excitement through my marrow upon hearing such a thing.

An answer to my physical prayers, wrapped in one nifty little secret! Gone will be the days of having my moobs dictate what kind of shirts I wear! Gone will be the days of me being afraid to try flips! Gone will be the days of <insert something negative and self-defeating here>.

(Some things never change.)

A secret about physical transformation is pupil dilation worthy news. And with the dilation and anticipation comes other physiological responses.

If I was a betting man, I’d say your breathing quickened. Your heart rate sped up. You upped the concentration of cortisol in your body. The same stress response you’d go through if you were being chased by a dinosaur. (Cortisol is a hormone released during the stress response. It breaks things down and gets your body ready to mobilize.)

dinoChase

Changes. Under the hood. Without your conscious thought.

Crazy.

But there’s something even crazier to this story.

This massive physiological response is at the mercy of a select few letters of the alphabet being arranged in a specific order.

So…

CREETRS.

Ohhhhh! Ahhhh!

Trigger me timbers! It’s the same letter tally as SECRET. 1 S, 2 E’s, 1 C, 1 R, 1 T. Queue mass physiological response within!

Right?

Errr. No. Not quite.

Your body doesn’t respond to CREETRS because it’s not about letters.

It’s about information.

And the INFORMATION tucked inside of the specific arrangement of a select few letters of the alphabet makes all the difference.

And there’s something even crazier than the last crazy.

(I know.)

If you never found this website and you never read the word “secret,” all of the pupil, heart rate, and hormone stuff wouldn’t have happened.

Think about THAT for a second.

Something in your environment — words! — triggered mass physiological and psychological change inside of you.

And it ONLY happened because you fed your body some information.

Now, for the icing…

You are forever changed because of everything that just happened. Your body went through one more stress cycle than it otherwise wouldn’t have. Your brain is imprinted with information it otherwise wouldn’t have.

Think about THAT for a second…or two seconds…or three seconds.

The psychedelic reality of all of this is creeping into my head, so it’s time to stop.

I’ll tell you what all this means next letter.

The most important stuff I’ve learned in the past 15 years – an introduction

I’m attempting to vomit out the most important things I’ve learned over the past 15+ years (yikes) of my physical transformation.

Starting meow.

This series of letters will be about not only the physiology (bodily stuff), but also the psychology (brainy stuff). Because drowning myself in certain branch of psychology was responsible for more of my progress than ANY training method.

My life is like a big bowl of gains a la brains.

Did you know that watching the news can make you more likely to eat junk food?

If you’re foaming at the mouth with interest, know I’ll inevitably stumble back to psychology in later letters.

Back to the topic at hand…

I say “physical transformation” instead of “building muscle” or “losing fat” or “jumping higher” or “doing a backflip” or….

…because my hands are in about a million different buckets.

  • There’s the skinny-fat side of me that wants to look good naked and have an “X” shaped physique.
  • There’s the athlete side of me that wants to be strong, powerful, and explosive.
  • There’s the trickster side of me that wants to actually APPLY the strength and the power, IE: master acrobatic skills, AKA: do flips and twists, otherwise said: survive kinesthetic chaos.
  • There’s the bulletproof and movement side of me that wants to be free and doesn’t want to die (or break my foot in five places again) when trying to survive said kinesthetic chaos.
  • There’s the meathead side of me that wants to be exostrong, meaning I want to lift heavy things.
  • There’s the antimeathead side of me that wants to be endostrong, meaning I want to control my body through space and master bodyweight gymnastics skills.

It’s sort of like this…

Know when you first lay eyes on a car and you just KNOW what that car is all about? It screams I’m built to go fast. Or I’m built to run things over.

That’s what I’ve always wanted.

I wanted to be aerodynamic, and I wanted look aerodynamic. One without the other just didn’t make sense to me, so I’ve never really trained like a bodybuilder. Can’t say I ever wanted to.

I don’t have anything against bodybuilding. A good friend of mine, Jujimufu, is a huge fan of bodybuilding. But it’s just not something I’d plate at a buffet.

Speaking of Jujimufu, he’s the reason I’m here. I found his old website when I was in my early teens, which put me on the path to becoming a backyarder.

When I get to tellin’ my skinny-fat story, you’ll hear all about my body composition woes, including the time a girl told me I had girl boobs. And then my ego was like, lol.

But long before I made a push to lose fat and build muscle, I got into tricking.

There was a sect of tricksters known as backyard tricksters. Backyarders had no formal martial arts, gymnastics, or acrobatic training. They had no facilities or mats.

They just went into their backyard and started chucking tricks.

Yeah. That was me. I’m a backyarder. I wanted to trick. So I went on the computer, saw the stuff I wanted to do, and then tried to do it myself.

I never played any sports in high school, save for recreational basketball for a few months. I’m self-taught in just about every facet of life. I’m not ashamed of this.

I’ve taken this backyard mentality with me into everything I’ve done, including strength (barbell, bodyweight) training.

I’ve learned how to become my own coach.

I’m betting a lot of you reading this are backyarders. You’re your own coach. You’re going alone.

It's Dangerous to Go Alone

Most programs and resources out there are created by “experts” that work with athletes in person on a full time basis. Their online digs are a side gig. They upchuck something onto the Internet and say, “I work with professionals. In person! Trust me!”

What 99% of said experts don’t understand is that backyarders face an entirely different set of problems that few “experts” / “gurus” / “pros” cater to because they aren’t (and never have been) backyarders.

They haven’t experienced nerd brain. (Nerd brain is the reason I’m writing these letters. You’ll hear more about it later.) Or constant existential meltdown syndrome.

WHAT’S THE VISUAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 10% BODY FAT AND 11% BODY FAT WHEN 99% OF THE TIME YOU’RE WEARING A SHIRT? WHAT ABOUT 12% BODY FAT? CAN ANYONE BUT ME TELL THE DIFFERENCE? WHY DON’T I JUST EAT THIS ENTIRE JAR OF PEANUT BUTTER RIGHT NOW? I’M HUMAN. I MAY DIE TOMMORROW. WHAT IF ZOMBIES STRIKE AND I DIE BECAUSE I’VE GOT NO BODY FAT AND CAN’T LIVE LONG WITHOUT FOOD?

Once again, why matters of psychology are just as important (if not more important) than matters of physiology.

For me, at least.

Which is why my training philosophy is more or less the physical version of the position of fuck you.

Alas, I’m writing too much. What else is new? Cut me some slack. This is a big change for me. I’m allowed a few moments of personal self indulgence if the majority of what’s to come is useful to you, right?

Nowwww, whether or not the majority these letters will be useful to you is something we’ll find out in the future. And in order reach the future, I have to stop rambling and move the conversation along.

Queue the incredibly non-subtle transition…

So here we are.

At the beginning.

Talking about physical transformation. Talking about losing fat, building muscle, jumping higher, and learning acrobatics. Talking about being aerodynamic.

Talking about upgrading yourself.

Talking about change.

Ohhh. Change. This is a good place to start.

I have a secret to tell you about change. I’ve been holding in for a while.

I tell you all about it in the next letter.

David Letterman’s cup technique

David Letterman and Cups

David Letterman and Cups

David Letterman dressing for a taping of “Late Show.” Each cup to the left represents a completed show. New York Times

Everything about me seems ethereal. My work isn’t physically manifested. A carpenter’s work is real. The chair, the house. The end result is concrete.

I write…but it’s all digital. Half the books I own are digital, too. I don’t have stacks of journals or books to show for my work. I train…but there’s no thing that shows the work. (I have training logs, but they only span two notebooks across, ohhhh, nine years?) There are memories. I have videos. Much like Letterman.

I think of how many times I trained over the years. How many times I tricked. I don’t know how much work I’ve done. Maybe stack pennies? Every training session, add another penny to the stack. Or use index cards. Or maybe just buy the cups. Stack the cups. Build your own cup mansion.

Imagine, when you feel lazy or unmotivated, looking at your stack of cups. See that? Your stack of cups. Imagine having a tangible visual representation of your work.

The body changes slowly. It requires a lot of days of doing things right…a lot of days doing things a lot of people don’t do. Wouldn’t it be nice to see those days? Better yet, see those days accumulate? Day after day after day.

There’s something to this concrete real representation that hits me.

Are you going to add another cup to your stack today?

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Hat tip: Austin Kleon

Juggling goals: losing fat, building muscle, bettering bodyweight skills, becoming athletic

Him:

I’m trying to figure out how to balance three separate but kind of related goals. 

First, I want to put on about 10-15 pounds of muscle while getting down to about 12-15% body fat. (I’m currently sitting at 208 pounds between 20-21%.)

Second, I want to become a bodyweight beast, making feats like handstands, one arm push-ups, and muscle-ups look easy. 

Third, I want to increase my movement capabilities in freerunning by upping my speed, agility, and power.

Me:

They aren’t “kind of related.” There’s a common thread. And the common thread: your body fat.

  • Looking good naked means losing fat.
  • Bodyweight skills are a lot easier when you’re lighter. So, yeah. Lose body fat.
  • Freerunning is high impact. Joints can only handle so much stress. Every extra pound is extra impact…especially if it’s useless body fat.

So each of your goals ties back to body fat. If you want to make the most widespread progress across all your goals, put your foot down and squash the body fat. But remember that losing fat doesn’t mean “cutting” in the way most people think of “cutting.” 

Don’t turn into a cardio bunny. As you lose fat, strength train with a barbell. Include a progression for bodyweight skills pending how good you are now (progress horizontal to vertical with bodyweight rows, vertical to horizontal with push-ups, et cetera). At 20% body fat, most bodyweight skills will be hard(er) as compared to you doing them in the future at the same strength but leaner. A barbell will help you get a good training stimulus without being bottlenecked by your current bodyweight.

Also prepare your body for the freerunning. You can do a lot of ankle work. See A Trickster’s Guide to Ankle Strength. As you reach more towards the 15% body fat range, start teaching your body how to land and roll.

The idea being when you’re finally at your ideal body fat percentage you’re prepared to launch into your dreams. You’re prepared to now hit the higher bodyweight skills because you started adapting the muscles and connective tissue. Same goes for the freerunning.