On January 1, 2018, I released a new eBook, The Man Strong Blueprint: A Beginner’s Guide to the Body You Need, that gives men everything they need to create the body capable of living the man’s life. A body that’s strong, lean, mobile, and muscular. To give you a sense of what you’re getting, here’s a sneak peek at Part One of the book.
Here’s the secret about the fitness world: Most things “work” as long as you match the tool (the training program) with the proper goal. My experience with various training regimens has shown me that there are many different ways to skin a cat. There are many programs that you can use to fit your goals, equipment, and time constraints. So before we get started with what to do, we have to figure out our goals. The thing to remember with all training and nutritional programs is that they are tools. The quality of a tool is judged by its effectiveness at achieving its goal. So before we can pick our tools, we have to pick our goals.
So what should our goals be? Stated differently, what is it that we need as men? Do we need to be able to run long distances? Do we need to be able to do 300 pushups in two minutes? Do we need to be able to dunk a basketball? For most of us, the answer is no. There are three things that all people need, but especially men: (1) to be strong, (2) to be mobile, and (3) to be lean and muscular. These three things are interrelated and have plenty of overlap, but they are certainly distinct. But why these three?
OUR FIRST NEED: TO GET STRONG
There was a time when it was self-evident that men needed to be strong. Without strong men, fields didn’t get prepared, planted, or harvested. Horses didn’t get caught and broken. Barns and houses didn’t get built. And enemies didn’t get defeated. But society has changed and technology has enabled men to get by without being strong. As I’ve noted in numerous blog posts, one can successfully navigate life simply by pushing buttons on an electronic device. As a result, it’s no longer a guarantee that you will die if you’re not strong and you can build a fairly comfortable life without being strong. But the fact that one can live without being strong does not mean that one should live without being strong. But, if you were content with comfortable you wouldn’t be reading this book. You know that the deep desires of a man’s heart will not be satisfied until he is living in tune with his masculine nature in pursuit of a life that brings value to the world. This can only be optimized if we are strong.
Men are called, first and foremost, to be protectors. We are to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. Unfortunately, the idea of men as protectors strikes some people as being odd. Far too many people have delegated the job of protecting themselves, their families, and their communities to the police or the military. And certainly, professional law enforcement plays a vital role in our protection. However, the existence of law enforcement does not strip us of OUR responsibility to protect our families.
Men, we must embrace and own that responsibility. If someone attacks and harms our family, it is our fault. It’s not the police’s fault. It’s the not military’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s our fault. Our ultimate role is to protect. When you take a wife, a significant part of what you are offering that woman is to protect her. When you have a son or daughter, your first role is to keep them safe. Not safe from adversity or obstacles, but safe from real harm.
As noted strength coach Mark Rippetoe famously stated, “strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general”. Simply put, the stronger you are, the more likely you can defend and protect yourself and your family. Weak men are poor protectors. They are easily overtaken by adversaries. What’s more, they are targeted by criminals.
If a potential robber sees a 140-lb guy with timid body language on one side of the street and a 215-lb guy with broad shoulders and a default aggressive attitude on the other side, which do you think he’s going to try to rob? The big guy has protected himself and his family, without even knowing it, simply by being strong. Now, being strong obviously won’t prevent all attacks, but it will prevent many. What’s more, if trouble comes, I’d rather be strong.
More importantly to our day-to-day lives is that strong people are just more useful in general. It’s the strong guy that everyone turns to when they need help. When something needs to be moved or carried, a strong man is needed. That big SUV you drive around? Good luck changing the tire on it if you’re not strong. That 10-point buck you killed? Have fun dragging that thing out of the woods or even loading it onto the truck or ATV if you’re not strong. And the list goes on and on.
Being strong makes you more self-sufficient. Being strong gives you confidence. Getting strong takes hard work day after day after day, for years. That process, the consistent hard work that it requires, teaches you to exert yourself and to overcome adversity. You learn to ignore bad moods, colds, and general discomfort, and just get things done. You learn to fight against and overcome physical and mental barriers. You simply become better than you were. What’s more, when done correctly, the health benefits of strength training are too numerous to name. Simply put, being strong is never a disadvantage.
Teddy Roosevelt’s father famously implored him as a young man that he needed to get strong if he intended to accomplish great things. He had a strong mind, but a sickly body. His father knew he needed a strong body to go with it to reach the greatest heights. There are exceptions to every rule. Stephen Hawking certainly made the most of his severe physical limitations. However, is there any doubt that Hawking’s influence would be greater with a strong body?
Being strong enables you to lead, because you can more readily lead by example. One who leads with his physical efforts has more impact than one who merely implores with his words. Being strong sets a good example for your children. My kids are enthralled by my strength. “You’re so strong, Daddy!” Those are words of children who are inspired. Our kids need to see us as capable men. Not as those who are always too weak, immobile, or tired to get things done, whether in work or play.
Also, getting strong is typically a long-term and general adaptation for the body. Strength gains can come quickly and will stick with you for years, even if you stop training. Endurance gains also come quickly, but they also leave you quickly. Strength is a more general adaptation in that it has carryover to most areas. If you can squat big weight, you have strong legs, core, and back. That means you can do most activities that require you to be strong in those areas. In other words, generally, if you’re strong, you’re strong.
Cardio and other endurance activities are much more specific adaptations. Training to run 40-meter sprints will not train you to run 10K races or marathons, it will train you to run 40-meter sprints. Likewise, training for a 10K will not condition you to run sprints. And fellas, jogging will not make you strong. In fact, it will make you weaker.
Finally, endurance training will significantly impair your ability to get strong, but strength training will improve your endurance, albeit slightly. So, let’s get strong for life, then train for endurance later if we have the need.
OUR SECOND NEED: TO GET MOBILE
Flexibility and mobility are not the same, but I’m going to use them interchangeably to refer to the ability to move well. We are all quite familiar with the loss of mobility as we age. The youngest of children can move into and out of a full ass-to-grass squat without even thinking about it. Some of us would need a week off of work if we tried to do it. This has to change. The status of our society at large is immobile. We are a bunch of cubicle-dwellers, desk jockeys, and texters. We spend most of our lives seated and hunched over. Since mobility is based on the Use It or Lose It Principle, our mobility is dead and buried. However, since we’re no different than most people our age, we hardly even notice. In fact, we just assume this is what happens to people when they get our age. No, this is what happens to people who stop moving.
People who are weak and cannot move well have a diminished quality of life. For such people, there are entire doors of activity that are closed. Those of us intent on living a full life are all about busting down doors that limit us. We want to see and do. It’s not about who will let us, it’s about who will stop us. We can’t let our own weakness or inability to move well stop us. There are enough external factors in life that limit us. We often can’t change those. So we have to get rid of the self-imposed factors that limit us in order to life the fullest life possible. Lack of strength and mobility are a big ones.
Getting strong and mobile are also the main factors in injury prevention. Without them, even basic activities can lead to injury. Injuries create a vicious cycle of inactivity. We are inactive, which leads to being weak and immobile. Being weak and immobile leads to injury. Injury leads us back to inactivity. And the cycle repeats. Getting strong and mobile is the way to prevent injury. As strength athlete Zach Homol puts it, “weak things break”. Strong bodies that move well are not easily injured, even in competition.
Lack of movement, lack of mobility, and frequent injury is the recipe for a reduced quality of life. Many of us have just accepted it as part and parcel of being a 40-something; but that’s going to change. You can be strong, mobile, and injury-free after 40.
OUR THIRD NEED: CHANGE OUR BODY COMPOSITION
Our final need is to build a lean and muscular body. You probably noticed that both of the first two needs relate to function: be stronger and move better. Our final need is more focused on aesthetics and health than function.
As I noted in the opening chapter, most of us have had some measure of fat that we’ve wanted to lose for a long time. Many of us have had success at losing it from time to time, but never at keeping it off. In fact, we’ve found that our unwanted fat is much like the Jerry Clower joke about his kids: “they’re gonna grow up and leave home, but they’re coming back . . . and they’re gonna bring more with ’em!”
Most fat-loss efforts go the same route: there’s some initial success and unwanted pounds (often water, not fat) are lost. But in the subsequent weeks and months, it comes back. Because we’ve lowered our metabolism, it comes back in greater amounts than before. As a result, we need to change how our body is composed. For most men my age, that means losing fat.
But it also means building muscle. I can hear the objections already. “Nah, I don’t want to get bulky, I just want to get toned.” Most of us, have about as much chance of getting bulky from too much muscle as we do of winning the Powerball lottery. Bodybuilders work relentlessly for years and often with the help of performance-enhancing drugs to build muscle mass. It won’t happen to you by accident.
When people would tell Arnold Schwarzenegger that they didn’t want to look like him, his response was always the same: “don’t worry, you never will.” He knew they didn’t have his level of commitment, his work ethic, or his genetics. It was true then and it’s true now: building muscle is hard freaking work.
In fact, you will have the opposite problem: you’ll have to work very hard to build appreciable muscle. Go spend some time reading message boards on fitness websites and you’ll notice two main themes: those who cannot lose enough fat and those who cannot gain enough muscle (called “hardgainers”). You will not find people complaining that they got too “bulky” as a result of weight training.
Okay, so I’m not going to get bulky, why do I need to build muscle? I’m not saying anyone needs to try to look like a bodybuilder when it comes to muscle. First of all, such low levels of body fat are not healthy. Second, everyone has a different look that they want. One look at me should clear up any notions that I advocate the bodybuilder look. However, we do need muscle.
It helps with strength, although it is not perfectly synonymous with strength (your central nervous system plays a huge role in strength). It also helps with fat loss, as muscle burns more calories than fat, thereby helping to reduce body fat. But this still isn’t the main reason we need to build muscle. The main reason is that, as we grow older, we lose muscle mass. This loss of muscle mass impacts our strength levels, increases our risk of injury, and thereby decreases our activity levels. The decreased activity level leads to increased body fat. So we get stuck in a vicious cycle of lost muscle, increased injury, decreased activity, and increased body fat.
What’s more, the impact of a muscular body is more than just physiological; it’s also psychological. You’ll carry yourself with more confidence. It’s simply true that when you look good, you feel good (or better) about yourself. Yes, there are exceptions (such as anorexia and other mental illnesses). But for most of us, we will have much more confidence in our ability to do things when we look better. And we all look better with muscled physiques as opposed to fat or bony physiques. This self-confidence is critical to building the life that we want to live.
THE MENTAL WORK
Having the training program is actually the easy part of reclaiming our bodies; the hard part is changing our mindset. We need to tell ourselves, as many times as necessary, that THERE IS NO MAGIC BULLET when it comes to getting strong and fit. We did not get fat, weak, or immobile in a day, a week, or a month, and we won’t get strong, mobile, lean, or muscular in a day, a week, or a month. We will only get there by making good choices day by day over the long term.
Yet, you will see progress in the short term. In fact, the early months of training will produce the fastest rate of gains that you will ever experience. In fact, if our initial rate of progress continued indefinitely, we’d all squat 1,000 pounds within a few years. But short-term progress, as most of you know, is fool’s gold. The initial progress is not the hard part. Maintaining your training over the long term, as a lifestyle rather than a one-time achievement, is the hard part. But it comes with great reward. And it is achievable for every one of us, IF we change our mindset.
This is not the sexy way to gain popularity when talking about fitness, by the way. Ours is the generation of “life hacks” and quick fixes. Everywhere you turn there is some click-bait advertisement of the one exercise that will “torch body fat” or that “bodybuilders don’t want you to know about”. Or you read the list of “10 foods you should never eat” or the “superfood” that will cure all that ails you. Every gym or trainer offers a 30-day this or 21-day that. We are always on the lookout for an easier way to do things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being efficient and using optimal methods. While I believe men in our society need to seek out and embrace discomfort, I’m generally not for making things harder on purpose when it comes to fitness.
However, I just want to bring a dose of reality as we get started: there is no easy diet that will cause you to lose fat and there is no miracle exercise or program that will instantly give you the body you want. These things are the result of consistently good choices over the long haul. Notice that I said “consistently good choices”, not “absolutely perfect choices each and every time for the rest of your life”. You don’t have to be perfect to make progress. You can deviate from the best option at times and still make significant progress. But you do have to be consistent and you do have to give it time.
Remember, our goal is to build a life of greatness, not just do a 30-day experiment and then revert to who we are today. So, the first step in changing your mindset involves your self-conception, how you think about yourself. In order to make lasting change, you have to begin to think of yourself as someone that lives a lifestyle of fitness. It’s who you are. You are not someone who’s doing something temporary to achieve a temporary state. You are now embracing your manhood, and that means being someone who takes care of his body.
The details of what that means will change through the years (you won’t always be in fat-loss mode), but the broader truth will remain. If the way you identify yourself doesn’t change, then you will have a harder time building a lifestyle of fitness. Instead, you’ll just being doing something temporary until you can go back to your “normal” routine.
Human beings are a synergy. We are body and soul, the physical and the psychological, who operate in a state of being and doing. Each affects the other. What we do impacts who we are and who we are ends up affecting what we do. The role of each is well beyond the scope of this book, and people like to argue over which is more important. I see no real reason for this; let’s just recognize the impact of both.
Ultimately, in this book, we are most concerned with what we do (becoming stronger, more mobile, and looking good). However, we will never reach optimal levels of doing without recognizing the role that our psychology plays in what we do. So, we have to change our minds about who we are. Starting now, we are people committed to being strong and healthy, and we order our lives to make sure that happens.
Part of that mindset shift about who we are includes acknowledging and moving on from our past failures. Yes, we have made commitments to get in shape in the past and yes, we have broken those commitments. Repeatedly. We have tried and failed. So. Freaking. What. This is a new day, and you are a different person. It will serve you no purpose to continue to dwell on those failures. They are gone. They are done. Today, you have made the choice to change. You are going to train three days each week. If you have to get up earlier, you’re going to do it. If you have to use your lunch hour, you’re going to do it. If you have to rearrange your evening schedule, you’re going to do it. If you have to stay up a bit later, you’re going to do it. You are changing who you are. And you need to both believe it and speak it.
You are not going to complain. You are not going to post memes about how “adulting” is so hard. Leave that for those who are content to be weak and soft. Leave that for the sheep. We are the sheepdogs. We do what we need to do, as men. We train. We eat well. We love our women. We train our children. We protect our families. And we find joy in being the one that others can count on. This is the life we were made for. No matter if we’ve failed 1,000 times before, we are different now. Nothing will stop us.
I’m not a postmodern, new age, think-positive hippie guru. Not even close. But here’ the fact: if you focus on problems instead of solutions, you will fail. If you tell yourself it’s too hard, it will be. If you tell yourself you don’t have the discipline or the willpower to work out or eat properly, you won’t. If you tell yourself you’re a loser, you will be. Our words to ourselves, our self-talk, can either sabotage our efforts or propel us to victory. It’s true.
So change your self-talk. Focus on your plan and make it clear to yourself that you won’t let anything stand in your way. Training and eating well today is not a temporary thing that we have to endure and then we can take it easy. It is the first day of our new life. That guy who got run over by comfort and the flow of modern life is gone. A new man has taken his place. And that guy cannot be stopped.
If this sounds like the man you want to be, click here for more information or click the button below to get your copy of The Man Strong Blueprint. A strong, lean body is within your grasp. The Man Strong Blueprint will show you the way.