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Mike Stickel

Aspiring fitness coach, lifter of heavy things, diy–er, and doggie parent.

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A Simple Solution to Getting the Transformation You Want

Most people have a very tenuous relationship with losing weight and gaining muscle. Some have a decent understanding of how to transform their body but they end up yo-yo’ing a lot based on what’s happening around them or what special occasion may be fast approaching. The great majority though, sit and spin their wheels without ever making any progress.

Here are some simple tips that will help you make the change you want and help you stay that way.

Create and Follow the Plan to Hit Your Goals

The most important part of changing your body, whether it’s “makin gainz”, getting that beach body, or fitting into that little black dress for your sister’s/brother’s/cousin’s/friend’s wedding/anniversary/birthday is having a plan.

Without a plan you’ll drift aimlessly, never hitting your target. It’s extremely difficult to achieve a goal without first laying down the process to get there.

It doesn’t matter if you get a training plan from an infomercial, your barber, a magazine, or a certified trainer. As long as you have a clear progression of steps to follow from where you are now to where you want to be, you’ll get there.

Get Out of Your Own Way to Transform your Body

I fully understand that it would be fantastic if you could hit your goal in a week, but the world doesn’t work that way. Our society is so focused on instant gratification and immediate action that the second a traffic light turns green, the third car back is honking because nobody’s moved yet. This is unrealistic (for traffic and losing weight).

In order to make a lasting transformation, you have to get out of your own way. Trust the plan you have in place (providing you got it from a reputable source) will get you the results you’re looking for. Once you put your trust in the system, hitting your target is easy.

Embrace the grind to change your life

You have a goal and you have a plan. Now it’s time to embrace the grind. Lasting change, be it losing weight or building muscle, comes from consistency.

Sure, you could bust your ass for a couple months, fit into that “hot little number” to impress your friends on vacation. But if you’re not consistent, you’ll fall back into bad habits the minute you get back from that vacation you worked so hard for.

So embrace the grind. Consciously work at it until you don’t have to think about it any more, you simply do it. You don’t need to be a zealot, but you do need to make working out and sticking to a nutrition plan a habit. Until you develop those habits you’ll only see inconsistent results, and you want results that last.

Accepting and following advice

When I was in my early 20s—hell, sometimes even now—I really wish someone had taken the time to teach me how to take advice from another person. It doesn’t sound hard, to take someone else’s advice, but if you think back to the last time it was offered did you openly and willingly accept it?

It’s weird, when I think about it, that something usually given to me—for free mind you—is such a hard gift to accept. If someone was giving me money, a toy, a car, or almost anything else I’d snatch it out of their hands like a hungry dog getting steak. What makes getting advice and following it such a hard thing to do?

Sitting down and doing some solid reflection on myself, the first reason I could think of for not taking advice given to me is that they don’t know me. At least that what my internal monologue said.

Who is this stranger to tell me what to do. They haven’t lived my life. They don’t know what I struggled with. How could they possibly know what’s best for me? Advice dismissed with a polite “thank you” but without a second thought.

Receiving advice usually means I’ve done something wrong or I’m about to. I don’t like being wrong. Who does? If you’re about to tell me I’m doing something wrong and I haven’t realized it yet, boy you better buckle your seatbelt because you’re unwanted opinions are about to get dropped on their head and run over by a truck.

For the odd occasion I don’t get the feeling I’m doing something wrong or that you do in fact know who I am, I’ve got one final line of defense against the dark art of receiving advice: control. Choosing to accept your gift means I am giving you control over my life. My brain thinks this is a ridiculous idea and will fight it until the end. Losing control means defeat and I will not be defeated.

While fully justifiable reasons in my mind, ultimately all my reasons for resisting your advice are idiotic. Skepticism is an important aspect of human nature. If the human race wasn’t skeptical and accepted advice blindly the world would be a much different place. Putting a healthy dose of that aside, we’re back to me being an idiot.

All this comes back to not being taught a healthy way to accept advice. When I was a child my parents gave me advice, but it came in the form of “don’t touch that stove” or “put that toy away and go to bed.” Not the way advice is usually given now that I’m older, more of a command really. So I learned to accept commands, not advice.

As I got older the commands gave way to suggestions, but were they? These are my parents, they may “suggest” I do something without it being a suggestion at all. After all, they know me. They’re also my parents, if I’m going to give up control they aren’t going to mess up my life if I let them tell me what to do.

Given all that, how in the world did I get better at taking advice from others? Strangely enough, it was helpful finding strangers seeking advice and offering them my thoughts. Being able to help someone I didn’t know through a decision or problem they were having opened my eyes to the realization that if they don’t know how to deal with something how do I know how to deal with everything. It gave me a new perspective and allowed me to be a little more vulnerable.

With that new perspective—and some humble pie—I came to the conclusion I’m not as smart as I think I am, especially in certain areas— cough relationships cough. This brought me to actively seek advice from friends and family. You see, if I’m the one asking you for advice I’ve already dealt with all my reasons to not take advice; I know I’m wrong or might be, I’m in control because I asked you, and the fact I picked you means I believe you know me better than most.

I’m not a special case in this area and hopefully putting this out there will help someone else become better and taking good advice from their friends and family.

How Low Should You Go

A little while back what started as a random conversation topic somehow made it’s way to squats, squat depth, knee health, and muscle involvement. Half the people involved in the discussion admitted to only knowing anecdotal “evidence” around the subject and the other half—myself and another person—were sticking to our guns with our beliefs.

My opposition in this discussion believed the human body shouldn’t squat past parallel because it was bad for knees. This person was also told, by a yogi, that if they wanted more muscle involvement to simply widen the squat stance, but stick to parallel.

My view is that squats should be done past parallel.

Simple enough argument, exact opposite points of view going head to head. Who wins? The one with science on its side of course.

What does science say about knee health and muscular involvement in regards to squat depth?

First of all, the argument that deep squats has ill effects on your knees has been disproven over and over. If you want more info on that go read this article by Mark Rippetoe or search PubMed.

The University of Alberta ran a study and calculated the “net joint movement” (NJM) of the ankles, knees, and hips during parallel and deep squats. They were working to prove which movement provided the minimum muscular torque required by those muscles to move that joint. More force means more muscle activity. More muscle activity the stronger the muscle can get.

This study, of which a similar one was run by Swedish researchers in 1996, proved that the NJM was 20% greater during deep squats than during parallel squats. Great, what does that mean. It means more muscles are involved in deep squats than parallel squats.

With deep squats you’re using your quadriceps as well as your hamstrings, glutes, and all sorts of smaller, helpful muscles in and around your hips. In case you weren’t aware, the key to having truly strong legs is having powerful hamstrings as well as strong quads.

In short, if you want strong, sexy legs squat like you’re a wide receiver catching a hail mary pass to win the Superbowl and go deep.

If you want even more evidence showing the effect of squat depth on knees and muscle growth, go to PubMed, search for squat depth, and read until you go cross-eyed.

Tired of Talking About Breakfast

It seems weird to me that something as trivial and innocent as breakfast can become such a heated debate. Possibly the strangest part is usually the people doing the debating; most recently it was with a web developer friend of mine who I had no idea was as adamant about their position than they are.

This brings up another point and usually a reason why I stopped hard debates on the subject. For every research study or celebrity trainer extolling the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast every morning there’s another one gushing over not having breakfast.

Both attitudes towards breakfast have been proven effective. Period. That’s why I’ve stopped arguing with anyone whenever the subject comes up. It’s a no-win argument.

However, I will step into an argument happening when someone is forcing their breakfast ideals on someone not willing to accept them or they’re parroting long disproved myths either for or against breakfast.

Now that I’ve decided to act like a rational adult on the subject, when anyone asks me about eating breakfast this is my response.

99% of the time I don’t eat breakfast and I feel great. It works for me. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean you have to do it though. My suggestion, unless you know your body really well, is to try it for a period of time. If you see positive changes, congratulations. If not, you can always start eating breakfast again.

In the end it boils down to experimenting and finding out what works for your body. Your body type and hormone (im)balance is different than mine is. Finding the right combination of things that works for you is going to come down to a lot of trial and error.

Here are a couple links with more information (and more science) if you want to go further down the rabbit hole.

Wrecking your diet, one night at a time

The first in a series of posts about the importance of sleep. In his post, Greg Nuckols goes over a study conducted to ascertain how sleep affects results of dieting and changes in body composition. It’s a great breakdown of the study with some shocking (or not so shocking for some people) results.