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Overcoming Mental Barriers to Fitness and Aesthetics
My journey to this year's unprecedented muscle growth
In my mid-twenties my body was in pretty rough shape. I was suffering from chronic pain and had terrible mobility to the pain where my quality of life and mental state were being severely adversely impacted.
I was also terrified at the idea of entering a gym.
I worked with an excellent chiropractor in Birmingham (UK) who helped to provide significant pain relief and subsequently referred me on to a physical therapist. Through working with the physical therapist I realised that even without entering a gym, I still had a lot of avenues available to me to improve the state of my body.
I started on a journey, beginning with the bodyweightfitness subreddit’s recommended routine, which built my confidence to the point where I was able to enter a gym, and then led me into the world of powerlifting. I spent many years running bodyweight fitness and powerlifting routines, and while my body started to feel more youthful, and I became accustomed to a largely chronic pain-free life again, there was something missing in my practice that I did not want to acknowledge.
Having spoken to others who came of age in the 1990s, especially others who did not invest in their bodies in their teenage years, I realised I’m not alone in having internalised the artificial “jock/nerd” dichotomy pushed so heavily by pop culture and media at the time.
The impact of this on the journey of restoring my body was that I felt the need to link every kind of exercise with some form of pseudo-intellectualism. Bodyweight fitness and powerlifting, could, with a little bit of mental gymnastics, be characterised as the exercise practices of the “thinking man”. Bodybuilding? Not so much (at least, in my mind at the time).
Over the past two years, and over the past year in particular, I have reached a point of acceptance with the idea that it’s perfectly fine to want to be jacked and tan for the sake of being jacked and tan. No pseudo-intellectual rationalisation required.
It feels good to look good.
I have learned and applied so much from content produced by J.P Gallardo and Joel Twinem over the past year and as a result I’ve seen unprecedented growth, more growth than all my years of powerlifting and bodyweight training combined.
At the same time, I am spending significantly less time in the gym per training session, and I feel like my relationship with physical exercise has become a lot more joyful now that I am no longer focused on improving my proficiency at barbell squatting, barbell bench pressing and barbell deadlifting.
In fact, I have not programmed any barbell movements all year.
My big takeaways when optimising for muscle growth this year have been:
You only need 2-3 working sets for around 8-10 reps going all the way to failure for any given exercise
The weight should be heavy enough that those last few reps should be 50/50 as to whether or not you’ll be able to complete the rep
It’s fine to do controlled half-reps to finish out a set if you’ve already taken complete reps to failure
You won’t need to (or be able to) do more than 4-5 exercises in a training session if you are truly taking each exercise close to failure
You’ll see significantly better growth limiting training sessions to an hour and consistently going to failure compared to filling a multi-hour training session with junk volume
For most of us regular folks, training to failure is far more important than exercise selection; just hit each body part with the requisite intensity, eat enough, sleep enough, and the results will come
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