This week's topic is pretty unsexy. In fact, it's just about as unsexy as today's birthday boy, Hugh Hefner.
On that note: can anyone tell me what the deal is with his robe and sailor hat? I mean, the guy IS 89 years old....but also has a degree in psychology. If that's not ironic, I don't know what is.
Creepiness aside, a few weeks ago I had a brief conversation with one of my coworkers that went a lil' something like this:
"Alex, how'd those presses go today?"
"You're always 'pretty good.' Do you ever have a bad day in the gym?"
I laughed, but the more I thought about it, I realized she was right - very rarely do I ever have a "bad" day in the gym. In fact, I can't remember the last one. I've also managed to avoid any real injuries, while setting around one PR each week for the past year.
And, contrary to what you may think, I'm not a deadlifting/overhead pressing robot. Instead, I realized a few years ago that real life is not like a Gatorade commercial: if you want to train hard, you need to recover just as hard. Lifting heavy is stress on your body. And, in order to maximize the amount of stress you endure during your workouts, you need to minimize the amount of stress elsewhere.
So rather than thinking that certain foods, programs, or even supplements are the key unleashing your inner Channing Tatum, it's time to consider the simple, unsexy things:
1. Sleep for your PR's
Sleep is probably the most underrated and underutilized resource for recovery. I know what you're saying....duh!
But seriously, it's kind of a big deal. There are a ton of articles about the benefits about sleep, and as Eric Cressey likes to say "an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight." That's probably something we all know, but I've experienced it firsthand. Let Uncle Alex tell you a story..
When I first started out in this industry, I woke up at 4:30 AM every morning while staying at work until 8:30 PM each night. While I wasn't "working" each hour during the day, I couldn't get quality rest in either. My lifts suffered, my clients suffered, and I had ridiculously painful plantar fasciitis. In fact, I don't know how I did it. (Oh wait, yeah I do....coffee!)
Now? As Lindsay can attest, I'm religious about getting quality sleep each night. That means A) no watching "House of Cards" during weeknights, B) keeping the consumption of Jack's Abby Calyptra (my new favorite beer) to one or less/day, and C) creating a solid bedtime routine. And, while I may fall asleep on the couch a bit more than I'd like (and by that I mean within minutes of finishing dinner), it's made an enormous difference. I've also rearranged my work and training schedule to optimize that amount of sleep I can get each night. As a result, my plantar fasciitis pain is gone (which is a story in itself) and I'm much happier overall.
Here's a simple question: are you getting around 8-9 of sleep hours each night? I tend to average around 7.9 hours of sleep a night - or at least, that's what Lumosity has been telling me. It's probably been the biggest factor for all my recent gainzz.
2. Eat Like a Grown Up
Blame it on the fact that I'm a "nutrition guy," but the role of nutrition is severely underappreciated in the strength and conditioning world. I've known people that were undertrained heading into their event, but their nutrition and eating plan was on point. The result? They nailed their event.
At the same time, I've known people that trained properly but ate atrociously the week of their endurance event. Sadly, it doesn't go well, and in one case they had to drop out before their halfway mark.
When you eat high quality, real food, your performance is going to show it. A few years ago, I'd hit the gym and scarf down a burger and fries like a ravenous dog, thinking I deserved it. In reality, I didn't....and it was pretty naive to think that it wouldn't hurt my recovery or performance the next session.
Simply put, when you eat garbage, it's just more stress on your body. And, Easter basket full of candy notwithstanding (thanks Mom!), I try to keep my nutrition locked in every single meal.
3. Water it Down
While I'm not a big supplement guy, there is one I highly recommend: dihydrogen monoxide.
In fact, I can already hear the Food Babe calling for my head over something she can't pronounce. So, I'll let you (and her) in a on a secret: it's good ol' fashioned water.
Water is crucial for helping you perform at your best, and there's research to prove it! If you're fully hydrated, you're going to bounce back between sets more quickly, lift more weight, and look better nekkid.
More importantly, water is a crucial component of your body's fascial system....which is another name for all the connective tissues between your muscles, organs, etc. Water makes up roughly 2/3 of the volume of our fascial system, and when we're dehydrated, that water is shipped elsewhere. While this water helps our organs do their job, it makes our fascia tighter and less elastic. And, since water is such a critical component of chemical reactions to restore our fascia after physical exercise, it's easy to see how chronic dehydration can really play havoc with our recovery.
While I don't mind the taste of water, because it has no taste, I can see how some people don't slug it back like they do their favorite margarita. If that's you, I'd highly suggest squeezing a lemon, orange, grapefruit, or cutting up some fruit and throwing it in your water. It can make it much more palatable....AND set you up for a bigger deadlift (it always comes back to deadlifts!)
So there you have it. There's no supplement, food, or method to breaking PR's. Instead, it's a simple question: are you doing all the little things? It may not sound like much, but like they say in my all-time favorite show, The Wire: