NO STRAIGHT ANSWERS • HEAD COACH XN'S BLOG

​Head Coach and Next Level founder Christian Matyi – a/k/a "XN" – gives notoriously complex answers to even the most simple of questions.  He'd always rather you "think more" than "know more." So you can only imagine what'll happen when there wasn't any question even asked . . . 

You never know what his many years of coaching will inspire him to claim as "relevant" to your progress. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Your gains are not your gym's snow day priority.

Working out is neither a right nor a necessity.  It is a leisure activity.  Yet still, those of us who achieve enviable goals often slack on their human courtesy.   In your eagerness to achieve your gains, are you losing social courtesy in the name of social regard?  

After the record-breaking snows of Boston's Winter of '15, Coach XN looks at how the hubris of the deeply-commtted takes over regardless of harm to others.

Read More

"The best bodybuilders are the best healers."

I have said this time and time again.  If you want to get stronger, faster, bigger and better looking, you need to spend more time understanding how to repair yourself, and less time worrying about how to do the damage.  

Everyone in these pursuits wants to know the "best way" to get strong.  Everyone wants to know the "best way" to diet.  And the way these ideas are represented is as something you do "to yourself," or something you "put into yourself."  They encourage you to look mainly at the input. But that is the wrong focus.  To get ahead, you need to better understand the results; you need to place the majority of your focus on the output, not on the input.  Once you understand the results, you can create a plan of managing those results.  And that plan is most often a process of healing.

Results come not from what you are able to do, but rather from understanding just what it is you’ve just done – and how to take care of it.

Sorry guys.  You can talk all you want about what you can "do" – how big you lifted, how tight you got your abs, how amazing you performed – but the results come not from what you are able to do, but rather from understanding just what it is you've just done – and how to take care of it.

The topic was brought up by Will from the team The Beast recently in a question he posed to me:

 

"Being the best healer has had me fascinated since you put it up. How do we improve our ability to heal? My guess would be through a clean diet, plenty of sleep, a lot of water, and proper training. Am I anywhere near the mark on this one?"

 

My answer was more or less a repeat of the above point.  (Excuse a little reiteration here, but I really feel that this concept can not be stressed enough.)

 

As with all things (and you have to see this one coming), it starts with observation. As much observation as possible. In other words: confronting each question with some sort of research:
"What needs to be healed?"
"In what specific ways has my body been damaged?"
"W
hat are methods other people use?"

It frustrates me that so many bodybuilding and strength athletes just refuse to lay claim to the most essential component to the process: "the best bodybuilders are the best at healing themselves, not the best at damaging themselves."

Everyone is busy bragging about what they can do, But few are discussing how they take responsibility for what they have done.

 

Healing the body is no small idea.  There are endless combinations of a multitude of systems at play.  However, the good news is there are basics common to us all.  Thorough rest, nurturing food choices and preventive warm-ups and cool downs are what immediately comes to mind.

However, the single biggest obstacle to healing is – you guessed it – your mind.  More precisely: the will of your mind.  

You are "convinced" of many things in life.  And once you become convinced of a thing, well, it is rare that you will go in the opposite direction of your convictions.  However, it is very possible that we are sometimes convinced of things that work against our ability to achieve our goals, yet we are unaware of the conflict because we are "convinced" we are doing right.

Know what I mean?

And so many athletes are simply "convinced" that they need to train harder, lift more, and workout more frequently.  They believe deeply – to the very fabric of their being – that they must do more.  

And doing more means more damage to the body.  

And then, because you are so busy doing more, you don't have the proper time and resources to heal from all that additional damage.  

Yet without healing, you will remain small or weak or slow or fat – or any other quality that you are trying to overcome.  

So what do you do next?  You start looking for more to do.  You start asking for more; more training ideas, more diet strategies, more weight, more effort, more work – more, more and more!  Rather than look at what you have done and how you could be taking better responsibility for the damage, you instead are convinced that the problem is you need to do something else; something more.

And you get stuck in that spiral.

You see how conviction works against us?  We get convinced of one idea, and then by operating under that idea we get stuck in a loop.  Only by confronting that conviction – and often perhaps shattering it and rebuilding it – will the cycle end, and we will begin progressing once more.

Conviction is the culprit behind the majority of slow progressions.  Our stubborn, confident, certain minds with it's glorious, golden and pristine thoughts is actually working against what we need to grow: better healing.

(Notice how I said "better" healing.  Not "more" healing.)

 More observation, less conviction.

More observation, less conviction.

So, as I told will, the first step is observation.  Not hasty, broad observation.  Not "I'm-convinced-I-already-know-what's-there-so-I-can-skip-this-step" observation.  Careful, thorough inventory-style observation.

  • What damage has your training done to your muscle cells?
  • What damage has your training done to your joints; your tendons and other connectors?
  • What damage has your training done to your nervous system?
  • What damage has your training done to your motivation, your interest or your enthusiasm?
  • What damage has your training done to your schedule?
  • What damage has your has your training done?

There are countless other questions you can ask to prompt your observational inventorying.  And with each question you have the root of more questions; each question gets more and more specific.  

And this is where research begins.  The better the questions, the more specific your study, and true more precise your answers.  (Not to mention you get more of them – not all "more" efforts are bad ones.)

Before you go looking for more, look at what you got.  Before you go looking to do more, look at how you can take better responsibility for what you have done.  You will quickly discover that the one thing common to all the questions is some form of better healing, not better assaults of damage.  And that healing leads to better growth, more strength, and probably a damn happier person.

The best bodybuilders are the best healers.  They are not always the most skilled lifters.  They are not always the most scientific eaters.  They are simply the best at healing themselves, and thus getting ahead.

I have said it time and time again.  

Big lift perspectives: the nobility of ants over elephants.

It's the old elephant and the ant analogy.  Elephants are among the strongest mammals, yet can not lift each other up .  Ants are among the tiniest land creatures, yet can lift multiples of their weight rather easily.  The ant's balance, geometry and skill far out-performs an elephant's brute force and size.  Even if an elephant can move more weight in one effort, the ant will move WAY more weight compared to their size.  

Now, I am not saying elephants are wimps.  Hell no.  They could tromp me in a heartbeat, as could their human correlations in this analogy.  But I am saying that there is something far more impressive about a guy – of ANY size, ant OR elephant – who can figure out the skills involved with moving weights typically far beyond his expected capacity.  In other words: it is impressive when someone lifts an elephant's load with the skills and capacities of an ant.  

The correlation between strength and size is much misunderstood.  Strength is about skill as much as it is about sheer heft.  And sure, a massive dude will be stronger via sheer inertia and momentum than a dude 100 lbs. smaller.  But pound-for-pound the smaller guys often are way stronger in comparison to the work they do.  The ants often impress far more than the elephants.

At the Arnold Sports Festival this past weekend, there were a lot of elephants.  Most were the type that just lumber around in all their heft and glory: the bodybuilders.  Some were lifters as well, but mostly bodybuilders.  And while I am certain – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that those who came to show off their size also are capable of lifting big numbers, theirs is a type of self-flagellation that straddles the border between compelling and masturbatory.  (And all too often just becomes the latter.)  Tons of chemicals (and a huge dose of fear of powerlessness) drives many of these mountains of muscle to unbelievable scale and dimension . . . and yet, any herd of elephants is impressive for it's sheer tonnage.  It is the nuances that develop strength, however that truly impress.

The big guys who move big weights via chemical injections are not actually, truly impressing us; they are merely just meeting our expectations. Nothing unique there. Thus any pleasure [we get from] seeing a big guy move a big weight is more about satisfaction with what “should be” rather than inspiration regarding what “could be.”

And in a far corner of the Arnold was a display of those nuances.  Away from the glitz and glam of freshly-shaved pecs and water-swollen 23" biceps were those who stay in the moment of their mission rather than get lost in the myth of their own might: the lifters.  

And one particular lifter was fortunately captured on film performing something those giant elephants might be humbled by.  The man is Muhammed Begaliev, and he weighs a mere, narrow-shouldered 170lbs.  Let that sink in a second: 170 lbs.; a quite "average" weight for a man.  By comparison to most of the muscle monsters tromping around the Arnold Expo, his is an easily forgettable build.  Because his Under Armour is not straining at the seams, and because his quads don't orce him into a waddle-walk, many would just assume "Yeah, that's just a dude who lifts . . . but NOTHING like THESE superheroes of mass!"

You might think that, of course, UNTIL you watch the video.  

This 170lb man proceeds to snatch 150 kilograms right up over is head.  (That is 330 lbs for those who hate the metric system.)  And what is most remarkable is not THAT he lifted the weight, but HOW.  Indeed, one could argue that he did not so much lift the weight as "move under it."  (One constant coaching philosophy I drill into my athletes heads ad nauseum is that "all lifting is not lifting but rather all lifting is "trying to get underneath something.")

All lifting is not lifting, but rather all lifting is actually “trying to get underneath something.”

Begaliev illustrates how skill is what builds strength just as much as sheer mass.  The ant understands leverage, positioning and "feeling" his own center of gravity relative to the weight's.  The ant gets how you are moving one center of gravity AROUND another center of gravity.  And he does just that.

If a 250 lb. man moved 330 lbs., I'd be impressed.  But when a man of 170 lbs. does the same, I am somewhat speechless, for he represents what the "regular guy" is actually capable of.  Sure, the pharmaceutical monsters can move gigantic loads – but we'd EXPECT them to do that.  The big guys who move big weights via chemical injections are not actually, truly impressing us; they are merely just meeting our expectations.   "They're big, they're using assistance, therefore they SHOULD move a big weight."  Nothing unique there.  Thus any pleasure at seeing a big guy move a big weight is more about satisfaction with what "should be" rather than inspiration regarding what "could be."

Yet to see a man of average build – a build that we can all relate to because most of us have been that size – move nearly double their weight, it is mind-boggling!  Especially when it is done with such skill.  Begaliev made it seem so fluid and smooth, as if the weight itself just naturally flies upwards that way.  It truly illustrates the power of the human body when focused.

And it also illustrates one of the single most vital principles behind lifting: the application of confidence.  Most people think that confidence arises from lifting big weights and developing big muscles.  Begaliev proves what is true: the opposite is the fact: in actuality, it is confidence which helps us move weights.  The confidence comes first, not afterwards.  It is the confidence that he has the ability that is the key.  Become confident first, and the work will come afterwards.

This is a huge message to the men at the Arnold Expo deriving a sense of egotism via admiration.  That narcissistic path to confidence is faulty and fleeting.  Once the admirers of your muscle depart, so too does your own glow of confidence fade.  Yet the confidence we nurture within ourselves – the kind Begaliev fired up as he squatted down to that bar – is the kind that propels great feats.  And even if you want your great feat to be gigantic mass, you will need that calm, quiet, private confidence to get you underneath the weights that would help you produce such heft.  

The elephants may parade confidence via their stature, but the ants live confidently via their ability.  It's a lesson from the small guy in the herd of monsters – that even the monsters can benefit from.  

Confidence first.  Big lifts afterwards.  Big muscles last.  In THAT order.