It would seem that, to be considered "awesome," one must master the ability to completely reduce the mind to a state of reptilian obstinacy. If you can't attack shit blindly like a big dumb-ass, well, then no one is going to think you are anything more than average.
This is a curious myth that has evolved from the American sports culture. The best guys are just "animals," we say. They are "beasts" who enter "beastmode." They are "freaks of nature" who "go hard." The best are represented as anything but intelligent, and this representation becomes iconic and then symbolic for the rest of us. If we want to be "amazing," we better be idiots.
This attitude is so pervasive that many people are fooled into believing that to possess superhuman capacity means that strategy, perspective and progression – you know, the things that helped humans evolve in the first place – have no room in the process.
And thus I see dozens of people happening their bodies, skulls and schedules against narrow-minded objectives, all in the hope of being "awesome." And most often that hammering results in a lot of collateral damage. Like, I really do mean a lot of damage. So much damage, in fact, that they often fall short of their goal.
Now some complete their goals, but still the amount of damages they have sustained have greatly reduced what they might expect from themselves in the future. They achieved their goal, yes, but now actually have less going for them when they started, all because they had to attack with full force and without any strategic thinking beyond their one, absolute goal.
It's called a Pyrrhic victory (look it up, kids), and it is the single most common mode of achievement not only in StrongMan, bodybuilding, powerlifting and the other sports that The Next Level uses as teaching-tools, but also in many areas in life including business, finance, dining, and even marriage. Beating up your body, your mind and your lifestyle in the name of a singular goal without a strategy to preserve more than you spend is not only the predominant way most people approach bodybuilding and lifting, it is sadly too often how we all approach life.
But we are made of our habits. So if our habit is just to attack with a narrow focus, we will be stuck in this self-depletiung progression. Sure we'll accomplish lots of stuff, but meanwhile be going bankrupt in our long-term outlook. But if our habit is to preserve our resources above and beyond the need for accomplishment, well, now we can achieve some objectives that can work for us.
Your spending is frivolous
What this means practically for those of us who exercise with any sort of intensity is that we need to prioritize the healing over the need to accomplish the goal. I am not talking about the internet-famous buzzword "recovery," here. Yes, recovery is a component of healing, but healing encompasses a far greater range of ideas than just "being able to get back in the game."
You see, true "healing" is active, while mere "recovery" is passive. Sure, sometimes we need to "actively force ourselves" to rest, but you can see even in that statement how rest and recovery are components to a bigger picture. Healing is a broad set of activities, including ways of eating, ways of working with the body's joints and muscles, and yes even how we rest. Yet also we need to heal our stressed and taxed minds along with our bodies. Stress is a powerful drain, and even if we are accomplishing the thing we said we wanted, it means nothing if we spent more than we intended to do so.
So what did you intend to spend before you accomplish something?
And did you, indeed, only spend that much in the process of accomplishment?
If you always spent more money than you intend on a purchase, you would go bankrupt. Sure, you would have lots of expensive and fancy possessions, but you would also lose them quickly as you slide into pure poverty. You would never spend more money than you can afford. Well, the resources of the body are the same way, and yet how often do we not only overspend, but don't bother to properly and thoroughly assess just how much we have stored in our banks?
Are you ever guilty of this? Not properly, regularly, diligently and thoroughly self-assessing what you have to give in favor of eagerly, aggressively and obsessively diving in to the next exciting physique goal?
This assessment is an active part of healing, believe it or not. Knowing what is there allows us to also know what is deficit or even completely missing, and thus allow us to heal better and faster than if we just kept hammering forward with only a vague notion of what we have to give.
Because when you let your presumptions determine what it is you have to give, trust me, you will always assume you have more than you actually have. And that is how you will go bankrupt.
The missing among the found
Ironically, most of the people I watch who compete in physique sports – those who are considered (even by themselves) as the "elite" physique athletes – often possess remarkably shoddy habits when it comes to this sort of healing. They stand proudly by the amazing lifts they achieve, the pro-cards they earn and the photos that show some pretty amazing visions. And these credentials become their defense to their methods. "Because I got the thing I set out for," they summit, "My methods are therefore not only the most accurate, but beyond reproach."
And then those methods get held up not as mere examples of aa journey, but standards for success.
And then that whole American Sports Mythos mentality that I mentioned earlier takes over. Go balls to the wall. Go hardcore. Just do these things and shut up – without questioning those things! Win! WIN! WINNNNN!
And yet you'd be surprised how these same "elites" rarely have healing game plans in their arsenal. At most, they learn them later in their progression; stapling these efforts on to their work in an ad hoc style of grab-and-go.
Be leery of what you hear of the competitors when it comes to the healing and recovery processes they espouse. The vast majority of times what they are saying is very accurate and useful, yet rarely are the healing techniques they advise what they, themselves, used to get where they are. More often they hammered their bodies close to a pulp, totally neglecting best healing. It is often out necessity that they began looking into more useful modes of healing; they experienced progress-threatening injuries, major trauma or intense scares. Often the elite athletes only talk about healing because they found out about it the hard way. Rarely are the programs that brought competitors their contest glory are shining examples for competent, longevity-focused competition.
I watch rarely extend their careers very long. Their bodies break down. Their enthusiasm flags. And very often even their lifestyles are a little crumbled.
Put what comes next in front of what's now
Every once in a while, though, you find a physique athlete who prioritizes healing ahead of winning. And this guy or gal ends up performing just as well as his or her not-so-healing oriented competitive peer, but with two major differences.
First off, they tend to just go on and on for years, building and growing and gaining ground in remarkable ways. Often they eclipse their peers over the long run, even if in the short-spans of time they get left behind. They are not, after all, buying into he American Sports Mythos; they are okay with not being blind rage idiots. What they lose in momentary glory they gain in years and years of progressive success.
The second major difference in these athletes is how happy they are with their work. Not just with the results, but with the work itself. They are able to maintain tons more joy and interest in what they do, which makes their efforts constantly bring back more positivity.
You see, healing practices change as your body develops. One year might have required lots of foam rolling, but two years later you need to focus more on deep breathing. At one time it may have been about the number of protein grams you intake, but then later it becomes the number of hours you rest. At one point it may have been needing a coach to repair negative thinking, and the next it may be needing a good buddy. The healing needs of your body are constantly shifting as your body changes.
Remember, your body is not the same as you progress. Not only does age, wear and tear change the demands of healing, but also your skills and strength are growing and thus have greater demands. You can't just grab a bag of healing ideas and use them for twenty years. You need to constantly sift, sort, re-assess and re-learn modes of healing.
But throughout, learning new practices of healing is essential. You can literally explore for ever and still find new tricks, practices and ideas to adapt.
What if your program was focused this way?
So what if, instead of on strength and training and eating, your program was focused first and foremost on healing? What if you structured the practice based on balancing out healing with effort?
Basically, this would alter the amount of effort you put in relative to the amount of time to heal. If you can heal from a smaller effort faster than a big effort, it might make sense to set up your program as a series of smaller steps from which you heal better from rather than big, bold, bad-ass steps that are really only there for your ego anyway.
Contemplate that idea or a second.
Is your program set up as a system of steps that allow maximal healing – and thus near-guaranteed progress?
Or is your program set up based on "stuff I want"?
A lot of people focus primarily on the outcome, and not on the process of how it is best achieved. (Oh, hello American Sports Mythos.) So their training and eating is built as a ladder towards what they want – towards being the awesomest bad-ass – rather than as a ladder that will keep them always, always gaining ground.
But if your own ladder of progress was created with the forethought: "How can I balance maximal healing with the amount of effort," you may notice that, while the steps are smaller, the progress is more consistent. You wilt get the immediate glories of "freakmode beast status," but you will be always met with success. While the former fireworks are exciting, the latter bonfire will keep you warm and fed.
But this sort of programming requires careful thinking and lots of research.
- Can you research 3 to 5 ways other than sleep that heal the muscles?
- Can you find 5 or 6 practices that help the joints avoid undue stress?
- Can you learn 2 or 3 ways to train the discipline to step the mind back from excitement and gain perspective?
- Can you learn to eat 5 to 7 new things regularly which will help your body heal?
The answers to all of these simplistic questions is obviously "yes." So I guess the real question is: are you doing these things before you set up your training work? Or are you just paying them lip service; agreeing that they are important but not really fitting in any time or effort to engage them?
We can all read about diet plans and exercise programs with enthusiasm because they are boiled down and simplified. They are perfectly linear creations that feel "easy" to integrate into our lives. And that is why we tend to spend more time learning them than all this other healing stuff, which seems a little obtuse at first pass.
But remember: these training and even diet plans are often designed to tax the body, not enliven it to healing. The point of training and exercise is to set the body up for a controlled heal;. That healing done over and over is what produces the gains; it is not the exercise that makes you big and strong, but how you handle the exercise. And gradually, this handling makes the body a better healing machine. A better healing machine is a better performance machine – whether it is with lifting or love, strength or sex, performance or play.
And isn't this the point of all this hard work, anyway? To reap the benefits and get more out of the investment, rather than less? Progressively gaining ground is what would make us more competitive anyway, so prioritizing healing in our programming is really a win-win anyway.
What makes us better keeps us happier.
A component of the PhysiQademy's Theory Of Joy curriculum focuses on this principle of healing focus. What makes us feel satisfied in a moment is not always the same as what makes us happier. After all, when you really think about it "satisfaction" is actually a temporary feeling; it is not a state we perpetuate so much as a feeling we occasionally acknowledge. What is most useful is a focus on what can make us more productive, more benevolent, more useful and – essentially – happier.
So if we have a passion or discipline for physique sports and strength, these too should be properly employed towards making us better people. While many people say that of themselves, the ways in which they truly practice this is not often evident in their programs – because it is only minimally present at all! There is a lot of lip service to how programs make people "feel better," but in this they are most often only referring to that sense of self-satisfaction, and not the fact that they are now somehow better contributors to the world around them.
To be a better contributor – to really feel happy with ourselves – truly requires having the resources to do so. And training and exercise can create those resources – but only if we allow them to flourish! Therefore, we need tho makes sure we are "master healers" to ensure that our training will make us resourceful and not deficit.
This is what brings the joy. Having the excess resources at our disposal to be more effective in our lives, and thus in the world. It is not about hoarding a bunch of self-congratulating honors. It is about having a bunch of abilities we can employ to make the world a little less shitty.
And to build those resources – to build that joy – we need to know how to heal from deficit. Healing is actually a lot more vital, it seems, to long term strength and building than is the training that sets it up.
In short: "The best bodybuilders are the best healers."