Evolution of The Strength Scout

When beginning this blog months ago, my intent was simple: to test methods and speak of my own experiences of building physical strength and resiliency. But as the evolving content reflects, my mindset has shifted. Isolating physical development, from the rest of the body, is futile.

The Strength Scout has become an eclectic approach to developing strength and resiliency. Challenges await anyone who wants to squat 200kg or master the handstand. And while having a road map to these goals is valuable, learning to navigate the unforeseen obstacles is just as important.

The pursuit of physical goals has become less important to me. I still have goals – like wanting to squat 200kg – but I’m no longer burdened by them. The value lies in the process and the lessons learned along the way.

I have been guilty of allowing physical endeavours, such as achieving certain strength feats or physique goals, hold me back from progressing. My single-mindedness was more of a hindrance than a help, I know realise.

It’s clear that pursuing mental strength benefits the physical and vice versa. But developing the mind is not thought of highly enough, and this belief holds many of us back.

Physical training is a great to practice things you wouldn’t normally associate with the gym, like mental rehearsal and patience. By being more conscious and aware of our bodies in the gym, we can achieve better outcomes.

Consistency of Character

A good leader possesses many qualities but a consistency of character should underpin all that he does. Would you follow a leader who’s words and actions contradict each other on a day-to-day basis? Hell no.

Consistency builds trust.

A leader can’t hop from one side of the fence to the other or confusion and dissatisfaction will soon follow. Imagine the negative emotions you’d feel if the internet advertisement of a car, demonstrating it’s excellent condition, was false.

Don’t expect people to follow if you speak and act inconsistently. Be sure of yourself. Ensure your actions are aligned with what you say. And burn the adage, “Do as I say, not as I do”.

Intangible

Many trees shed their leaves in autumn. This means setting aside time for raking; a cause of annoyance for some.

But there is satisfaction in clearing the yard – it’s cathartic. The grass is clear of debris leaving the garden looking pretty again.

As the week’s pass, leaves fall at an accelerated rate. Regular raking continues but it’s difficult to make headway, with freshly fallen leaves quickly replacing their recently cleared brethren. There is no sense of accomplishment.

Grind – this phase is temporary.

Whether clearing the leaves or chipping away at your goals, progress is not always clear-cut. There is the belief that, change must be tangible and easy to observe, but this isn’t always the case.

Long-term progress is not linear.

Practice perseverance and patience when progress becomes unclear. And just as trees survive the harsher winter months by shedding their leaves, you too will become more resilient.

Take Responsibility

Failing to take responsibility for our bodies is the main reason injuries linger and performances stagnate. Let’s explore this issue and outline a way to improve.

Let it be

You’ve been struck by injury. Your strategy is to rest and avoid painful movements.

This is a good approach for mild injuries. The body is a healing machine and given the right environment, it will heal on its own accord. Issues, like chronicity, arise when you the injury is more severe than you thought and that’s when you…

Push through

You’ve built momentum with your training program only to feel a niggle. Your progress slows and pain levels rise.

But you don’t give up that easy.

You won’t let a small injury like this bother you, now that you’ve built a base. You push on and the injury worsens and frustration grows until you can train no more.

Triage yourself

Ego holds us back from making clear decisions – males especially.

Taking responsibility for what we do – and don’t know – is the best way to manage our bodies. We don’t have the knowledge of a medical professional but we can educate ourselves about the basics of body function. We can learn from reputable resources, take relevant courses and listen to our bodies at every opportunity.

Once we’ve taken responsibility, knowing when we’re out of our depth is the next step. The expertise of a health professional is invaluable given their knowledge and skills. But we need to understand this is a partnership – a doctor, podiatrist or physio – can only do so much with the time they have with us. Asking questions to find out how best we can aid recovery is an important part of the process.

Take responsibility and know when to share it with an expert – that’s good body management.

How do you approach management of your body? Leave your thoughts below.

Redefining Strength

‘Mum’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind when talking strength. Not physical strength anyway. But as I found out, mothers are strong – they have endless reserves of patience and are the lynchpin of the family.

As I interviewed my Mum, I discovered ‘strength’ means different things to different people.

Defining strength

Strength is hard to pin down. While the physical strength of strongmen and powerlifters is clear to see and quantify, there is another form of strength that eludes the naked eye.

“There is physical strength and inner strength. We need both,” Mum says.

“Physical strength helps us to keep up with the demands of life and maintain wellbeing”.

She was less sure when defining inner strength, admitting it was difficult to put into words. “Inner strength is what stops us from falling apart. It’s a type of emotional strength that helps us cope with bad news and tough times,” she says.

Building strength

Physical strength is something that can be developed but what about inner strength?

“I don’t know if this counts but I pray to God. I don’t believe in organised religion though there must be a creator,” she says. “I pray for help, guidance and reassurance. I feel a sense of calm after”.

It’s invaluable to spend time with our thoughts. It gives us a chance to break away from being on autopilot and interpret what’s going on in our head. It also lets us practice gratitude.

‘Mindfulness training’ is no longer a tool accessible only to yogis and the enlightened. There is an increasing number of mindfulness apps available while businesses are beginning to focus on mental wellbeing in addition to physical health through increased support and flexible workplaces.

But building emotional strength isn’t as logical as physical strength. Mum admits that having a proactive approach to inner strength is difficult. It’s something that is developed mainly with time and experience, in her opinion.

“It’s about stepping up to challenges. When you receive bad news, like a health scare, it’s important to stay positive. I’ve learned over the years that nothing good comes from falling apart. You’re better off acknowledging the event then getting on with what needs to be done,” she said.

Life gives us opportunities. It’s how we perceive them that determines how we respond. If we view obstacles as challenges, then we put ourselves in a position to tackle the issue positively. But if we see obstacles as problems, we shy away, make excuses or complain.

It’s our choice.

Who is strong?

People who have overcome adversity, like financial hardship or a health scare, are those we consider strong. But there is more to it than that, according to Mum.

“They may be strong on the exterior but this could be a facade. People act tough to protect themselves,” she says.

Though, what might begin as false bravado might become genuine strength and resiliency over time. Just as those around you perceive you as strong, you too will begin to believe in yourself if you put on a front for long enough.

There’s value in acting strong even if you don’t necessarily feel it.

Your biggest strength

It doesn’t take me long to list off my Mum’s strengths – patience, commitment and consistency, are few of many. But when asked, Mum draws a blank, “I don’t know if I’ve got one,” she says.

At this point Dad chimes in. “Her cooking!” he shouts from across the room. Then he answers more seriously, “She’s fair-minded, your Mum. And what still strikes me to this day is her ability to put others well being before her own,’ he says.

After gentle coaxing, Mum finally opens up. “I guess I would say my ability to raise my children,” she says.

Parenting is a balancing act, “I wanted to make sure I didn’t pressure your way of thinking but at the same time provide enough guidance to a happy life,” she says.

“It’s funny when you were little you wouldn’t listen to me when I asked you simple things, like to sit down at the table at dinner time. I’d pull my hair out and tell myself that you’d listen more when you grew up. But you still don’t listen!” she says.

Luckily I evade getting drawn into a discussion on why you should always listen to you mother by pointing out that the interview is over. The perks being the interviewer!

Conclusion

I’m guilty of hanging off every word of a stranger’s opinion on strength, success or happiness. But the people around us – family, friends, and colleagues – can teach us just as much through their experiences.

Fame isn’t proportional to a person’s worth and strength is more than lifting a heavy weight.

What About The Mental?

Do you train your mind?

Many resources exist on how to train the physical body. It is a well-researched topic and it’s easy to observe changes – we look different in the mirror, can run further or lift more weight. This feedback is a nice way to confirm we’re doing something right.

Also planning a training program is easy. Run this amount of kilometres, lift this amount of weight and progress over time.

But do you train your mind?

Why don’t we put the same effort into developing a strong mind?

Because it’s not tangible, it’s difficult to quantify, less information exists on how to do it and there is stigma attached to ‘mind training’ –  a feeling that it should be left to Buddhist monks and Jedi’s.

Why is it important?

We rely on our bodies for many tasks and often they fall within our physical capabilities, like doing the groceries. Seldom do we do things that truly challenge our body. We’re capable of performing most activities with next to no effort. Imagine if we could get to the same level of mental ease.

We call on our brain for every task we do. Improving mental efficiency improves effectiveness – from ensuring the supermarket receipt is correct to negotiating challenging social situations.

Muscles are trained by lifting weights – with correct application and time, heavy dumbbells become light. The same principle applies to mental training and difficult mental calculations soon become easy.

How do we train the mind?

Just as the body is trained in different ways, such as strength versus endurance, there several approaches to training the brain…

Practice mindfulness

Be ‘present’.

The mind is in a constant state of flux flickering between past, present and future. By remaining grounded in the present, we do better at the job at hand and reduce unnecessary worry about the future or dwelling on the past.

Practice mindfulness with mundane tasks. Chores around the house, like sweeping, for instance. Focus intently on doing the task perfectly.

Continual learning

Without constant stimulation, the brain stagnates and atrophies just as muscles waste when not used.

Lifelong learning keeps the brain fresh. Learn about topics that interest you – read, research and sign up for courses. Take advantage of free online learning platforms like Coursera and edX.

Meditate

Meditation benefits everyone not just Yogis and progressive types who say “Yeah man,” too often.

It’s another opportunity to practice mindfulness. When beginning meditation, the mind rarely stays in one place and instead jumps from thought to thought. Learn how to meditate using techniques like focusing on the breath. These apps are useful too.

With practice you’ll be able to separate yourself from your thoughts, allowing them to float by like clouds instead of becoming attached to them. Your concentration will improve.

Mental rehearsal and visualisation are also great tools. Elite athletes, foreseeing their future success, have popularised these techniques. Create vivid mental imagery of an area of your life you’d like to improve and see yourself succeeding.

Do you put time and effort into mental training? What techniques and strategies do you use? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

What Can The East Learn From The West?

What can the east learn from the west…

Quantify

Eastern cultures possess a rich history. Many eastern countries are off-shoots of ancient civilisations and this has allowed them many years to test methods and practices like Chinese medicine.

A lot of eastern philosophies never make their way to the west despite their supposed benefits. A lack sound evidence and research are the cause.

We live in a world driven by science and data. For something to earn our buck it must be supported by studies and research. But the east tends to rely on dogma and anecdotes – a strategy that fails to sway western sceptics.

Westerners who experiment with eastern techniques are in the minority. Until the east adopts rigorous methods to prove effectiveness, their unique knowledge will remain in the dark.

Sharing of ideas

Failure to share is not isolated to the east but appears more prevalent.

Kung Fu forms a significant part of Chinese culture. But over the years many forms have been lost because of unwilling teachers.

Masters and grandmasters choose not to teach their specific skills for two reasons:

  1. They haven’t found a student worthy enough
  2. They don’t wish their form of Kung Fu to spread, preferring secrecy

This thinking is damaging Kung Fu. Imagine the possibilities if sharing was encouraged instead of looked upon negatively.

Programming

Kung Fu training is very well-rounded but could be improved changing exercise order. Often, power training and mentally stimulating drills are left to the end. This increases the chance of injury and reduces performance due to fatigue.

Training sessions would be more effective if challenging exercises were prioritised.

Build strength

Endurance is the focus of body conditioning in the east – high repetition sets are the norm. Endurance is an important part of martial arts but a greater focus on strength would improve performance.

Visualise a pyramid – strength forms the base and other physical attributes, like endurance and speed, are stacked on top. By creating a larger strength base it is easier to build the other physical abilities and create a balanced athlete in the process.

What are your thoughts on what the east can learn from the west? Do you agree? I look forward to reading your comments.

What Can The West Learn From The East?

What can western civilisation take from the east when it comes to physical conditioning?

Despite globalisation, a gap exists between west and east leading to a failure of the cultures to learn from each other.

Is a loss of advantage the fear?

Let’s break down the barrier – what the west can learn from the east…

Practice a martial art

Martial arts, whether Kung Fu, Karate or Muay Thai, are embedded in the eastern culture. The west has its own forms but they are not intertwined with the fabric society as you’ll find Kung Fu, for example.

Travel to China and nearly everyone has experience with Kung Fu – why is this important?

From a physical perspective, it helps to develop coordination and body awareness from an early age. Knowing where your body is in space has carryover to athleticism. Also, it helps to develop physical attributes like flexibility.

Longevity

Remaining physically active improves longevity and quality of life. Stereotypical western sports, like football, are not often conducive to long careers. Many amateur athletes retire in their mid-thirties out of fear of injury.

Martial arts offers an opportunity to live an active lifestyle for longer. Western countries are beginning to see this and offer bastardised Tai Chi programs for the elderly which, although not ideal, is a start.

Mobility

Genetics are often cited as the reason people of Asian descent move more freely than their western counterparts. There is more to it than heredity. A lifestyle of adopting challenging postures and stances – through martial arts – plays a role in developing enviable mobility.

Also by blending static stretches with ballistic movements – like the various kicks of martial arts – leads to control of the body through a full range of motion.

Try a martial art.

Search until you find one that suits you. You’ll develop practical skills, join a like-minded community and challenge yourself physically and mentally. If a martial art is too much of a stretch, dancing or other activities that involve sequence-oriented movement patterns will do the trick.

What are your thoughts on what the West can learn from the East?

Intuitive Eating

The experience of eating is dreaded by some.

Have I eaten too much? Have I eaten too little? Is this food ‘clean’? Guilt surrounding food is a growing concern and needs to be nipped in the bud before it gets worse.

What’s the purpose of eating? Why does it exist?

To sustain life. Eating gives the body nutrition to function.

For those aspiring to perform at their best, their nutrition to reflects this. They eat foods – mainly whole foods – that provide the best fuel for their goal.

There is nothing wrong with this approach but it can leave people with a limited range of foods they deem healthy creating unhealthy habits.

Is it healthy to eat the same meal of chicken and broccoli all week? Is it healthy to avoid social encounters to keep a ‘perfect’ nutrition plan intact?

Misinformation

Disregard the media when it comes to nutrition. Their goal is better ratings which thrive on over-dramatisation and fear mongering.

Bigger picture

Spend time learning nutrition basics rather than carefully measuring every ounce of food. Forget the notion that fats are bad and that you should avoid carbs after 3.02pm and learn the facts. What differentiates saturated fats for unsaturated? What role do they play and in what foods can they be found in?

Historically speaking…

What did our ancestors – free from modern ailments like diabetes and heart disease – eat? Whole foods like fruits and vegetables with the occasional feast.

It’s OK to splurge from time to time. Feasting in ancient times was necessary as food security was low before to the dawn of farming.

In modern times, eating more than necessary on occasion plays a different role. It allows you and me to enjoy social gatherings, like birthdays, and indulge in foods that are not ‘healthy’ and that satisfies our cravings.

It allows us to be normal, intuitive eaters.

Intuitive eating is not a new term. In fact, a book has been written on the subject.

The idea – to eat like a child.

Think back to when you ate spaghetti with your hands. Were you tediously counting the calories in each handful?

For much of our youth, eating was a simple activity. We listened to our bodies and ate to satisfy our hunger and stopped when we were full. Some weeks we ate more, devouring whole loaves of bread after school, while at other times our appetite was diminished.

With age, our natural eating tendencies changed. We overheard stories that pasta makes you chubby or you should limit your fat intake, and these weaselled their way into how we ate.

What we need is a memory-erasing device (Men In Black anyone?). Let’s approach food simply – eating based on feel coupled with a good understanding of the nutrition basics.

Simple enough right?

Our Fascination With The Physique

Most would be lying if they said how they looked meant very little to them.

Statistics show addiction to how we look is more prevalent in females. But the physique fascination plagues both sexes, particularly since the ‘70’s when Schwarzenegger and co. brought bodybuilding public.

What drives us to care about how we look? Is there a correlation between the growth of the media’s influence and our physical obsession?

Hop aboard the Doc’s DeLorean and travel back to a time when television was non-existent – you’ll find smoker’s but very few with eating and body image disorders. People could only compare themselves to others around them and the odd black-and-white newspaper photo of a celebrity.

Then dawned the silver screen and the growth of Hollywood, and with it the ability to compare our looks to individuals hand-picked for their physical appearance. Average Joe’s competition grew – from folks in his neighbourhood to handsome movie stars.

Standards rose.

Since then, what constitutes a ‘good body’ has changed. The era of Arnie brought the muscular look to our attention. But we failed to grasp that these physiques were impossible to achieve, for most.

Youngsters believed eating chicken, rice and broccoli six times a day would build them Mr Olympia-like physiques. They didn’t know of the ‘supplementation’ (read – steroids) used by the guys at the top level until years later.

Today, the impact of photo editing, filters and other advancements in technology allow us to easily improve our appearance. Technology is so good it’s difficult to know what’s real and many are left feeling unsatisfied with how they look.

How do we re-create a healthy body image?

It comes down to the individual. Approach social media with a discerning eye and place less value on what you see. Limiting social media is a useful tactic.

Choosing realistic role models helps too.

We often aspire to a body built for looks. There is nothing wrong with this but wouldn’t a functional physique be more useful? Your training should reflect this.

Finally, develop a better understanding of your body, its physiology and needs. A working knowledge of nutrition basics is invaluable rather than relying on gym rats to guide your dietary approach. Also, an awareness of sleep, recovery, training and other areas of body maintenance will prove priceless.

Next time you regard yourself in the mirror, ask yourself, who am I comparing myself to?

Compare you to you.

Improve by using an intelligent, objective approach rather than following the generic advice of an Instagram model.