Reviewing Bigger Leaner Stronger by Mike Matthews

Bigger Leaner StrongerRecently I read Bigger Leaner Stronger by Mike Matthews and really enjoyed learning new techniques to become leaner and stronger. I’m not really too concerned with being “big” I just want to build muscle and become lean. Mike really backs up a lot of his techniques with research and focuses on not lifting a lot of reps, but focusing on lifting heavy weights for 4-6 reps. When he says heavy, he’s talking about 80%-90% of our 1 Rep Max. Between each set, you rest for three minutes. I’d admit at first it was a little weird resting that long at the gym, but I’ve already become used to it. Since I’ve only had the book for a week, I can’t speak for the results yet but I’ve become fond of lifting heavy weight. He also focuses on compound lifts such as deadlifts, back squats, chest press, and military press. His training regimen has you working two compound lifts a day along with accessory lifts that are in the 8-10 rep range.

Regarding lifting heavy weight, his cites a meta-analysis of 140 related studies and found that researchers from Arizona State University found that a progression in resistance optimizes strength gains and muscle growth. Researchers also found that working in the 4-6 rep range at 80% of your one rep max is most effective for those who train regularly. “The conclusion” Mike states, “of the research is simple: the best way to build muscle and strength is to focus on heavy weightlifting and increase weight lifted over time. The bottom line to building solid lean mass is to “lift hard and heavy, get sufficient rest, and feed your body correctly.”

One thing I don’t agree with Mike on is that a calorie is a calorie. He really believes in counting calories religiously, but provides good reason. Is his opinion, it’s all about the law of thermodynamics: in order to lose weight one must eat fewer calories than they burn. I find some truth in that, but I’m not a fan of calorie counting all the time. Instead, I use MyFitnessPal 1-3x a week to see how many calories I’m averaging, especially since I tend to keep my meals relatively the same (chicken breast and veggies, protein shakes, and a meal from Eat The 80).

What I do like about his fat loss section is that he debunks the myth that one has to do cardio to lose fat. What he really gets down to is that most people do long-term, endurance cardio sessions… spending an hour or more on the treadmill. And while you will burn calories, it’s not nearly high enough and can easily be counteracted by just slightly overeating. Instead, he recommends high-intensity interval cardio, also known at HITT, which “can increase your basal metabolic rate through what’s known as the ‘afterburn effect.’ While that sounds fancy and is often used in sketch marketing pitches for sketchy products, it’s simple” your body continues burning additional energy after you exercise.”

The fat burning section is also where he debunks the myth that doing a ton of reps gets you shredded. “The reality is that your body is ‘primed’ for muscle loss when you’re in a calorie deficit, and by focusing exclusively on muscle endurance (higher-rep ranges), you’ll set yourself up for rapid strength loss, with the potential for significant muscle loss as well. The key, ” Mike states “to preserving strength and muscle while losing weight is to life heavy weights.” He further cites a study published by Greek sports scientists who found that men who trained with heavy weights (80-85% of their 1 rep max) increased their metabolic rates over the following days, burning hundreds more calories than men who trained with lighter weights.”

The book also discusses willpower and self-control. “Become the master of your won’ts, wills, and wants, and you become the master of your destiny. Procrastination can be licked. Your worst habits can be dismantled and replaced. Whiffs of temptation lose their power over you.” Later he writes, “when cravings hit, instead of trying to distract and argue with yourself, notice and accept the feelings. Realize that while you may not always be able to control where your mind wanders, you can always control your actions.”

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this books and found that his exercise routine to be pretty intense. He lays out several plans for people going to the gym from 3-5x a week. I can’t yet speak fully for the results yet, but after following his plan for a few days I definitely enjoy working out a little bit more. The hardest part is doing what he recommends between sets: waiting three minutes.

Check it out and let me know your thoughts! Click here to purchase the book yourself.


Why I Enjoy Exercise and Being Fit

How to Think About ExerciseI just finished reading How to Think About Exercise by Damon Young and it has been incredibly insightful in helping me rediscover why I enjoy exercise and being fit. The book starts off talking about dualism, which in this context is explained as the division between the mind and the body. Most of the time, people spend a lot of time working on one or the other. I would argue that those who focus exclusively on just the mind or the body would end up lacking a truly fulfilling life and would lessen their opportunity to thrive.

Back in the seventeenth century a French philosopher, René Descartes, recognized the connection between exercise and mindfulness. He thought about “how it felt to walk up a steep hill, or fall behind in a schoolyard sprint.”

Socrates also promoted exercise in his philosophy, “Many people’s minds are so invaded by forgetfulness, despondency, irritability, and insanity because of their poor physical condition, that their knowledge is actually driven out of them.” But I really enjoy what Xenophon wrote:

We only have one life, and youth is brief. To be healthy without trying to run faster and longer, or harden one’s muscles, is to squander a chance to be more than one is; to miss the unique joy of striving, however painful.

The Greeks strived physically and mindfully, and certainly enjoyed the rewards. “Exercise is a chance to educate our bodies and minds, at once. […] Over the months and years, we can become more aware of subtle changes to character: we are more proud, humble, generous, or constant.”

Exercise is our chance to become a more defined version of ourselves. As our muscles get bigger or as we get leaner and we’re crushing the day’s workout, we’re also training our mind that we can survive and, in fact, are operating very well as we sweat and strain ourselves to exhaustion.

I enjoy exercise because it also gives me an opportunity push myself and to clear my mind. As the book mentions, “we are doing more than tightening our thighs and calves. We are also loosening our minds, and giving them interesting things to contemplate in this state.” Some people refer to this as a “void” or “flow” state.

But exercise, to me, isn’t about walking endlessly on a treadmill. For me, it has several criteria:

  1. Is it functional?
  2. Is it fun? (Like lifting weights or riding my bike or, more recently, swimming)
  3. Is it something that can challenge me? I may do something I don’t enjoy doing once or twice a week, just for the challenge (this is something Body By Boris gets me to do every now and then).

I personally get really excited about lifting heavy weight. I love it, but the lifting movements should have a function. “All that is beautiful,” says Socrates, “whether in body, colour, form, sound, or activity would be classed as such by reference to some purpose.” For example, deadlifts are incredibly helpful in moving furniture.

Overall, I could go in many directions with this book and you’ll probably see more posts in future referencing it. However, I really encourage you to check it out for yourself: How to Think About Exercise. What do you enjoy about exercise and being fit?

How “The Untethered Soul” Helped Silence My Inner Critic

The Untethered SoulI’ve never been much of an avid reader growing up. In fact, I hated reading throughout most of middle school and high school, with the exception being The Great Gatsby which I loved and read in it’s entirety. Perhaps it was because my teachers often asked students to discuss the reading, which always made me uncomfortable with my social anxieties and being overweight. However, over the past year I have started reading more and more, digging in to learn more about nutrition, fitness, addictions, and mindfulness. While a lot of books have taught me a great deal, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer has undoubtedly made a huge impact on my life. When I was addicted to drugs, I loved how they would seemingly silence my inner voice, or at least it seemed like I was in more control. I looked to drugs for an outlet, to get away from it all. I didn’t want to have to deal with life. I didn’t want to think about my dad passing away. I wanted to escape my inner critic. You know that voice, everybody does. Mine was telling me how much I was going to fail in life. My inner critic was telling me how unattractive I was. It would tell me that everyone, including close friends and family, were judging me, laughing at me. Constantly judging. Basically, my inner critic was an asshole… and I listened to it everyday. So, when I first heard about The Untethered Soul, I thought, “What a bunch of hippie nonsense. It’s impossible to deal with your inner critic without being on something.” But, I figured I’d give it a shot. In the first chapter, I was interested when I read “there is no reason to constantly attempt to figure everything out. Eventually you will see the real cause of problems is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes the problem.” However, it was in the second chapter, your inner roommate, that this book had my attention. Singer makes you think of your inner critic like a roommate sitting next to you while watching TV.

“Did you turn off the light downstairs? You better go check. Not now, I’ll do it later. I want to finish watching the show. No, do it now. That’s why the electric bill is so high.”   You sit in silent awe, watching all of this. Then, a few seconds later, your couch-mate is engaged in another dispute:   “Hey, I want to get something to eat! I’m craving some pizza. No, you can’t have pizza now; it’s too far to drive. But I’m hungry. When will I get to eat?”   To your amazement, these neurotic bursts of conflicting dialogue just keep going on and on.

Ninety-nine percent of your thoughts are a complete waste of time. They do nothing but freak you out.… and I listened to every single one of those neurotic bursts! Previously, I never externalized my inner critic, but this practice really clicked with me. When I started practicing this in everyday life, I would often find myself telling my “roommate” to get the heck out and never come back, “He’s a freakin jerk!” Nuggets of wisdom and insight keep on going throughout the book. Singer asks readers questions like, “Who sees when I see? Who hears when I hear?” You would think the answer to these questions is “me,” but is that truly the case? Singer takes you on a journey of discovering that “You are not your thoughts; you are aware of your thoughts. You are not your emotions; you feel your emotions. You are not your body; you look at it in the mirror and experience this world through its eyes and ears. You are the conscious being who is aware that you are aware of all these inner and outer things.” The Untethered Soul is definitely a book that makes you question everything, but has helped me become less anxious and feel more in control of my life. I still sometimes struggle with my inner critic, but when I find myself straying away on a neurotic burst I remember to externalize him and kick him out. In addition, using tools for meditation like Headspace have also been incredibly helpful. Have you read this book or a similar book that has made a profound impact on your life? If so, please share below in the comments!