Mind, Body, Spirit

It is a widely-recognised metaphysical idea that Man is composed of 3 parts – mind, body and spirit.

The mind houses our intellect, the body houses our capacity for physical action, and the spirit houses our emotions.

The will springs from the spirit, which drives our thoughts, which in turn drives our actions.

Our will comprises of our desires as couched in emotive states.

So why am I talking about the mind and the spirit, on a blog so obviously dedicated to physical culture?

This is because Man is a metaphysical trinity of interrelated spheres of being, two of which being the mind and the spirit, are intangible but for their expression through our physical actions.

The fact that they can’t be seen doesn’t mean that they’re not there, however, as most people will readily testify.

Physical culture should be viewed in its rightful place as one part of a whole – as a component within a larger framework of conscious attribute cultivation.

The body is the vessel of the mind, and the mind is the vessel of the spirit.

Strengthen the body and the mind shall benefit. Hone the mind and the spirit shall prosper.

Often we neglect one or more of these 3 inextricably linked aspects which make up for the totality of human form and essence.

In my view, physical culture is not an end in itself. It is not merely a cultivation of physical attributes and qualities. Rather, physical culture should be a means to an end of improving the human condition, by elevating the state of the flesh and thus providing buoyance for intellectual development and spiritual refinement.

Many of the old time strongmen were accomplished writers, artists, musicians, poets and students of philosophy in addition to their formidable physical prowess. They were noted for their intellect, and a good number were also known to be brilliant speakers and conversationalists. Some even ran highly successful businesses during their storied lifetimes.

Strength and phsyical culture is evidently not the be-all and end-all, even for those amongst its folds who were of great and enduring eminence.

Physical culture should be pursued not as a standalone effort, but rather as an exertion to scale loftier heights in the journey of life in which physical achievements count for only one part of three, the other two parts being intellectual development and emotional mastery.

So view the cultivation of your might and muscle as a cog in a larger wheel, and pursue a holistic life experience, for a truly fruitful and fulfilling voyage throughout the years that you will spend on this earth.

Here’s wishing all of you out there a good life, and good training. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

The Theory Of Training

The Guide

Because I have a (hopefully) well-deserved reputation as the residential fitness guru in my neighbourhood, sometimes I will get people who approach me at the fitness corner when I work out, asking me for advice on their own physical training.

One common trend that I have come to realise alot of these questions share is that they tend to revolve around the request for a prescription.

What do I mean by that?

Most people just want a quick fix, as if they are visiting the pharmacy or a drug store gettin’ some pills for the cold. They ask me for the best sets and reps to achieve some physical goal in particular that they desire. They want numbers – the more exact, the better.

While there are many time-honoured sets and reps combination that will work wonders for strength and muscle gains, I feel that gaining an understanding behind these numbers is something far more important than getting at the numbers themselves.

If you’re really serious about your health or strength, or both, you need to drop the mindset of going to the doctor (a perceived expert) for a prescription. You need to learn to become your own doctor, and your own expert.

When I coach my clients, I try my best to imbue them with the ability to be their own coach in the future. I teach them all that I know, but more importantly, I try to show them how I arrive at what I know, and by so doing I attempt to educate my clients on the process of self-coaching, and self-programming with regards to their own physical training.

If you have to rely exclusively on a trainer for your whole life, you’ll always be mediocre. Some of you will be fine with that, but I’m betting that there’s also an equal, if not larger number of you out there who want to be able to make it on your own eventually. This is human nature, pure and simple. You don’t want to go to school your whole life, do you? There will come a time when you want to forge ahead on your own, and decide what you want to learn, and what you want to do.

Of course, this desire for self-determination will only be present in significant quantities if health, strength and fitness is your love and your passion, in which you hope to one day achieve something more than ordinary. So this post goes out to the guys and gals out there who have chosen to undertake the quest of self-mastery through physical training. This is by no means a detailed road map, but more of a well-meaning finger pointing you in the right direction.

The rest of this article contains the essence of my own physical training – its content, its principles and its programming. These are the things that go beyond the numbers. These are the things from which the sets and reps are derived, and by which these numbers are organised and defined. This is the good stuff that I have managed to distill from long years of training experience, most of them painful.

So, assuming that you are aiming for all-rounded physical development – a generalist, as Ido Portal puts it, combining health and strength in a holistic pursuit of the flesh and the mind, let me show you some of the overarching concepts that underpin the entirety of my training regime. I have arranged the following principles in a chronological order of pursuit by which newcomers who’re looking for a way into the game (and old dogs who feel as if they have lost their way and are trying to redefine their lives in training) can refer to, as a directional guide for your considerations as you enter the arena of dedicated physical training.

1. Know Thy Goals.

This may seem like the bleedin’ obvious, but too many good men have come up to me asking: “How do I train?” To which I must respond: “And what is it that you want to train for, my friend?” To which many of these same good fellas will look confused, and begin to ponder what they should have considered before approaching someone and asking for specific training advice.

Then I get people telling me they want to be strong. Well that’s a slightly better goal, but it is still not specific enough. Do you want to be strong all over, or do you want to focus on certain parts of your body? Do you want the brute, raw power of a lifter, or the lithe, coordinated strength of a gymnast or a tumbler? Or do you want both? Or…? You get my point.

I always tell people this: “You have to have goals, the more specific the better. Your goals give you direction, and your training should be tailored to suit your specific aims. Your goals are your destination. If they are not clear or specific, you’ll end up circling the general vicinity of your desire, but you’ll never quite get there. It’s like asking for a friend’s address and leaving out the house or block number. You’ll be driving back and forth along the same road, but in the end that’s almost as bad as getting nowhere. And in some ways it’s actually worse, cos you’ll be a good deal more frustrated.”

So… Before you embark on any systematic training, it’s best to know just exactly what you want to train for. The more specific the better, because it makes your efforts more focused, and the resultant gains more measurable. And please be realistic. Don’t tell me you want to go to the Olympics in a month when you’re just starting out on serious training. We’re talking goal-setting here, not daydreaming.

2. Progression – The Name Of The Game

After you’ve got your goals down pat, it’s time to programme your training routine. Allow me to use the front lever as an example. Let us say you want to achieve a front lever in the near future. Static bodyweight strength moves are actually pretty achievable, even if you’re self-taught, but you don’t see many normal folks outside of the gymnastics circle doing them. Why?

The reason is simple: people see only the end product most of the time, and they have absolutely no clue of the previous progressions. Sometimes, some of them don’t even know that there are actually easier variations of these mind-blowing moves. Hell, I used to be one of these people back then, before my friend asked me to check out beastskills.com.

So let’s say you want to do a front lever. Start off with the easiest progression that you can handle, and work your way upwards. The name of the game is progression. Do what is manageable until it becomes easy, and then go on to do what has become manageable as a result of your training gains. And when that becomes easy, go on to do what is just within your boundaries. That’s how we keep on pushing the performance envelope ever-outwards and -upwards.

The same goes for weights. Use something that you can handle with some effort, until such time as it becomes easy. Then you add some weight until you acquire the feeling as back when you first started out working with the original amount of weights, until the new weight becomes easy to you, and so on.

Pretty straighforward, huh? I would think so. But apparently the obvious isn’t quite so obvious to some of us, or there will be more alot more strong people and alot less ineffectual grunting and moaning out there in the commercial gyms.

3. The Search For Optimality

There are a hundred roads that lead to Rome… or maybe more. The intelligent traveller will ask: so which is the fastest?

The same is true for training. Let us re-examine the example of the front lever.

You can train for this position by manipulating the variable of leverage. Tuck your legs and you’re effectively under less resistance. Extend your legs more and the corresponding load increases. So this is one way to train for the front lever – increase the leverage to something that you can work with and gradually reduce it as you grow stronger, until the day comes when you can hold the position with your legs together and fully straightened.

Now here’s another way to train for the front lever: start out with your legs together and fully straightened in a dead hang, and attempt to pull through to the final position with arms straight and locked at the elbows. Chances are you will be able to move, if only for a few inches… or a few centimetres. But this can be made progressive – you can endeavour to hold a semblance of the final position at whatever is your current limit, and as you grow stronger you will be able to pull your body increasingly parallel to the ground.

And yet another way to train for the front lever: this is the reverse of the previous method. Go into an inverted hang on the bar (if you can), and slowly attempt to lower yourself into the front lever from this easier position (easier in terms of leverage). Lower only as far as your current strength permits, and then hold for time. As you grow stronger you will be able to lower your body increasingly parallel to the ground, and one day you will be able to lower yourself down from an inverted hang to a front lever.

I have presented you with 3 possible ways, all of them progressive, of training for the front lever. So which one would you pick?

Of course, you will pick the one which you think is the easiest in terms of time-investment. To put it simply, you will pick what you believe to be the fastest route.

And now I ask you this: can you do all 3?

Of course, I don’t have the same answer for everyone when it comes to training programming, because we each have our own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and different people respond differently to the same type of training.

The intelligent trainee will always seek to optimalise his approach, and the process of his training, to get him where he wants to be, within the shortest possible time, and with the least amount of effort. This is pretty much like investment – you want to get good returns for what you’re putting in.

Training? It’s an investment. Optimalise it.

4. The Great Balancing Act

I’m betting that most of you reading this aren’t professional athletes. Chances are you’re someone gunning for a better-than-average health, mind and body with the life of an average man or woman, with the full complement of demands and stresses, both mental and physical, that accompany your work or study.

Odds are, you don’t get a guaranteed amount of sleep each night. Projects and presentations may force you to stay up late, and screw with your recovery when you’re in the midst of serious training. The same odds say that you may not be able to exercise such fine control over your diet as you may desire, and you may be stuck on the shitty menu at your school tuckshop, or workplace canteen.

You’re worried about the bills all the time, you’re worried about your kids, you’re worried about the rising prices of food and necessities that’s making your everyday gorcery shopping feel like episodes of daylight robbery. There are at least a hundred and one worries on your mind that stay with you throughout the day, everyday, and this feeling of constant anxiety haunt your subconscious like a restless ghost, even as you sleep.

Well, we all live in the real world, and the real world is a real cruel place for the most of us.

That is the reason why simple body maintenance has taken a backseat for so many of us – we are so burnt out from the perpetual rat-race that defines and dictates our lives that we have precious little time and energy for anything else. We don’t want to work out after a long, gruelling day at school or work. We just want to get home, get on a bed or a couch, and wind down by hypnotising our minds and spirits with the numbing salve of comfort food, music or TV programmes.

And nobody has a right to despise you for that.

But I’m also guessing that you are somebody who deserves better. You deserve to look your best and feel your best, and be on top of your game, everytime, all the time. And these are things that physical training can give you. I’m not talking about some 8-hours a day, everyday kind of hellish regime that only a professional athlete has the time for. I’m talking 20 – 30 minutes a day, 2 – 3 times a week, just to keep you in shape and keep you sharp for the challenges that your life’s gonna want to throw at you.

You owe it to yourself to keep yourself fighting fit, so that you can take on your life with the strength and vigour of a stubborn battlefield veteran. When your body is in good shape, that’s one less thing you have to worry about. It won’t be as easy for you to fall sick and wind up forking out money at your local clinic on top of your daily expenses. You will also manage stress better, and get things done faster and more decisively with your strength and energy.

A life in balance is a life well-lived. Don’t train past the point of recovery, and keep your training programme in context, making adjustments as is necessary to help you cope with the other demands on your life. Training is meant to help you along with life’s many burdens, not become a burden in and as of itself.

Keep things balanced.

5. The Only Sensible Rule Is to Have No Rules

You may be wondering why I am quoting the Joker. When it comes to physical training, I believe that the only sensible rule is to have no rules. Now, don’t get me wrong on this. You’ve got to have a set of sound principles upon which your training regime is founded, but don’t get yourself tied down with the useless nitty-gritty.

This links back to the idea of people looking for prescriptions. Take strength training, for example. The principle that anchors the entire concept of strength training is the gradual and progressive increase of the resistance, or load, that is being carried or worked against over time as the body adapts and becomes stronger. Every set and rep combination that has been derived to that effect stems from this simple idea of progressive increase.

So, the idea of progressive increase is the principle. Abandon it at your own peril. The sets and reps being bandied about by many self-professed fitness authorities are the rules. And most of the time, these rules are meant to be broken.

What do I mean by that?

I don’t ever prescribe someone a specific combination of sets and reps for an exercise. I prefer to give a range which has been proven for the most part to be effective, leaving alot of wriggle-room for the individual trainee to customise the programming to his own unique needs. Everyone is born and built differently, and no two individuals will respond in the exact same way to the exact same training method or routine. Throw in contextual differences and it should be obvious that no two individuals should be doing the exact same training, at least if we were keen on preserving the interests of optimality.

That is why I have a strong personal dislike for group trainings where everyone does the same things mindlessly, without any thought or effort directed towards the minute, personalised adjustments that can mean the difference between a good training, and a great training.

Typically to the aspiring bodyweight strength trainee I will advise 3 – 5 sets of an exercise, for a comfortable rep range that can be sustained over the working sets. And the uninitiated will ask me this: “So do I do 3, 4 or 5 sets?” 

To which my reply will be: “3 on a bad day, 4 on an okay day, and 5 on a good day. And if you’re feeling really sharp, don’t let this hold you back. Do 10 or even 20 sets if you feel like it. But if you’re feeling off, take a break and maybe do something else entirely.”

Now one of the guiding tenets of my training philosophy is “train by feel”.

Once you’ve reached a certain point in your physical development, you would have become more in tune with your body, and you will be able to feel its needs. I know when I need to train, when I need to rest, when I need to eat, and when I need to fast. All these will come to you in time, if it hasn’t already done so. Listen to your body, and don’t bog it down with a load of useless rules. Live and train by a sensible set of principles, and don’t weigh yourself down with the fetters of rules that don’t do you any good.

In the words of Bruce Lee: “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

Keep only what works, and don’t be afraid to throw what doesn’t right out of the window. Your mind and your body will thank you for it.

And then some…  

Here are my final words to you in this post:

“Have faith, and keep on moving forward.”

All the best for your training.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Can You Be Bothered To Succeed?

This is something that should seem to you as a piece of common sense, but as we all know, good ol’ common sense ain’t all that common nowadays.

I get people asking me how to train for pull ups, without doing any pull ups, on a regular basis. I answer them with a simple question: how does a kid learn how to walk?

By trying to walk, obviously. If you want to get good at something, you better get down to practising it. Alot.

Most people nowadays are just plain lazy, but you can’t really blame them, not with the way that our society is going.

We are exposed to a near-constant stream of bombardment by tempting promises for swift or even instantaneous results in every form of media, from every conceivable industry, ranging from adult fitness to children’s education.

People get so brainwashed by all these marketing gimmicks that they are lured into the mistaken belief that there is a magical shortcut to every imaginable undertaking. And then the average man and woman wonder at why they are not succeeding in their daily ventures, while a few of their counterparts invariably rise to the top of the social ladder. And then they’ll attribute the success of these others to some “magic formula” which they will be willing to spend exorbitant sums of money to learn and obtain.

And what happens to these people? They’ll probably spend the rest of their lives pondering the success of others, and some will spend a great deal of dough to try and learn the “secret” of success and excellence, and they’ll dedicate their whole lives searching for a magical shortcut that doesn’t exist. How pitiful. 

Instead of looking so hard and spending so much, the so-called “secret” which is not so much a secret as it is a piece of common sense can be found all over the world, in places like children’s books and stories – fables with their immortal morals that were always meant to imbue our tender offsprings with lifelong knowledge and wisdom of the essence and essentials of life itself.

How sad that these distillations of age-old wisdom are being swiftly replaced by mind-numbing video games and lucre-driven tales spun mainly for the purpose of generating a handsome amount of monetary profit from the sales of toys and related branded merchandise. It is of little wonder, then, that good old common sense and the wisdom of ages are being swiftly, and perhaps irrevocably, subverted by covetous thoughts and superficial desires for shallow material wants and comforts.

You want the true, and enduring secret to lasting success, in any and all forms of human endeavour?

Let me answer you with a simple question: can you be bothered to succeed?

I always like to respond to obvious questions with a question. This is beacuse the fella that is asking me the bleedin’ obvious, obviously isn’t thinking hard enough on his own. So I need to jolt that idle lump of grey matter in his skull by countering his lack of cogitation with something that will really set him to thinking, perhaps for the first time in his life.

Compare this approach with the traditional method of Q and A:

You ask me: how can I be successful?

I tell you: go forth and work hard.

Chances are, you’ll have a slightly confused look on your face, and some of the rusty gears in your head will try and turn a little, but they’ll end up deciding that thinking is too much hard work, and they’ll go back to their usual languid state of existence. And you’ll never be really successful in the things that you want to do or achieve.

It’s not that I’m an arrogant bastard who thinks that I’m way smarter than everyone and anyone else. It’s just that those people who approach me and ask me questions that are very broad or general in scope, or questions that have answers that are downright obvious, questions like “how do I keep fit?” are almost always individuals who have not made real thinking a habit.

Oh and by the way, 2+2=4 doesn’t cut it in my book. Neither does x+2y=5, y=1, hence x=5-2(1)=5-2=3. That’s not thinking. Or at least not the type of thinking that truly sets us apart from our plant and animal friends.

A bleedin’ computer programme can do that for me. In fact, a bleedin’ computer programme can probably perform it faster and more accurately than you. In fact, a bleedin’ computer programme can probably do some math in a minute that will take you decades, along with a few thousand tonnes of paper and ink and a scientific calculator, to discover that you have been profoundly confounded, and are utterly unable to compute.

Alright, alright, I exaggerate. My friends always tell me that I like to blow healthy things all out of proportion. I guess that’s what makes me a storyteller. After all, we all enjoy the sensational stuff, yeah? That’s the primary reason why millions of people out there are into comic book heroes and fantasy adventures and science fiction wars, ‘migo.

Okay back to track. So who are the people who have made real thinking a habit?

An example is a guy who comes up to me and asks me a question like this: what’s the best way to train for pull ups? And then he goes on to ask: what sets and reps should I do?

Note the difference in mindset between someone who asks a question like this, and the chaps who ask me how to train for pull ups without doing pull ups.

The only viable shortcuts, and the only shortcuts that should be sought out and tapped, are technical ones. You ask someone who is more experienced the process of his success, and you cut out the parts in which there was trial and error i.e. unproductive downtime. This is how we progressed as a species, in our many and varied fields of learning.

Someone achieves something, a handstand for example. He is entirely self-taught and he mastered the exercise through a process riddled with trial and error. When he teaches a student, the student should master the exercise at a faster rate than him because of the nature of instruction in which the process of achievement is refined by cutting out the chaff and leaving behind only the essentials for success.

When I learnt how to do a handstand on my own the process took me many months. And even up to this point in time I am constantly uncovering nuances in the technique of the exercise, which when successfully incorporated will bring me to a higher level of mastery. The students that I teach invariably learn how to hold a handstand quicker than I did – they do not have to spend time figuring out alot of the stuff that I tell them right off the bat.

For example I maybe spent a week or two learning that how to tense my glutes. But when I teach I bring it in as a cue right from the start, and my students can often do it within minutes. This speeds up the learning process greatly, and intelligent learners will always seek out that which will streamline and expedite their technical mastery of the desired subject, without the intention of skimping on the hard work that must accompany the technical practice.

I admit, it is a fine difference and a fine line, and all of us (including me) are lazy. It is fast becoming one of my most-repeated sayings that humans are instinctively lazy creatures, and that our minds and bodies are constantly seeking the path of least resistance. But we need to manage this instinct in the sense that our “shortcuts” must come from making our work more effective and efficient, and not from the desire to cut out the work altogether.

It’s something blurry and something that I still struggle with, and I think I shall continue this struggle for the rest of my life, but it is also something that I know if against which I do not struggle I will become fully possessed by an idle spirit, and success will be but a fanciful pipe-dream to be wistfully related to indifferent friends and passers-by.

I was invited to attend a seminar on Total Immersion swimming by Tang Siew Kwan, the founder and owner of Fishlike Aquatic School. He said something during the session which resonated with me: if you want to succeed, you must be prepared to work harder than the people around you.

And here I have a confession to make, of how I was the proof of what Tang said, just scant minutes before he made his aforementioned assertion. When I received the invitation to attend the seminar and before I left home to attend it, I spent about a half hour reading up on TI swimming online.

This is a habit that has been drilled into me from my army days, in which the utmost emphasis is placed on the conduct of proper force preparation. This also relates to one of my favourite quotes, which I came across in the Jason Statham action thriller The Mechanic: Amat Victoria Curam, or Victory Loves Preparation.

During the seminar Tang fielded several questions, to which correct answers from the audience are rewarded by small but highly-attractive tokens and prizes. One of these questions was posed to us after we were shown a few videos of TI-trained swimmers, before and after they were schooled in the technique.

The question was: what are the 4 characteristics of TI swimming?

I shall not go into the answer here (you can find out easily using wiki if you’re interested), but let it suffice to say that I made a show of studying the videos and when I was presenting my answer (which I already know before I attended the seminar) I similarly made a small pretense of responding rather haltingly at times, to give the impression that I was not entirely sure of my observations, when in fact they had been ascertained by my prior research.

And so as people all around me looked impressed and Tang politely and graciously commented that I had good powers of observation and that he could use a coach like me (courtesy, of course, from a most esteemed host), I went up to the front and claimed my prize (a limited-edition swimming cap which I am sure more than a few members of the audience were hoping to win), all the while knowing that I had won it not through any lowly means of trickery and subterfuge, but simply because fortune does not favour the bold; it only favours those who are prepared for victory.

And then barely a minute passed before Tang stated that success is dependent upon relative hard work. As I sat in the audience with my prize in my bag I thought to myself: how true.

In our modern rat-race society where people are clambering all over one another to succeed, true excellence must come at a price. And the price is simple, if not easy, to pay – hard, intelligent work.

You want to be the best, you better work harder than the rest. Especially if your rivals are more talented than you are.

Can you be bothered to succeed?

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Entusiast. ~             

Nature or Nurture?

This is an age-old argument in both the intellectual and physical fields of development, and here’s my take on it:

Nature determines how far you can go, while nurture determines how far you actually go.

I’ll define nature as what you’ve been born with: your natural constitution, your physical proportions, etc.

I’ll define nurture as the training/grooming that you receive, and the work that you put in on your own to that effect.

My dad used to tell me that the nature of humanity can be represented by a rhombus-shaped diagram: very few people are born at the top and very few people are born at the bottom, and the rest of us are all lumped together in the middle.

 

Simply put, it means that there are very few people who are born gifted as we call it, and there are also very few of us who are born handicapped. Most of us are born with relatively normal attributes, with only slight variations that will not limit us in any pursuit too severely.

Let us take a look at gymnastics.

Have you ever wondered why champion gymnasts always fall into that certain height range? This is due to the nature of their physical proportions. 

Ask a friend who’s shorter or taller than you by about 8 – 10 centimetres to sit down on a bench beside you. You’ll probably notice that his head is more or less level with yours, and the extra height, or lack thereof, comes mainly from the length of his legs

That is why gymnasts who compete at the international level tend to have shorter limbs in relation to their torsos. This is a classic case of nature + nurture = world class ability.

Nature is potential, and nurture is its realisation.

There can be someone who appears to be “built” for a particular sport, but if he never trains in it, you can be better than him in the same discipline if you put in intelligent effort in spite of your natural shortcomings. On the other hand you can have all the potential in the world and still amount to nothing if you don’t realise what you have in you by training.

Ultimately, you got to have realistic expectations towards such things. There are guys who will be as good as, if not better than you with the same or even less amount of training. This is because they are “made” to excel at the sport. 

However, I firmly believe that anyone of normal health will be able to reach a very high level in any sporting pursuit, regardless of what they were born with. This is because we get better by practice. With enough practice you can even create or expand upon your existing potential to a certain extent. Our bodies are adaptable organisms, and everything can be taken a certain length of the way with the proper training methods.

You can increase the size and strength of your muscles and bones to a certain extent by training, which gives you more potential to pursue a certain sport at a higher level. Of course, different builds will excel in different disciplines, so it’s a good idea to find out what you are “born” to do, cos we all enjoy doing stuff that we are naturally good at.

So why not make yourself happy by pursuing something which you can become very good at, rather than struggling at something and having people surpassing you all the time with a fraction of your effort and dedication? Let’s face it, life’s unfair.

But if you insist on pursuing something which you don’t have the ideal natural attributes for, you are not doomed to failure; you are just destined to tread a longer and tougher road than most. You can still become extremely good, far beyond the average level of performance in your chosen field as compared to the amateur and the untrained, but there will always be those who are “gifted” and as hardworking as you are, who will be better than you.

So far this post seems pretty discouraging, eh? Trust me, that’s not my intention.  

On the contrary, I am laying down bald, scientific facts for you. This is the unapologetic truth, which is about as real as it can get. Accept it and you will move on to great things. Fight it and you will still find yourself bound by its inhibitions, no matter how hard you try. And then you’ll end up broken and frustrated. And then you’ll give up, and curse God and the Devil and everybody.

People nowadays like to sugar things over with pretty words and clever presentation. I’m not here to waste your time tellin’ you the stuff that you want to, and you like to hear. I’m here to be the bad guy and tell you the real shit that other people who think they’re helping you by layering the truth with the honey of falsehoods cannot bear to do, for the fear of breaking your spirit. Haha, what a joke.

Those people who are into all the “feel-good” stuff? You won’t get anywhere with their BS, no matter how good their intentions are. They’re telling you a sugared version of the cold hard truth and getting your hopes up, only for your expectations to be shattered when you get down on the ground and really see and feel things for yourself.

Then your spirit will be broken.

I believe that the truth is liberating, and always will be. It gives you good solid expectations and prepares you for what lies ahead. If I told you that that Amazon rainforest is all birds and flowers and cutesy rabbits and I chuck you in there for a week, you will probably perish. But if I told you the truth upfront before dumping you in there, there’s a greater chance that you may survive, cos you’re already mentally and psychologically prepared for a shitstorm.

And for those people who break down upon hearing the truth? I don’t mean to be harsh, but this world is harsh. It will move on with, or without you, and it won’t give the slightest shit about you, even if it just so happens to roll over you and break all of your bones to pieces.

We live in such a sheltered world that we are all weak. Pathetically so. Our forefathers didn’t just survive. They thrived in the greatest adversity, against the harsh elements and the uncaring wild and huge fanged beasts that preyed on them for breakfast.

Why, is that nasty Sabretooth too big and mean for you to handle? You want to know what your ancestors did? Your great-great-great-great…-great grandfathers ganged up on the pussycat and beat it to death with clubs and spears, and roasted it on a spit for dinner.

We live in a different world now, but adversity remains, in different forms. Education, careers, taxes, the costs of living, the social ladder… all of these things are our wild beasts and Sabretooths. So do you want to whimper and fall to your knees in fear? Or do you want to man the f**k up and beat the living shit out of these obstacles in your way?

I don’t know about you, but me? I’m going to do the latter, or I’m going to die doing it.

We are all born to die. The very day you were born? Ha! You were already one day closer to dying, my friend. Don’t hide away from that simple, universal and unchanging fact. But if you accept that the end is coming, chances are you’ll be doing a great deal more, to achieve something worthwhile ‘fore the Reaper comes knocking on your house door.

You think that you’re in control of your own fate? I can show you right here and right now that you do not.

When you are crossing the road can you help it if a drunken chap decides to just come along and send you six feet under at the wheel of a heavy truck? When you are walking around in your own neighbourhood can you help it if a flowerpot  decides to just fall on your head and send your brains splattering across the concrete deck like spoilt strawberry jam?

Hey, this shit happens. And you know it.

Most things in life we have absolutely no power over. The only thing that is truly within your control is you. Yourself. Or more accurately, your actions and reactions to all the stuff that is going on all around you. How you interact with people and things and events.

I’m not of an ideal build for learning acrobatics (as my Fujian mentor has told me matter-of-factly on more than a few occasions), but I can do the things that I do, because from the very outset I have accepted the fact that I have to work much harder than most people at it, and I get down to actually doing it.

So I’m not trying to douse your enthusiasm for anything. I believe that drive and motivation is more important than anything else when it comes to work or study or training. If a guy is born with a photographic memory but he can’t be bothered to use it, you’ll be a better scholar and academic than him with your normal brain by being bothered to do the things and to put in the effort that he can’t be bothered to do.

All I’m trying to do here for you is to make sure that you understand the relationship between nature and nurture, and to show you the psychological process of accepting, and runnin’ a winning race with the truth.

 

I’m certain that everyone is born to be good at something. So find out what it is, and I’m pretty confident that you’ll enjoy doing it, and that you’ll excel in it. And that’s how you add meaning to your life, which was destined to end the very day it started.

Make something out of yourself before the end comes, so that you can go to wherever it is that awaits us after death with a contented smile on your lips, knowing that you haven’t just lived; but you’ve thrived and you’ve succeeded in this life, and you won’t needing any more time here to wrap up anything else, cos you’ve done everything that you possibly could, and you’ve done them well.

So go forth, and seize the day. Nurture yourself, and you will no doubt blossom with scintilliating brilliance in whatever endeavour that you may choose to undertake. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Faith, Courage & Grit

I know you have probably heard this before in some form or another: you gotta believe in yourself and be brave to succeed.

But the huge amount of people out there who still aren’t getting to where they really want in life? They know this. But they don’t practise it.

Being a strength and fitness guy let me take you through some scenarios that you may be familiar with.

Are you the guy who wants to do a proper pull up, but never really gets it cos you don’t have a bar at home, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself at the public fitness corner struggling like a sick ape to get your chin over that metal pipe in front of all those other people?

Are you the guy who wants to lose weight, but never really gets to it cos you don’t want to make yourself look like a fool pounding the pavement alongside chicks who can run faster, and further than you?

I can easily come up with a dozen more similar examples off the top of my head, but I’ll save them, cos I think you get it.

Ego is the greatest roadblock for anyone who is serious about getting real strength and fitness.

Ido Portal, movement artist and teacher who enjoys international renown in his field of work, (and whose upper body strength course I attended recently,) says it best:

“We are all weak. We are all weak, and trying to move forward.”

If a guy like him claims that he’s physically weak, I think most of the rest of us are pretty much done for in that respect.

But take a look at history, and we’ll see many strength and athletic phenomenons who built themselves up, from small and sickly dudes whose lives were “often despaired of” by doctors and physicians into “human machines” that amazed the world.

The great Sandow was one such example. If a small, delicate and sickly boy like him could scale the apex of physical strength and development, I think the rest of us “normal folks” don’t really have much of an excuse to make about this.

Tromp Van Diggelen, the South African Hercules, “had a very sickly childhood and almost died on three occasions from bouts of pneumonia as well as bronchitis and pleurisy”.

His famous protege, the incomparable Maxick, was, in his own words: “a puny, delicate child – so full of rickets that (he) had reached the age of five before (he) could walk; and for the next two years (he) was so sickly that the school authorities exempted (him) from attendance. Indeed, (he) was always ailing, and (his) condition was often so precarious that more than once (his) life was despaired of.”

Even if these men presented exaggerated stories of their ill health when they were of a tender age as a publicity move, and we assume their lives to be of normal and healthy beginnings, it still shows that almost anyone can go far beyond the general average in terms of strength, health and fitness, with the correct attitude and hard, intelligent training.

Now let me present myself to you as an example:

I was a boy of normal health, and I was a bit of an ectomorph back then cos I was skinny and light, and found it hard to put on muscle even in my teenage years. I ran into some bullying in school, and I wanted to get bigger and stronger so cowards will think twice before trying to prey on me.

I pondered the issue with my childlike mind (I was but eleven or twelve at that point in time.), and I did most of my thinking at the fitness corner that was near my place (literally a stone’s throw away, I tried haha).

It appeared to me that of the people who went there to work out, it was always those men who could perform alot of chin ups that looked the biggest and strongest. So I thought to myself: hey, I found the secret to size and strength.

So I tried to imitate what I saw, but I had trouble even hanging onto the bar in the beginning. I could see people giving me the look, you know, the one that says: woah, what’s that small dude tryin’ to do? I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.

Perhaps it was because I was young, and less self-conscious (our ego seems to swell with our age, eh?). But I ignored those condescending looks, and to some extent they even pissed me off and pushed me to train harder.

I held on for dear life, day after day, everyday without fail. I would spend one to two hours at the fitness corner just doing many sets of maximal hanging. After about two or three weeks, I realised that hanging onto the bar was becoming easier and easier, until I could stay up there for a good minute twisting my hips and flailing my skinny legs around for fun.

It was also then that I felt this connection build in my arm. With the hanging portion of the pull up nailed, I found myself able to exert strength and pull myself a ways to the bar with my upper arms by flexing and bending them. I kept on pulling myself up as far as I could go, for as many times as I could manage, and for as many sets as I could do (of course back then I didn’t know they were called sets).

And then the day came when I could bring my chin above the bar (finally!). I estimate it to be about a month (maybe five weeks) or thereabouts between when I first started to train hanging, to that moment of elation when my little eleven or twelve year-old chin (I can’t remember how old I was for sure) went pass the sacred bar.

And then I got really fired up. I kept doing as many sets of one dead-hang chin up as I could every single day, and within four weeks I went from one to ten repetitions in one set. Maybe my form ain’t that good back then, and perhaps I didn’t fully straighten my arms everytime I lowered myself, (hey, give me a break, I was a kid) but it was nonetheless a huge achievement for me.

And then I remembered running into the bullies again and having the classic pulling-of-shirt-collars contest with one of them, and the unsuspecting fella was taken aback by my newfound strength. The whole group of losers left me well alone after that little episode. What a bunch of cowards.

So how does all these stuff relate to the title of the post? Let me break it down for you, ‘migo.

Faith – First and foremost, you gotta have faith and believe that you can achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve. I know it’s hard, but it’s what you gotta do.

Courage – After that initial burst of faith hits you, you have to pick up your nutsack and get down to doing it. Or at least trying to do it. You will have to contend with those contemptuous onlookers, so if your ego can’t take it, you’ll never make it, ever.

Grit – Now that you’ve got your balls rollin’ with you, you gotta have the sheer grit to keep up with it. You’re probably going to encounter more disdain and scorn along the way, with some idiots outright mocking you and laughing at you behind your backs, or sometimes even in front of your face. Shrug it off, champ, and one day you’re gonna be the one who’s having the last laugh. But when that day comes be a gentleman. Don’t shove it in the doubters’ faces. Everybody makes mistakes, so we should all be more forgiving people. That way the world’s gonna be a much better place for all of us.

I was watching Rocky Balboa the other day on TV, and what Rocky said really resonated within the very core of my being, and I could almost feel the hot tears of emotion coming to my eyes when he said it with such feeling and passion. Kind of like how I felt all those times when I pushed on in spite of everything and finally got what I got.

And this was what the champion said to his son, who was losing faith in himself (I ripped off this whole inspiring chunk from imdb.com, cos it’s just too darn good to leave out anything):

“You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here. [taps on the inside of his hand]

I’d hold you up to say to your mother, ‘this kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.’ And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege.

Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.

But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life. Don’t forget to visit your mother.”

I know this post is getting way too long, but let me just share one final thing with you.

My relationship with my dad wasn’t always good. I don’t know why he does it, but sometimes it seems he just likes putting me down, whatever I’m trying to do or achieve. He’d call me stupid when I was young, cos I wasn’t as quick with my thinking as he wanted me to be.

When I got older and started doing bodyweight stuff like learning handstands, he’d tell me to quit, and say that only people who train from an early age with the proper coaching can do it. Everytime I stumbled in the beginning he’d take the chance to tell me to quit.

Can you imagine that? Your own father tellin’ you to quit when he’s supposed to be a rock that you can lean on for support when you’re feeling weak and tired? Your own dad, telling you to give up on your dreams? And I was much older then, four years ago when I was eighteen. I was alot more self-conscious, and what my dad said cut me, although I didn’t show it.

But it started to get me angry after awhile, I guess that’s just who I am. I ain’t somebody who’s gonna go and give up a fight without giving what I’m fighting some hell to pay for. I know I’m a slow learner, but like what one of my sergeants in the army used to say, if I’m going to be a slow learner, then I better make sure I’m a hard learner. I’ll be the guy who does more than everybody else, just so I can be as good as everybody else.

So I stumbled and fell, got myself up, and stumbled and fell again. And the whole world (or at least the people at the fitness corner) was looking at me all the time, like I’m some crazy fella. But I kept goin’, cos that’s how winning is done.

Now, four years later, I won’t call myself an acrobat, cos I’m still a long ways off from that level. But I got from nothing to something, by honest hard work and some great help from my coaches and my training partners along the way (Thanks to Changzhong, the 9 one-arm pull up wonder who got me started on this, and Bruce, my current training partner who inspires me every weekend when we meet without fail doing stuff that I’ve never seen live before, and the 64 year-old ex-Fujian acrobatic troupe coach who I couldn’t have possibly done without.).

So I’ll let the pictures in this post speak for themselves. That’s me you’re lookin’ at right there – your typical ectomorphic hard-gainer and slow-learner who’s made something for himself, cos he had the faith, courage and grit to keep moving forward.

So don’t go putting anyone or anything on a pedestal. I always like to say this to people who approach me for training advice:

“No one is born able to do a pull up, unless you got a bar in your mother’s womb.”

People always like to elevate things that they admire so far above themselves that they end up falling into the belief that they can’t possibly achieve what they are seeing, ever. I hope that I’ve proven to you that this kind of thinking just ain’t logical, and will get you nowhere.

So whoever you are and whatever you are aiming for in life, be a go-getter, and once you get there take some time off to help those that were once like you to get to where they want to be. And I promise you, this life, and this world, will be a much better place for all of us.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Yin & Yang

Despite the esoteric-sounding title of this post, the main message that I’m going to convey here is, quite simply, Balance.

Yin and Yang is a concept in Asian philosophy that is used to describe how seemingly contradictory forces are often interconnected and interdependent. Opposites can only exist in relation to one another.

But enough of the philosophical expositions, let’s get down to how the idea of balance can help you in your everyday life.

Our school and work often take up a huge part of our lives, and we tend to spend more time awake at school or in the office than in our own homes. This makes us feel fatigued, especially when projects or presentations are eating away at all of our time and energy.

It is almost impossible to strike a true work-life (or study-life) balance before we enter semi-retirement, or unless you are earning truckloads without needing to put in gruelling hours. However, without an effort to maintain such a balance, we will become truly lost within ourselves.

Unless your work or your study is your passion, it is almost always a chore. However, no matter how tight your timetable or your schedule is, there will always be pockets of free time here and there, which are often, if not always, under-appreciated and under-utilised.

I still remember my days in junior college, when my best friends and I would hit the pull-up bars during the breaks in between our classes. And then for about 20 – 30 minutes of absolute (albeit short-lived) bliss we will briefly forget the looming term papers and semestral exams, while we did muscle-ups, one-arm chins, handstand presses, and the like. We even gave the pull-up bars a fond nickname: the PUB (a beautiful acronym for pull-up bars, haha).

During days when there were longer breaks (who has 3-hour breaks in the morning right after assembly and before the first lesson?!) we would brave the threat of disciplinary outcomes and sneak out of school to grab a bite at our favourite prata place, a couple of bus-stops away.

Yeah, I know it is not right of us to do so, cos in the unlikely event that all 6 – 7 of us were kidnapped together it would have been hell for the school to explain our unauthorised absence to our grieving kin. But kids will be kids, right? Show me a kid who has never broken a school rule in his entire life, and I’ll show you a hundred others who have broken a hundred rules in their schooling days, haha.

And then I got myself mandatorily-enlisted into National Service, which really sucked cos for the majority of my army days (which totalled an agonising 1 year 10 months) I stayed in (camp) and could only go home on the weekends. Sometimes it got really hectic, but I can’t go into details here or I’ll probably get myself hauled in for suspected treason.

But the point is, even when I had very little free time to myself, whatever time I had I spent on doing fun and sometimes crazy stuff, which I think really helped to keep me sane. From working bodyweight skills to talking (and bitching) about life and the world in general with my close friends, I found a tenuous sort of balance in the tremendously imbalanced life that I was leading. (Hey, I slept in camp more than twice the time I did at home on pretty much a regular basis, I think that is really saying something.)

Even in your working life, the dudes you see who appear to be coping well usually fall into one of these 4 categories:

1. The lucky chaps whose work happens to be their passion.

2. The dutiful workaholics who are able to find purpose in whatever they are doing, whether they like it or not.

3. The psychotic individual who sees chaos in everything and treats life like one big cosmic joke.

4. The guys who find time for their hobbies and passions, thereby keeping depression at bay.

My guess is that most of us will not find ourselves in the first 3 categories. Therefore, to keep depression (or just a general bad mood or a down feeling) at bay you need to find time for what you enjoy doing. Weekends are great, but it’s best if you can find time even during your working hours to engage in something that you love.

An idea is to pick up a small and unobtrusive hobby, like reading books, writing a dairy, listening to music, playing an instrument, origami, wood-carving… And the list goes on. You will realise that most of these pastimes can be considered as artistic pursuits, and their introspective and somewhat spiritual nature will provide a good counterpoint for the more official demands on your body and your intellect.  

  

The same concept of balance applies to everything. If your are serious about your physical training, you should be equally serious about getting the proper rest and recovery. The two are opposites that are intricately linked. One has no business existing without the other. It is a fine and delicate scale, and if the weight on one side gets too heavy in relation to the weight on the other the whole setup will tip and everything will then fall to pieces.

So as you can see, sometimes the most dangerous sort of balance is the kind that we have to maintain with our passion. Man is an obssessive creature and when given free rein he will ruin himself doing that which he loves most or does best. I have suffered greatly in the past for this. I have said this many times before, but I’m going to say it again because it is of paramount importance:

Those of you out there for whom serious, hardcore athletic training is an obssession, you got to watch yourselves. It is tempting to push on in spite of injuries and inadequate rest and recovery, but if you do so, you’ll more often than not end up feeling extremely sorry for yourself.

So there you have it, make sure you strive to maintain balance in your life, even though chances are you will not be able to manage it. But the very effort of you doing that should keep you sane, and sound, and healthy. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~