The Harajuku Moment

On a chapter from Timothy Ferriss‘s book titled “The 4-Hour Body“, he talks about something significant called the Harajuku moment, described as:

.. an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have.

The expression actually came from a realization Chad Fowler (programmer, writer, co-organizer of RubyConf and RailsConf) had in Harajuku with friends some time in the past, while window shopping and lamenting how unfashionable he was. He noticed the tone of helplessness in his own words as he talked about his obesity, and felt angry at himself for being an idiot who went with the flow, making excuses, for many years.

After that defining moment, he turned things around and lost nearly a 100 pounds.

Two years in a row of annual physical exams (2015-2016), I was told that I have hypertension. The previous years I also felt that I tire quickly, becoming more so as the days went by. I’m just over 30, skinny, and believed that I should still be in my prime but was not. I wondered why things turned out the way they did, and eventually recognized that existing habits did not help me become the healthy person I thought I was.

I’m now performing weight-lifts and body-weight exercises 4 times a week, and is in my best shape in the past 10 years or so. What’s interesting is that making the change was actually fun and somewhat easy, very unlike the grueling and exasperating experience I initially thought it would be. I plan to keep things up, gaining as much strength as I can and keeping body fat percentage minimal.

What the Harajuku moment tells us is that, often, on most days, we have insufficient reason to take action. We only have nice-to-haves. We tell ourselves it would be nice to get fit, go on a date with that someone we really like, have a well refactored code, travel internationally, or learn a new skill. But the nice-to-haves do not give us enough pain to move forward. That’s why we sometimes feel we’re stuck in a rut.

Our nice-to-haves must first turn to must-haves before we can take advice and act.

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Notes from Scott James’ “Bony to Brawny: No B.S. Techniques To Stack On Slabs Of Lean Muscle Mass And Get Strong As Hell Regardless Of How Skinny You Are”

I have always been a skinny dude. And I have always thought that I won’t change, that it’s just the way things are for me. But keeping the same diet and sedentary lifestyle for many years has taken its toll in recent years and, although I have not been sickly, my energy levels just did not feel the same as it has been when I was younger. I tire easily now than before, even when I don’t really go out much. Perhaps it’s just age doing its thing, like we are supposed to get tired faster as we get older. But it is a nagging feeling, it does not feel good at all, and is something that I decided I want to find a sustainable way of correcting this year if possible.

Reading Scott James’ ‘Bony to Brawny‘ book (and actually changing diet and exercise habits) is taking multiple steps forward towards that goal.

Some takeaways from the book:

  • The funny thing is I have literally never regretted a workout – it just doesn’t happen. The release of endorphins and the feeling of knowing you’re making progress towards your goals while improving your health, mobility, and well-being is intense.
  • If you’ve been skinny all your life, chances are you haven’t been eating much in terms of calories. When you’re entering a bulking phase, the amount of food may seem overwhelming. Focus on liquid nutrition. Consuming two shakes (depending on how many calories you incorporate) plus two solid meals will without a doubt place you in a the caloric range you need to be hitting to pack on some solid lean muscle mass.
  • There is no food out there that’ll make you gain muscle at a quicker rate than another food. The food itself won’t build muscle – the calories and macro-nutrients it contains will. Try fish, chicken breast, eggs, cottage cheese, almonds, brown rice, milk, and sweet potatoes.
  • Eating fat will not make you fat at all. Fat is essential for regulating hormones. Excess calories make you fat – not any particular macro-nutrient itself (protein, carbohydrates, or fat).
  • For optimal performance in sports and resistance training, as well keeping your appetite in check, consumer at least 30% of your daily calories from protein, with the remaining 70% coming from a breakdown of carbs and fats. If you neglect your protein intake you will not be able to be able to build and retain lean muscle; if all you’re eating is carbohydrates and fat, you’ll be packing on the pounds in the form of stored body fat.
  • In order to build that muscle mass and shred that fat, you need to create the demand for your body to do so. After ongoing demand, your body begins to adapt, and adaption is growth. This demand is solely created inside the gym – i.e. lifting heavy weights! An exercise regime based on compound movements will force your body to adapt – heavy squats, deadlifts, bench presses and overhead presses in the low rep range will create the demand far better than any isolation based workout regime based around light dumbbells or machines.
  • Without a caloric surplus, you won’t pack on any muscle mass. At the same time, if lifting is neglected and dieting is honed in on to the utmost detail, you’re still on the road to fat gain as your body is not being forced to adapt and grow (using this caloric surplus to repair your body and build muscle)
  • As a newcomer, you will find the demand is quite easy as your body has never experienced such stress before. However, as time goes on, you must apply progressive overload in order to keep the demand going. Increasing the weight you’re lifting, increasing the time your muscles are under tension, adding in a few additional reps – these techniques are designed to place an increased load on your muscles each and every workout. In essence, the demand must become greater and greater with each workout. When you’re demanding the same thing from your muscles week after week (same weight, same reps, same time under tension), the demand to go above and beyond has vanished, and so will your progression in terms of size and strength). The guys in the gym repping the same weight week in week out won’t get far. The guy adding that extra 2.5 lb plate to the barbell each workout will. It adds up over time.
  • In order to get big you need to focus your energy on your heavy compound movements. Don’t major in minors, aka: spending your time floating around from isolation exercise to isolation exercise. This is a sure-fire way for a skinny guy to see sub-par size gains. Movements or exercise that do not give the muscles the required resistance, but are the kind that involve a great number of repetitions, never break down any tissue to speak of. These movements involve a forcing process that cause the blood to swell up the muscle, and simply pump them up. The insane, full, pumped feeling you get in your arms and chest when training is merely the increased blood flow tot the particular muscle group being worked. The pump does not equate to muscle growth.
  • If you’re new to low rep training, it’s worth noting that you will not get the immense pumps you may be used to from performing high repetition training. As a general rule, most things that are satisfying in the short term aren’t beneficial at all in the long run.
  • Once you are comfortably hitting the top end of the rep range, I recommend increasing the weight. You should be able to perform a minimum of four reps with the new weight. If you’re unable to perform four reps with correct form and range of motion, the weight is too heavy. Add 5 lbs/10 lbs to each dumbbell/barbell exercise once you are comfortably hitting the upper range of the prescribed repetitions.
  • Each and every repetition should be controlled and timed. 2 seconds down – 1 second hold – 2 seconds up. If you’re performing your repetitions any faster than this, your muscles won’t be under tension for particularly long. To ensure you get the maximum bang for the buck in terms of size and strength, focus on the 2:1:2 tempo. Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets of heavy compound exercises. Rest for 1-2 minutes maximum between sets of isolation exercises.
  • We don’t build muscle in the gym by banging and clanging around with heavy weights. We’re actually destroying our muscle fibers – which is telling our bodies that our current physique is insufficient. Resting after a workout and the nutrition components of your bulking phase are where the growth comes from. Lifting four times per week with adequate sleep and recovery will net you far greater results than training six times per week with minimal sleep and no downtime.
  • Sleep plays a key role in the following bodily processes: regulation of glucose in the body, promoting good blood pressure, the perfect way to recover and repair damaged muscles, promoting hormonal functions and processes, promotion cognitive functions and processes. Your sleep should be within the 7-9 hour  bracket per night, keeping in mind this is high quality, uninterrupted sleep.
  • If you’re not making any size gains, this will be the result of one of two things:
    • You’re not lifting heavy enough. In order to grow, we need to provide ongoing progressive overload during our workouts. Ensure you’re working in the prescribed rep ranges for your heavy compound exercises and give it your all. If you’re calling it quits on your set when it starts to feel uncomfortable, you’re not going to get too far.
    • If you’re lifting regime is solid, then the issue is likely to be related to your diet, or most specifically the lack of calories you’re consuming. A failure to build muscle mass is most commonly due to an insufficient number of calories coming in. Re-calculate your total daily energy expenditure and apply a more aggressive caloric surplus if necessary.
  • Pick a workout routine, follow it, eat well, and get adequate rest. Follow this consistently for six months. During the course of this time, track your weight, your body fat, your arm size, your chest size, how you feel after each workout, and from there you can reassess and make the necessary changes.
  • When your progress slows down or completely stops, whether this be in strength gains, shedding that unwanted body fat or gaining muscle mass, it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re actually doing. Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.
  • Progress is the ultimate motivator. It’s the positive feedback loop of putting in effort, seeing results and therefore continuing to grind away day after day because you know what you’re doing is making a difference.