hard stuff that matters

zen habits:

The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most

The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most Posted: 10 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT By Leo Babauta (guest writer)

I’ve tried a lot of types of exercise, but by far the most effective exercise in terms of results for time spent is heavy barbell lifts.

For 10-15 minutes of lifting a barbell laden with weights, I get a better physique, improved health, more strength and muscle, less bodyfat.

I’ve spent hours running, doing bodyweight exercises, doing Crossfit, playing sports, biking, swimming, and generally doing the craziest kinds of exercises possible. They’re all very good, but for the time that I’ve invested in them, weights are the ones that matter most.

I’ve found the barbell method — lifting the heavy stuff but for short periods — works for lots of things in life. From productivity to relationships to finances to losing bodyfat to business growth.

The hard stuff really matters.

I’ll get to the productivity/finances/relationships stuff in a second, but first let me clarify: I’m talking about very simple, heavy barbell lifts for few reps and sets (3 sets of 4-7 reps). And do them with good form, or you might get injured. Start out light, get the form right, progressively add weight each week. The most important lifts are things like deadlifts and squats (best two), bench press, shoulder press, rows. Add some chinups and you’re done. With rest days in between. And yes, women should do these lifts too. Yes, runners should do them too. Yes, vegans can lift heavy too.

These lifts are hard, and so people avoid them. But they work better than anything else, for the time invested.

I’ve learned that in lots of other areas, the hard stuff that people avoid is what matters most. It’s what’s most effective.

I’ll give you some examples:

Productivity: If you have a long list of tasks to do, you could waste time checking a bunch of sites, processing your emails, getting lots of easier tasks done, running around from one meeting to another … and most people do that. But on that list, there are probably about 3 really hard things that you’re avoiding. Those are possibly the most important things on the list, and if you put everything else off for a bit to focus on one of those, and then the next one, you’re going to see a world of difference. You’ll be doing fewer things but you’ll be much more effective. The hard tasks that you avoid are usually the ones that matter.

Fat loss: People do a lot of crap to lose weight. Tons of diets, the weirdest workouts, shakes and salads and and elliptical machines and kickboxing dance classes and calorie counting. And yes, if you can stick to some of these, they will probably work. But really, only a couple things matter, and by far the most important one is to eat a diet that’s lower in calories. And the best way to stick to that is to eat a bunch of mostly whole foods (calculate calories to make sure you’re in a deficit) like lean protein (I like tempeh, seitan, tofu), non-starchy veggies, a small amount of whole grains. Pile up the protein & veggies for three meals a day, don’t add other snacks and calorie-rich drinks (lattes) and you’ll probably see weight loss. I’d add some heavy strength training so you don’t lose muscle. So it’s pretty simple, but people don’t do it, because sticking to a healthy, calorie-deficit diet is hard. It means skipping the snacks and binge eating and work party food and all the other sweet and fried treats you’re used to indulging in. It means finding other ways to comfort yourself other than food and drinks. But it works.

Relationships: Building relationships isn’t always easy, because while it’s fun to hang out with people when things are going well, it’s much harder when there’s conflict. So while spending time with someone is important when it comes to relationships, having difficult conversations is often the most important thing you can do in that time. And that’s hard, because it’s uncomfortable, so people avoid it. This only makes things worse. Do the hard work, and have the difficult conversation. But try not to do it so that you’re right or so that you “win” … it should be finding a solution you’re both happy with. I recommend reading Difficult Conversations.

Business growth: There are lots of things you can do to grow a business (or your career), but usually there’s one or two things you can do that are hard but effective. For me, that’s writing useful articles that help change people’s lives. For my 14-year-old daughter’s cupcake business, that’s spending time perfecting her recipes until they’re to-die-for. Those things take hard work, and so we avoid them. We do all the smaller things and think we’re helping our businesses. But actually, we’d be better spending our time on the hard, effective, important things.

Finances: How do you improve your finances? Spend less, earn more, invest. Pay your bills on time to avoid paying fees and interest, but that can be automated. Those are the most important things, and they’re not always easy. So people put them off. But if you spend an hour finding ways to reduce your spending (stop shopping or spending on entertainment), you’d make a big difference. If you spent 20 minutes setting up automatic savings (or investment in an index fund), you’d make a big difference. If you spent 30 minutes paying your bills and automating them for the future, you’d save a lot of headaches.

Mindfulness: Lots of people want to live a more mindful life, and I encourage it, because developing mindfulness is one of the best things I do. But they don’t want to meditate. And yet, a few minutes a day (working up to 10 or 20 minutes) meditating makes such a huge difference.

Now imagine you took your day, which has limited time, and stopped doing all the little things.

Imagine you focused on the hard, effective things. You could spend 10 minutes meditating, an hour doing the hard important tasks that improved your career or business. Another 20 minutes having a difficult conversation, another 20 improving your finances. Another 30 doing two heavy barbell lifts. Another 30 minutes preparing whole foods for your day’s meals.

That’s less than 3 hours of your day, but you’d improve productivity, your business, your finances, your relationship, mindfulness, your health and appearance.

You’d have plenty of time for the other stuff, but focus on this stuff first, and see huge rewards.

A Few Tips for Doing Hard Stuff:

People avoid the hard things, even if it’s the most important, because it’s hard.

So what are we to do?

Here are some things that work for me:

1)Take time to figure out what hard stuff you need to do. This takes a few minutes of sitting there and thinking, rather than procrastinating and checking stuff online to avoid this thinking. But it’s necessary. After awhile, you won’t need to think about it because you’ll know.

2)Take a moment to commit yourself to doing one hard thing. It could be a bout of writing, a hard short workout, paying some bills. One thing, not all of them. Commit yourself for the next 10, 20 or 30 minutes.

3)Clear away everything. Bookmark all your tabs for later, make notes on a task list for things you need to do later, and then close all tabs, all windows, all notifications. Just you and this one difficult tasks.

4)Don’t let yourself run. Your mind will want to run from the hard thing, because you have an ideal in your head that life will be comfortable and easy and pleasant. This ideal obviously isn’t reality, because putting off the hard things by focusing on the easy and pleasant only makes your life harder and more uncomfortable over time. So focus on the hard thing, see your mind wanting to run, then don’t run.

5)Enjoy it. Lifting a heavy barbell is super hard. I love it. It feels like I’m super strong, like I’m accomplishing something great, like I can conquer the world. You can get the same kinds of feelings from any hard task — instead of thinking about how it sucks, think about how amazing it is that you can move something so heavy. And be grateful when you can.



Principals to train by, expanded by Scott Edwards

principals to live by, Scott Edards, ISSA

Freestyle |Feb|2014|   61

Principles to Help You Perform Exercise… followed by extended comments, in simple terms, by Scott Edwards 

From the “Complete Training Guide” –expanded explanations of training principals. The corresponding numbers from each point are described below for easy reference:

  1. Isolation Principle (All muscles act as stabilizers, synergists, antagonist or agonists. By making one particular muscle the prime mover in any given exercise you have isolated it as much as possible, and therefore the stress applied to it.)
  2. Quality Training Principle (Gradually reduce the rest between sets while maintaining or increasing the number of repetitions performed.)
  3. Cheating Training Principle (Swing the weight past the sticking point at the end of a set in order to add stress.)
  4. Continuous Tension Principle (Maintain slow, continuous tension on muscles to maximize red fiber involvement.)
  5. Forced Repetitions Training Principle (Partner assisted repetitions at the end of a set.)
  6. Flushing Training Principle (Do 3 to 4 exercises for a body part before moving to another.)
  7. Burns Training Principle (2 to 3-inch, quick movements at the end of a set.)
  8. Partial Repetitions Training Principle (Because of leverage changes throughout any given exercise, it is sometimes helpful to do partial movements with varying weight in order to derive maximum overload stress for that bodypart.)
  9. Retro-Gravity Principle (Negatives, or eccentrics as they are called, make it possible to get more muscle cells to respond, because you can lower about 30 to 40 percent more weight than you can successfully lift concentrically.)
  10. Peak Contraction Principle (Holding the weight through maximum contraction at the completion of a movement.)
  11. Superspeed Principle (Compensatory acceleration of movements used to stimulate hard-to-reach fast-twitch fibers.)
  12. Iso-Tension Principle (This is a method of practicing posing, tensing each muscle maximally for 6 to10 seconds up to a total of 30 to 44 flexes in a variety of posing positions.)
  13. Instinctive Training Principle (Bodybuilders instinctively attain the ability to construct diets, routines, cycles, intensity levels, repetitions and sets that work best for them.)



1) Isolation principal. One good example of this in biceps curl. There could be 5 decent ways to train the two heads of each biceps and the reason for the moves are to isolate different regions of the muscle fibers in order to stimulate them. The grip ( in layman terms, I will use overhand, underhand, and neutral grip examples) employed properly will train by essence (isolate) the different places in the biceps. These are commonly known as “hammer curls” “preacher curls” standing barbell curls” sissy bar curls” and such are direct pressure upon the bicep muscle.

The antagonists in this arrangement, ( triceps) are engaged, however, in order to maximize the isolation effect, triceps exercises are not employed to keep the blood or “pump” in the bicep muscle, therefore allowing more resistance on the one muscle and overloading it for stimulation.


2) “quality training principal would be where you outline your number of sets and increase the difficulty by taking a shorter rest period in between sets. What happens when you rest is your supply of glycogen to the muscle is replenished. In a shorter rest, there is less time to recharge. This is one way to vary your resistance. Other ways to increase resistance include added  weight resistance; eccentric repetitions, pre exhaustion by performing exercise on the larger encompassing muscle group before the isolation moves ( Weider principal) – one reason bicep exercises are better performed after general back training) and environmental difficulties such as temperature, humidity and oxygen during workouts.


3) cheating training principal – Don’t let the term “cheat” be misleading … form over everything! always! …again, I will say, form over everything. However, after some period of steady development, plateaus are encountered. The cheat principal can be achieved in one or two ways if done mindfully to gain some advantage in your training development. Notice how in this description says at the end of your set” This is important that it is not a substitute for your regular reps. It is also important that you have mindfulness not to go swinging carelessly and incur an injury because of the exhaustion of the target muscles and stress tendons and ligaments, the delicate connective tissues, or from sloppy form. These last reps are to thoroughly train the last remaining muscle fibers in an extended range. A reduction of weight can be effectively used if picked up immediately, if needed. This is written in the spirit to furiously go after the weight without holding back but not at the expense of good form or thorough sets and ROMs.

Also, a proper spotter can assist in “failure reps”  if performed properly. This gives you a tremendous boost in stimulation to the muscles being trained. Failure reps simply means the spotter will assist on the contraction of the biceps curl because the full extent of the set has been completed and the muscle is too weak to complete one more rep, so a light, guided push is given to assist (note that the athlete still applies full pressure even though failing, stabilizing and pushing thru the repetition)  -and then the negative part of the repetition ( letting it down, -is done slowly and carefully. This is a bit beyond the cheating principal spoken of in #3, and is in itself a negative rep, also performed at the end of a set. Also, see “holds”


   4) Continuous tension principal… is just that, hanging on to that last rep is a good example. but for whatever reason, every rep should be performed in this way, and can be exaggerated, say, when you pick up a weight that is lighter than your training weight. “holds” is the same thing in a static form.  Holding at the end of the set is an eccentric rep in that you are engaging tension and calling on the stabilizers to engage to assist the failing muscle. the point is to apply massive amounts of pressure on the muscle fibers to stimulate them to cause trauma.


5) Forced repetitions principal… I think I covered this above. Forced reps, or reaping beyond failure, is best done with a spotter who understands exactly the right amount of assistance needed to complete the rep… which starts with the minimal assistance. It takes a little practice, but is super effective. Often I find this moment in training quite psychological. When the partner does not realize their own strength and does not realize they are lifting ok, because your spot makes it seem like more help than it is to them. Forget about the appearances of weakness, men, this is where you are training past failure and growing into new territory.


6) Flushing training principal… This is evident in daily body part training. Largest to smallest muscle groups, pre exhaustion, and as in the principals listed in the paragraphs above. In a four day or three day split, when modifying, it becomes more evident and I advise to train largest to smallest and understand where the layover regions may be, such as how shoulders can be generally added after chest or after a back routine, or say after a leg routine. However, The entire area should be trained say, before moving on. you wouldn’t train quadriceps movements and then train deltas in the shoulder area and then return to hamstrings in the leg area. Rather you would train all of legs together, then a series of shoulder movements- like two smaller workouts, back to back. Blood gathers in the engorged muscles groups and can be effective at increasing your lifts and the focus should stay there.


7) Burns Training principal. Im not going to lie. I do not know much about this principal in namesake. I have used the “partial rep method”, say, for example, with biceps again as an example, on a strait bar or sissy bar [actually this [½-¼-¾ rep principal can be used in a variety of adduction motions in this case and it is exampled as, 5 half up reps, 5 half to top reps, then 5 fulln repetitions, and that’s as close as it gets to the short range movements. In theory, it’s another way to fully exhaust muscle fibers and get an incredible pump. In the “15” sets (51/4 repsx3); or “9” (3×3, respectively) are heavier weight and assisted. Another variation is where people go lighter and do “21’s”- (7repsx3 ¼ partials) it gives a heady pump to the muscle and feeds it plenty of blood … leading to…


8)Partial Repetitions Training Principle (Because of leverage changes throughout any given exercise, it is sometimes helpful to do partial movements with varying weight in order to derive maximum overload stress for that bodypart.) I think I covered this one as above. I get ahead of myself!


9) Retro-Gravity Principle (Negatives,  one version of an eccentric repetition, as they are called, make it possible to get more muscle cells to respond, because you can lower about 30 to 40 percent more weight than you can successfully lift concentrically.) see above^ The negative contraction is one of my points of interest in my training techniques. Often people will surrender and relieve tension on the last rep on the way down. This is a loss of ½ of a rep. Always hold your negative rep all the way to completion and get the most out of your set!


10) Peak Contraction Principle (Holding the weight through maximum contraction at the completion of a movement.) – This also works at 50% of the range, and 25% of the range also, with a slow, controlled descent as described in the retro gravity principal above.


11) Superspeed Principle (Compensatory acceleration of movements used to stimulate hard-to-reach fast-twitch fibers.) Not to be a substitute for concentration reps. This should be performed mindfully and in good form, usually lighter, and with careful consideration to joint motion also. anytime added weight resistance is added, care needs to be taken with form especially where an instance of speed is applied. by default, a lighter resistance should be used for speed/power reps to assist in good form. the lighter weight will allow a deeper range of motion to assert trauma to these hard to reach muscle fibers.


12) Iso-Tension Principle (This is a method of practicing posing, tensing each muscle maximally for 6 to10 seconds up to a total of 30 to 44 flexes in a variety of posing positions.) ISOMETRIC contractions… this is effective after a few sets to examine the pump and development of a particular region.


Weider Training Principal (not listed)  Here is one principal that I have been applying in various forms over the years that is quite important and involves all of the other principals, the Weider principal. This is simply pre exhaustion, and can be applied to enhance resistance in various ways. Pre exhaustion works in making the difficulty of the following move increase by working the main muscle groups extensively so that the supporting groups (stabilizers and agonists) are called upon and over all more muscle is recruited and stimulated. Just like adding resistance, shortening breaks, eccentric reps, changing order and stimulating environment ( heat & humidity or elevation) Weider principal is a form of increasing difficulty with pre exhaustion. For an example of this, several sets of weighted pull ups can be performed as a warm up to a back routine where isolated dumbbell rows will follow. the rows will be harder to perform and therefore more benefit can be attained on this day in this way. As with any mesocycle, this ought to be alternated so adaptation does not occur and so that other times you may lead with the dumbbell row in order to go heavier and proceed normally. I wanted to touch upon this concept briefly because I think it belongs in the group of principals here.

13) Instinctive Training Principle (Bodybuilders instinctively attain the ability to construct diets, routines, cycles, intensity levels, repetitions and sets that work best for them.) THIS MEANS PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. It’s easy to develop a bad habit instinctually. The human body, thru evolution tries to stay efficient and not move into trauma or pain or exertion. It finds the easiest way, instinctively to avoid effort to move mass. In this way we must be on guard about instinct. It is important that in the process we become highly aware of our bodies and what we are doing to them. So, in general I think this principal is reserved for finely tuned, well trained individuals, and that as an individual to never stops growing, learning and adapting! Its good to get instruction and direction on your journey and yet stay disciplined and consistiant in your program. Always learn and grow, and be the best version of yourself that you can be!




The Davis Park bootcamp

hello everyone. The Davis Park bootcamp sessions are now available on Saturdays In Brandon for those of you who work all week.
If you can not make daily sessions, you can now have an invigorating midmorning session that includes tablata, crossfit, core and cardio on saturday and Sunday.
Anyone interested in these sessions needs to give me a heads up – please call me

Sunday we arrive at 930 and warm up, starting relays and challenges at 10Am to 11Am, winding down before lunch at 11:30
expect the grind. I will be inventing new challenges every time:) and bringing back the favorites!
a session like this has varied High intensity challenges that constitutes complex movements and burns fat.

Anyone  is welcome to join.Group session rates are 20 per session, 15 per 2 sessions,pre paid, add ons for existing clients will be 10, and if you are an eisting client and bring a friend, it will be 10$ for them, pre paid.

Do not let the price stop you from showing up. you still have to work out, so get your butt down here and I will give you good faith. no excuses. Spring is around the corner and there is no time to waste!

see you then! :)