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Wednesday
Jun222016

This is Your Brain on Brexit

I'm voting to Remain in the EU, but this isn't a post about why you should do that. It's about how we argue.

But first, here is why I'm voting remain.

1- I hate literally everyone on the Leave campaign.

2- I have a general affinity for airy fairy ideas of togetherness and cooperation and free travel across europe. I also have a bias against what I perceive as the "little England" mentality and all this "take our country back" rhetoric.

3- I find the economic argument pretty compelling, because I value the opinion of people who study this shit for a living more than I value my own.

I've listed those points in order of most to least compelling (for me), so the first reason is the biggest motivating factor and the third reason is the least.

In other words, the least rational arguments - the ones least grounded in statistics and studies and expert opinions, the ones that confirm my bias - are the most compelling.

We all know we're irrational creatures, but what's really irrational is that we only believe it about everyone else, not about ourselves.

Think about it, you cite a statistic to support your view on Brexit, your friend provides a counter argument with his own statistic to back it up, do you conclude that he's right? No, you say "yeah but you can prove anything with stats".

Likewise with media. What is the definition of biased media? The kind that disagrees with your own bias.

The debates around Brexit here and gun control in the US have really pushed this stuff to the forefront for me.

The other night I posted something on social media similar to reason number one, that I was largely voting remain because I hate everyone on the leave campaign. Friends then chimed in agreeing with me and we all had a good laugh. Then another friend private messaged me saying, "the comments on your post are hilariously champagne socialist and anti democratic"

I responded, "yeah, well, I'm not looking for intelligent discourse, I'm looking for cheap 'likes'"

In my defence, my post was about the people fronting the leave campaign , not voters. But the point is, I really wasn't posting it in the hopes of changing anyone's mind, I posted it to laugh at other people's expense.

Which sounds fine until you realise how much of the Remain campaign has been essentially the same thing. Whether it's some journalist lambasting the leave voters as racists and bigots, or people on Facebook posting right-on memes to watch the 'likes' rack up.

The thing is, even if you really believe they're all bigots, it is worse than useless to formulate your argument in this way. In fact it actively hurts your case. Research suggests that when you argue with someone they're likely to become more deeply entrenched in their beliefs. They'll also probably think you're an arsehole.

So what should you do? As hard as it is to swallow, you need to listen, absorb, and then make your counter argument in a drastically less confrontational way. You need to show you've actually been listening. Ban the words "yeah, but" from your vocabulary and try to understand, not just the surface point but the emotion that's driving it.

I was in Texas recently, and I had a lot of conversations about guns. And while the pro-gun Texans didn't change my mind, I realised that if I'd grown up like them I'd probably share a lot of their opinions and concerns. More importantly, I realised people aren't monsters and lunatics just because they hold different views. Are those Texans any different to Leave voters with concerns about immigration, people who I might blithely dismiss as a racist just because I'm personally pro-immigration?

It sounds so simple and so obvious but I think it's huge, I think it's what is going to save us.

Simply acknowledging that it's possible - in fact, likely - that you are just as biased as anybody else, should make you realise the need for empathy, and the folly of dismissing someone else's lived experience.

When the referendum is over and we all go back to worrying about Trump, I hope I can remember that lesson.

(I'm still voting Remain btw)


Friday
Mar252016

Spice Up Your Sets And Reps

If variety is the spice of life, then the average gym-goers menu is a pretty bland affair. If you've been on a diet of "Three Sets of Ten" for years then it's most definitely time to add some masala powder to that recipe. Changing your reps will spark new progress and give your brain a break from the same old same old.

Here are three great options.

Five by Five - A classic set and rep scheme to add a mix of size and strength for the intermediate trainee. Pick a big exercise to do first in your workout, ideally a squat or deadlift for the lower body, a bench press or chin up for the upper body. In fact, pairing the bench press and chin up for five alternating sets of five heavy reps is a fantastic upper body workout in itself.

Twenty rep breathing sets - These are a little more advanced and gruelling, and best reserved for the squat. After a few warm up sets, pick a weight that you know is normally tough for ten to twelve reps... And then do twenty. How? By taking tests between reps when it starts getting tough, WITHOUT re-racking the bar. Keep the bar on your back, take a few deep breaths, then do a few more reps until you hit twenty. Do this right and you won't need more than one set, trust us.

7/3/7/3 - This one is a little more fancy, and takes advantage of something called post-tetanic facilitation, which is a fancy way of saying that moderate weights feel a lot lighter after you've lifted a heavy weight, meaning you can get more reps.

Here's how to use it. After a few warm up sets, pick a weight you think you can only manage seven good reps on. Then rest two minutes before upping the weight to something that will be heavy for just three reps. Then rest and repeat that process, this time with HEAVIER weights on each set. If you've got the weights right, you should be able to lift 3-5% more on both the seven and three rep sets, as if by magic.

Try one of these techniques out for 4-5 weeks and we bet you'll see some great progress. As ever if you have any questions just drop us an email or chat to one of us at the studio.

Friday
Feb122016

Training Men Vs Training Women

We've come a long way in the past decade. We can 3D print a prosthetic leg, summon all human knowledge on a black rectangle that lives in our pockets and there are like a hundred more flavours of Ben and Jerry's.

Another way we've made progress is in gym culture. In the past the gym could be a pretty intimidating place for some, and there were all sorts of silly ideas around what kind of training was "for women" or "for men".

Nowadays you're just as likely to see women clanging weights around and guys doing yoga, and that can only be a good thing. But are there any real differences in training men vs training women? Here are a few quick thoughts.

1- Overall, there really aren't that many differences, and a well thought out program will be good for guys and girls alike. One thing to consider is muscle fibre type. In general, women will have more slow twitch fibres than men. In practical terms, this means that women will get more reps at a given percentage of their maximum weight on any lift. You see this all the time with clients, a man bench pressing 80% of his max weight will get maybe 3 reps before failure, where a woman with get 5-6. So in general women should do slightly higher reps than men. If a guy is doing 4 sets of 6-8, a woman can do 4 sets of 8-10 for the same effect.

2- The strength difference is overestimated.
On most exercises, relative to a person's own body weight, there's really not much difference in strength levels between men and women. Yes guys can tend to lift more overall but this is mainly because they're heavier.

The one exception to this is upper body pushing exercises, which women do tend to be weaker on. But overall it's about the same. The takeaway here is not to shy away from heavy weights or limit yourself based on preconceived notions.

3- In general, women tend to chase a high heart rate while weight training to feel as if they're getting a cardiovascular effect. Often we have to encourage them to rest more, so as not to impact the weights they can lift on subsequent sets.

Guys are usually the opposite, they like heavy weights but always want to extend the rest, so we have to be more vigilant with rest periods.

The takeaway here is to have consistent rest periods and stick to them. If your focus is fat loss, keep rest periods between 45-60 seconds. For muscle gain, 60-90. For pure strength, 120 seconds.

4- Due to a number of factors like pelvis width and muscle fibre type women are more predisposed to knee injury. We can counteract this by focussing on building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. For this reason, the barbell hip thrust and the hyperextension should be part of your strength training program.


Tuesday
Dec012015

An Advent Calendar of Awesomeness 2015

It's right about now that you start freaking out about how fast the year flew by. "January feels like yesterday," you'll lament. "It's like time goes faster every year".

Well the good/bad news is you're not just being paranoid. Time does seem to move faster every year, and we know why. It's because of cortisol.

Cortisol, the hormone commonly associated with stress, is also heavily involved in the storage of memories. So much so that people on cortisol suppressing drugs have poorer recall after watching videos of stressful events like car accidents. When you have a novel or stressful experience, more cortisol is released, meaning the memory you store is much richer in detail. As a result, when you recall the event, it feels like time was moving slower.

Think of it like frame rate on a video. A time lapse camera takes a picture every ten seconds, so you can flick through an hour of footage very quickly. If everyday memories are "filmed" on time lapse, then stressful memories are given the full HD treatment. That's why time seems to slow down during an accident and why you vividly remember where you were when you heard about the attacks on September 11th.

So think about it: The younger you are, the more novel experiences you're bound to have. For a toddler, everything - from spinning round in a dribbling circle to throwing your dinner at the wall - is a novel experience, so times seems to move slowly. But as we age, we slip into routine and have fewer novel experiences.

The upshot of this is simple: The more new experiences you have, the slower time will seem to pass and the richer your life will be.

To help you out here are 25 vaguely health related things you can try this month to make your life better. Hopefully some of them will be new to you.

1 - Do the unthinkable in your training. If you always do X, stop for at least a month and replace it with something new, something you're bad at. For me this was bench pressing (in fact, 'chest' workouts in general) which I haven't done for four months now. I replaced it with standing barbell press, which I've always been crap at. Funny enough I made more progress in those months than the rest of the year.

2 - If you use social media a lot, stop for a week and see how you feel.

3 - Write down a tiny, achievable, behaviour-based objective and do it for the rest of the month. It could be as small as taking ten deep breaths whenever you feel anxious or calling your parents once a week. Small things are big things.

4 - Read a hard book. When you finish it, read some articles about it, read about the author's life, there'll be plenty of stuff you missed. This is weight lifting for your brain. I recommend Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. It's such a staggering work of genius it makes me want to chop my hands off.

5 - Do something good and don't tell anyone about it. There is research supporting the benefits of kindness and altruism. We get more joy from buying lunch for someone than having it bought for us. Do something good and don't seek credit for it.

6 - Binge watch Master of None on Netflix, a ten part sitcom from comedian Aziz Ansari. It's funny, poignant and beautifully filmed with long rambling takes and beautiful New York vistas a la seventies Woody Allen.

While you're at it, check out Jessica Jones too, even if superheroes aren't your thing. It's the least superhero-y superhero show ever, mostly a noir-ish detective story that happens to contain people who can lift cars. As a side note, netflix are really nailing the whole effortless diversity thing in a way that puts the big screen to shame. Both MoN and JJ take place in a New York that actually reflects the city's ethnic make up, and JJ will occasionally go whole minutes with only female characters on screen, talking to each other about something other than men. Mind blowing, right?

7 - Stretch your goddamn hip flexors.

8 - Recognise that you are and will always be a work in progress and give yourself a fucking break.

9 - Make an effort to cook a vegetarian meal at least once a week. Like time-travel, it's not impossible, just improbable.

10 - Check out this exhibition about the Soviet space program at the science museum. You will believe a man can fly...Around the Earth, in what looks like something a thumbless chimp welded together.

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/cosmonauts.aspx

11 - Think of something you wanted to achieve this year but didn't. A general lifestyle thing like changing your job situation. Sit down for ten minutes and come up with ten ideas on how to do it.

12 - Further to that last point; if you're a procrastinator, try the pomodoro technique. Simple but stupidly effective.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

13 - Include some easy but frequent cardio. Fifteen minutes five days a week beats an hour twice a week.

14 - Check out this amazing exhibit on abstract art at the White Cube. With works by masters like Picasso and Matisse alongside modern artists they've influenced.

http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/tightrope_walk_painted_images_after_abstraction_bermondsey_2015/

15 - Look at this amazing thing.

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/plane

16 - And this.

https://www.ted.com/talks/bobby_mcferrin_hacks_your_brain_with_music

17 - Stop believing quotes and stats posted on the Internet just because they're superimposed over a nice image. Any idiot can do it, including those who want you to be as racist and misogynistic as they are.

18 - Keep a bottle of water by your bed. Drink it when you wake up.

19 - Spend more money on better wine and drink less of it, more slowly.

20 - Remember that when it comes to exercise, it all counts. Maybe you don't have a spare hour to train. Do something anyway. Twenty minutes still counts.

21 - The chicken wings at Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch are life changing.

22 - Pick a challenging body weight exercise and get good at it. The front or back lever, handstand push up or L-sit are all great choices. There's a shitload of tutorials online.

23 - You know when you wake up after a night out and are afraid to check your sent messages because you've done something stupid? Delete that person's number now.

24 - Offer to help a friend with their health and fitness goals. If you're reading this you probably know more than they do.

25 - There's probably no heaven, so whatever it is you're scared of doing just say fuck it and do it anyway.

Happy Christmas, jerks!

Thursday
Oct082015

How To Lucid Dream in 5 easy steps

The first thing to accept is this: The divide between sleep and waking life is permeable, fuzzy. Two cities that occupy the same space.

For example, if you've ever looked at a clock, you will have experienced the odd sensation that the second hand took longer to move when you first looked at it. What's going on there? In the microsecond it took for you to move your head and focus on the clock face, a jumble of blurred images went past your eyes. Your mind had no use for them, so it retroactively edited them out and reinserted the lost millisecond once you had something to focus on. In this case it happened to be a clock, which gave you a reference point. It allowed you to spot the trick. But really, things like this happen all the time without you ever noticing.

The mind is constantly taking shortcuts. We see an object moving toward us and in an instant it is scanned against a database of images. Some key points are noted and we decide it's a car, how fast it's moving, what direction. Complex calculations performed almost instantly, usually with great accuracy. But optical illusions are an example of this mechanism misfiring.

The point of all this is that the mind isn't just an observer. It takes cues from external stimuli but it is constantly interpreting, streamlining, disregarding irrelevant data, filling in gaps and cut-and-pasting over blind spots. It's a reality generating engine. The amount it generates depends on how close we are to a dreaming state, but it is constantly generating.

For the experienced lucid dreamer, dreams can become every bit as vivid, as real, as the world you perceive around you right now.

Most of us have experienced a lucid dream at one point. It's the awareness that you're dreaming, while you are still in the dream. Typically we'll experience a brief moment of excitement, maybe even try flying for a bit, but all too frequently our excitement wakes us up. So you need to learn how to lucid dream more often, and then maintain the dream once you realise you're in it.

Step 1- Cultivating awareness in waking life.

Dreams are an analogue of waking life and our habits and values are reflected in them. So, to be lucid while dreaming we need to become more lucid while awake.

So how do I do that?

The 'reality check' method. In daily life, sporadically "check" if you're dreaming. You might do this by checking the time, looking away, then checking again. If you were dreaming, the numbers would be inconsistent or meaningless. It may seem silly, because you intuitively know when you're awake, but building the habit is what is important.

While using the reality check on a regular basis, we can then try and induce lucid dreams directly.

Step 2- The wake/back-to-sleep method.

Set your alarm for two hours earlier than you would normally wake up. So if you need to be up at eight, set it for six. Then, when it wakes you, stay awake for 30 minutes. Then, go back to sleep with the intention of having a lucid dream.

It's a good idea to use that time to write down what you intend to dream about.

This method works by starving your mind of REM sleep, so that it increases the duration of the REM state in the following half hour. This has probably happened to you by accident before. Think about when you naturally woke up earlier than necessary, went back to sleep and had some of your most batshit mental dreams. The difference here is that you're waking yourself up on purpose then going back to sleep with the intention to lucid dream.

It may take practice over a couple of weeks but you should eventually be able to induce lucid dreams at least some of the time.

So you're lucid dreaming, now what?

Step 4- Maintaining the dream state

It's common to become over excited in a lucid dream and wake yourself up. There are some weirdly specific methods that seem to help with this. Some suggest looking at your hands in the dream as a method for calming and refocusing the mind.

Again this may take practice but over time you should be able to calmly realise that you're in the dream and then maintain that state.

At which point you can start to have some real fun.

Step 5- Do what you want to do

There are some obvious options I don't really have to detail here. Indulging your every hedonistic fantasy will probably keep you busy for a while, depending on how imaginative you are. But when you've exhausted that depraved stockpile, you might try a more spiritual route.

One particular lucid dreamer told me about a series of dreams he had where he gradually built a control room within his mind. A sort of observation deck (which in retrospect sounds eerily similar to the one in the Pixar movie Inside/Out, although this conversation took place years ago).

Eventually, a voice within the observation deck said, "what do you want?"

And he responded: "Show me something I've never seen before."

I don't want to tell you what his mind showed him, because it might skew your own version. Plus it's not the point. The point is to use lucid dreaming to plug into a deeper part of your mind, a part that's usually inaccessible in waking life.

This is the real magic of lucid dreams. There's a person inside you who is much smarter than you. That person is where all your best ideas, all your bursts of inspiration come from. You just don't have access to them most of the time, at least not in any way you can control. As flaky and new age as it sounds, lucid dreaming is your chance to spend more time with that person.

Sweet dreams.