Friday, October 13, 2006

Commercial Gyms, Body Transformation and Beyond


I keep a membership at several different fitness centers or gyms if you will, all of which are part of national chains. Like many, I do this out of convenience, also because locally owned and operated gyms are becoming increasingly more difficult to find. Nonetheless, for the most part I have found all of the facilities at the chain gyms to be more than sufficient to get a great workout. Keep in mind, I have been weight training for over twenty-five years, so it is much easier for me to get what I need out of almost any gym environment. For sure, I can get a “workout”, but I am concerned with the current atmosphere that has become common in commercial gyms everywhere. When I stop and take time to look around, it is easy for me to see that the elements that gave me years of physical and mental sanctuary are gone. From my perspective, it seems that opposing forces of social interaction and inner peace that can play such a big part in your quest to get a better body, have been replaced by rows of cold soulless exercise paraphernalia. As a result, the participants come to do their workout as if it is another job, mindlessly going through the motions. Yes, the proliferation of fitness centers has undoubtedly made it possible for more people to access the tools necessary for change, but in the process, the mystery, art and inspiration needed for a truly remarkable experience has been lost. In my opinion, the gym as a place of refuge from the problems of everyday life is now just another location to stunt your creativity and “blend in”.


Why Lasting Body Transformation is ‘Spiritual’ NOT Mechanical

It wasn’t long ago that gyms were defined by their members’ collective personality. A place for individuality and community, gyms provided the cultural seeds for personal growth that went far beyond building your body. For years, I never really knew why it was so easy for me to get pleasure out of going to the gym. I now realize that my view of going to the gym is much different from people today. My memories of belonging and individual expression are the foundation for the feelings of extreme pleasure that I have whenever I think about going to the gym.

I suppose if I were to start exercising today, I too might think of it as just another place to punch the clock, hindering my progress and weakening the positive influence exercise has in my life. It is difficult for me to explain, but the more mechanical knowledge that becomes hardwired into our consciousness, in the realm of body transformation, the more we must find the courage to listen to our unconscious mind to inspire us to continue our quest. In the end, I believe lasting body transformation is a journey where numerical formulas and logic can de-motivate the most able-bodied individual. Simply put, the most rewarding things in life penetrate the spirit; relationships, music, art and creative freedom, the most unrewarding are mechanical, like many mindless tasks.

Understand your potential for body transformation has no boundaries; allow each step of your journey to become a perfect experience…

So When Did The Gym Experience Change?

I personally witnessed the biggest change in gym life with the introduction of Nautilus weight training machines, and the “express workout” phenomenon that started in the early 1980’s. While I have no problem with Nautilus machines per se, or a fast paced workout, I do believe the concepts that were popularized when this equipment was marketed, cut into the very soul of gym life. Like most things, the modernized approach to training during the Nautilus gym era took the endeavor from spiritual to mechanical.

The Necessary Evils of Mechanical Body Transformation
Above all else, I truly believe in understanding the fundamentals of training and nutrition. That said, a certain amount of mechanical knowledge is necessary to gain a grasp on the fundamentals. The truth is, when it comes to understanding how to map out your body transformation plan or any workout thereafter, you will need to set some basic guidelines or ‘mechanics’, that will provide a roadmap for your program. The mechanics of fundamentals involve how to perform individual exercises, sets, reps and proper weight selection, and of course, the numbers associated with your nutrition program. I am not trying to downplay these basics, however I do not believe that they need to be something you dwell on all the time. The fundamentals are a tool, not a hindrance, and so they need only to be reviewed periodically to adjust different facets of your program. As time goes on you’ll notice that by becoming more instinctive in your training, you begin to enjoy the process and this allows you to access higher levels of performance.

You’ll be training in the moment, not outside, looking backwards or forward.

On the other hand, I like to use the Nautilus gym era as an example of how the gym experience can become overly mechanical. I know this company can’t take all the blame, however some of the basic principles set forth during this era, are easily traced back to a demise of cultural body transformation and the rise of mass marketed gym chains. The list of Nautilus principles below, with my remarks clearly points this out.

1. Train to all out muscular failure or don’t train. Talk about mechanical, what is the mental cost associated with do or die training principles? In essence, this belief means that nothing less than shear all out effort can be associated with your training. If you’ve ever tried using this to motivate you to go to the gym each day, let me state for the record, it doesn’t work. You begin to resent the gym, because no one can pull a peak performance on demand, not to mention every workout. Peak performances come from the unconscious state top athletes call the ZONE. Mechanical programs make training in the ZONE nearly impossible.
2. Do the exercises in pre-determined succession. While this might be good for a specific goal, it is by no means the way to stay motivated year after year. Again, the result is boredom and resentment, because the program becomes like a rigid ball and chain.
3. Progress ONLY comes from lifting heavier weights. This concept is a half-truth. Yes, getting stronger will bring about gains in new muscle size. However, strength is dependant on many factors, including order of exercises, rep range, rest between sets and the time it
takes to complete a single set or rep.


Getting the Best out of a Commercial Gym
I have a simple analogy for getting the most out of training at a commercial gym. To me it is like driving a car for the experience, not to be confused with driving to get from point A, to point B. Once you get the fundamentals of driving a car down, you can begin to drive with a certain feel for the road. The first order of business is to remember that each drive (or workout) should be a new and exciting experience. No rules are set in stone, but here are some tips:

  • You can start with an ‘exercise map’, but when the gym is crowded you need to be flexible and creative (don’t stand around).
  • When you veer off your map, you should pick exercises like choosing an open lane on the highway. That means go for whatever exercise is available that allows you to hit the target muscle.
  • Once you begin to exhaust a muscle group it is counterproductive to wait around for a specific exercise.
  • Once you begin training a target muscle group, the primary goal is to keep it on the run (doing WORK).
  • Your flow from exercise to exercise becomes your workout tempo.
  • Your training tempo is the ‘heartbeat’ of your workout.
  • Maintaining tempo throughout your workout will enhance your mental focus for maximum results.
  • A focused tempo forces you to avoid the exercises that require you to wait too long (like a traffic jam), and you immediately look for alternate exercises (routes) that will unlock your intuitive thought that creates YOUR unique experience.
  • You push your muscles like an engine; gently pushing to devour more open road yet holding back ever so slightly because you know you will drive again.
  • This is not a do or die race, it is a time to communicate with your senses, to experience the rush, and feeling each ridge in the road (your muscles contracting).
  • Done correctly, each workout will become a new driving experience, even if you travel on the exact same road another day.


It is not likely that local gyms that are more personal will rule the exercise world anytime soon. However, by exercising your mental and physical body when you go to the gym, the experience will certainly be much more rewarding and eventually an activity in which YOU thrive.

The next paragraph can be printed, cut out and kept in your gym bag

The Gym Is My Personal Arena
My gym is the arena where my mental and physical quests and adventures take place. This arena is where exercise allows me to ignore the minutia and insanities of the world. This arena is a parallel universe where my mental and physical being leaves the mechanical world, and I get in touch with my unconscious dreams. I practice my art in this arena to get closer to my inner sense of possibilities and further from the heavy world of facts and probabilities.

Train hard,


Neuro Chemical Diet Warfare

October 12, 2006

The Next Frontier in Legal Fat Loss Pharmacology that

Goes BEYOND ‘Thermogenics’ for Rapid & Permanent Fat Loss


By Vince Andrich

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Over the years, I’ve probably been asked more about getting ripped than about any other fitness-related topic related. I’m totally cool with that because my focus has always been on the cosmetic aspects of nutrition and exercise. While some may balk at the idea of cosmetic fitness, it is my view that people are more likely to put forth the effort it takes to get the health benefits associated with fitness, if they are doing it the name of vanity. Arguably, improving your appearance seems to have more immediate “benefits” than for example, improving heart health, making it a much more motivating pursuit. Ironically, what it takes to improve cosmetic fitness in fact delivers superior health benefits, but that’s another article all together.

Needless to say, the topic of getting ripped is an area that really intrigues me, and I’ve got more than a few theories that I’d like to elaborate on. But beforehand, we all need to get on the same page and understand that if you wanna get ripped — if you really want to get lean — there is no such thing as a free ride. Next, let’s agree that any serious “cutting regimen” includes an eating strategy based on some type of macronutrient control and manipulation. The wide range of eating strategies includes everything from protein/carb cycling to simple calorie control, but for the sake of this conversation it doesn’t matter. Now, if you’re still with me, understand this: I believe that no matter what “diet” you’re on, going beyond your previous best “muscle to fat” ratio will eventually come down to a game of mental Russian roulette.

That’s right. Think about it! When you attempt to go beyond your normal limits in any endeavor the mind calls the shots. Those who’ve been there know what I mean. Like Christopher Walken’s character in the Deer Hunter, you take your diet to the point where each day, you roll the cylinder and see if you can escape the bullet in the chamber that will be your mental breaking point.

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Don’t be confused; I’m not talking about a breakdown of mental motivation, that’s another discussion. I’m talking about improving your chances of diet success by tweaking the balance of your “mindspace” through the use of what I like to call “Neuro Chemical Diet Warfare”.

Engineering Irrational Minds To Prevail
I could be way off, but my opinion is that concentrations of neuro chemicals that can benefit dieters are scarcer, or simply less affective when the body is deprived. My reasoning? Well, it seems when deprived, the mind automatically obsesses on the exact thing you’re being deprived of––even if the obsession irrational. For example, I remember during those last weeks of contest dieting, the mere thought of being “allowed” to eat anything “extra” was always top of mind. I’d often say to myself; “maybe I screwed up my food journal and can eat another meal.” Knowing full well that my food journal was always followed to the letter — to the last morsel. So why would I begin this debate with myself? Sound familiar?

I know it has been written about many times before, but it’s worth mentioning again; dietary restrictions kick in untold years of programming that tells your brain that “you’re starving”. So even if you really aren’t starving — even if you have plentiful food within your reach — your mind becomes irrationally obsessed with eating.


Quite possibly our starvation radar goes off even sooner when we are simply attempting to go below a certain level of bodyfat, often called the “set point”. This effect is most pronounced and extremely exaggerated when restricting water, say for a bodybuilding contest or making a weight class. All you can think about is liquids, or something wetter than your dry like the Sahara desert mouth! Seriously, until you REALLY restrict water intake you just don’t know how good a thimble of water or ice cube sounds. These thoughts take precedence over everything. No doubt food (and more so, water) top the charts for survival and so getting an extra edge in this arena will be tough, but certainly worthwhile. IMO, this survival or pleasure mechanism can be overridden. Why? Because it happens naturally in everyday life, and is most easily seen when a person either falls in love or they have issues with their love interest such as the possible break-up of a marriage/relationship. Simply stated, the desire for food has been known to significantly change whenever a person experiences something very pleasant or unpleasant.

These are just a few of the reasons I believe tweaking your supply and balance of serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine is seriously a BIG DEAL when it comes to fat loss. No matter how experienced you are as a dieter, understanding the power of these neurochemicals holds the key to suspending or minimizing those unforgettable feeding signals that are hardwired into our biology.

Talking Points, Theories and Situation Analysis
The talking points set out below outline a possible prototype for future neurochemical diet strategies. Take these points for what they are; theories, but they are theories with the added insight of what really goes on inside the mind of a serious dieter. Some experts in the applicable fields will probably cringe, at least in places, because inevitably, some of my pop neuroscience is simplistic to the point of perversion. But I am not here to cure mental illness; but I do want to give YOU a mental advantage so you can lose more fat with less pain and suffering.

So that’s all the apologies I’ll make. I feel the subject matter is relevant and in the near future will be key a factor in any high level athlete or serious dieter’s fat loss plan. It is almost insane NOT to realize, quite intuitively that is, that the mind is the ultimate decision maker and all diets succeed or fail because of these decisions.

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Willpower and Anti-Food Psychotropics
There is a whole host of psychotropic players that can affect food intake, but for the most part your brain levels of two key neurochemicals — serotonin and dopamine — seem to be most notable. The problem is that when it comes to making neurochemical connections to food intake, not everyone has the same wiring, and thus, there is not one off-the-shelf solution. Take serotonin for example; this neurochemical has been linked to carbohydrate cravings and is, in fact, released in response to eating carbohydrates. This is why dieters who want to naturally increase their brain levels of serotonin often take the supplement 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin. The simple reasoning for increasing serotonin in the brain would be to reduce or delay your carbohydrate cravings. Put another way, your mind knows that eating carbs will eventually lead to the release of -serotonin, but if brain levels are “artificially” adequate (through supplementation) your cravings might be minimized. On the surface this seems to be a great idea for low-carb dieters or those with heavy carb cravings.

Too bad it’s not that simple

Let’s take a look at some popular drugs that work on serotonin. It is well established that many people who use Prozac®, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), eat less and therefore can lose weight (although in some cases weight gain does occur). In contrast, Paxil®, another brand name SSRI, lists weight GAIN, not LOSS, as a side effect. In fact, I’ve spoke to many people who use Paxil and swear it is the cause of their weight gain. Now, it can be argued that the two SSRI compounds listed above are similar, but not exactly the same. However, it would seem that inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin would result in many of the same side effects or benefits. But it doesn’t always work that way. Something else must be going on.


The answer may be found in a study comparing the effects of fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft®), citalopram (Celexa™) and fluvoxamine (Luvox®) on extracellular concentrations of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. In this study, only fluoxetine (Prozac) showed robust and sustained increases in extracellular concentrations of norepinephrine and dopamine after acute systemic administration. This simple difference might explain why Prozac could be a better drug for dieters. Of course this study doesn’t take into consideration what happens when you’re faced with dietary “restrictions.”

Keep that thought….


On the flip side, dopamine, a naturally produced neurochemical, functions as a neurotransmitter that activates dopamine receptors. Dopamine is also a neuro-hormone released by the hypothalamus. Dopamine is a precursor to epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and is part of the catecholamine family, which plays a key role in releasing energy from fat and inhibiting fat storage. So, maybe we should just find a way to crank up the dopamine, right?

Well, take a look at this…

One drug affects dopamine and IMO, deserves much attention when it comes to dieting. The drug is Bupropion (amfebutamone), which is better known by the brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban.

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I’m fascinated because the chemical is both a dopamine reuptake inhibitor and a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Also, Bupropion has only a small effect on serotonin reuptake. Not surprisingly it is similar in structure to the stimulant cathinone, and to phenethylamines in general. It is a chemical derivative of diethylpropion, an amphetamine-like substance that is prescribed as an appetite suppressant. Pretty, cool so far, right?

For an athlete looking to get ultra ripped however, we want a reduction in appetite, not amphetamine induced anorexia that will grind up our mind and muscle and spit it out. You see if you flip the dopamine switch on high and break off the knob, you’ll be headed for a downhill spiral. This is because the closer you chemically get to amphetamines such as methamphetamines or cocaine, you beat on your dopamine system to the point where the desired signal is always ON and the neurotransmitters are not recycled. The net result is that dopamine gets severely depleted and the user becomes mentally addicted and in no condition to positively alter body composition.

The good news is that when dopamine rises to higher ranges in an intermittent fashion, our body handles the increase by engaging dopamine transporters (DAT’s) to remove excess dopamine from the receptor, effectively ending the signaling of the neurotransmitter and recycling the transmitter. So a transitory boost in dopamine levels when food cravings are imminent could be a very useful appetite suppressor. For sure it seems any positive neurochemical diet protocol would require the availability and proper recycling of serotonin and dopamine. Coincidently, Bupropion is also used to for smoking cessation, and since people who quit smoking seem to gain weight, there must be another food connection. So what’s the big deal with smoking?

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Stay tuned for PART TWO