Fear of Failure – The Battle

 

This is something that hits close to home with me and I think that anyone who tells you they have no fear of failure is either lying or doing absolutely nothing meaningful to bring that fear to the surface. The truth is that fear is an indicator that you are thinking about doing something that tests you and pushes you out of your comfort zone. This is a good thing.

There are so many self help books and social media gurus that are making millions of dollars by telling people that hard work and a positive outlook always pays off. There is a famous Book/video called “The Secret” that made millions of dollars telling people that positive thinking and a real belief that you are going to succeed means success is guaranteed. Something about the universe bringing opportunities to people who think positively. If you believe this garbage, I’m sorry.

I’m not writing this to motivate with those worn out beliefs and mantras. I’m going to give you a real look into what failure is and the truth about facing it. I will start out by telling you that success is never guaranteed. Hard work, talent, discipline, intellect, don’t make the recipe for guaranteed success. You could chase a goal, pour your life into the pursuit of it and do nothing but fall short at the end. Life is really good at kicking you in the teeth and it kicks hard, trust me. But the beauty of it all is it really isn’t about the goal. It’s about pouring your heart and soul into something that you have an intense passion for, regardless of how hard it may be or the eventual outcome. What’s awesome about success is that it isn’t guaranteed. The victory is in the fighting itself, not the win at the end.

I started this business from literally nothing. Less than 5 years ago I didn’t have a dollar to my name, no car, had to move back in with my parents at 25 years old, I didn’t even have a bank account. I had nothing but a few garbage bags filled with clothes. Another hardcore come up story here? Nope. The reason I started this business, the real reason, is because I had nothing to lose. Not only did I have nothing to lose, I had no other options. No courage or some story of laying it all on the line for a dream. It’s something that was a dream of mine as a teenager but it died somewhere along the way. What killed it was a fear of failure. I went the route of the “guaranteed” success path instead. Success being equivalent with high income in my young mind. I started out going to school as a biology major with the plan of going into medicine. 3 years into college I decided I wanted the money without 12 years of school and I dropped out, took my series 7, and worked as a stock broker for a few years. Big money came and I destroyed my life with it. After the money was gone I continued on that path of destruction just to make sure I was really, absolutely destroyed in every way possible. I wanted to be thorough. Half kidding but anyway back to the point. My fear of failure pushed me away from this business that I’m running successfully now because I thought the guaranteed money jobs would give me the security I always wanted. I was searching for guaranteed success and security.  I found soul death and misery instead. That’s how my fear of failure manifested itself in my life. It manifests differently in everyone’s life, but that’s a piece of my fear story.

5 years later, doing what I love doing, and being able to provide for my wife, myself, the little Viking growing in her belly right now, and that fear is gone. Haha I wish! It never goes away. It just finds new ways to attack me and try to paralyze me. I have an absolutely massive fear of failure. To give you perspective, I have zero fear of death but a huge fear of failure. Wrap your head around that. What I’m learning now is that fear is the guarantee. Not success. No matter how successful my business is I will always have to fight that feeling of impending doom. Am I good enough? Is this really going to work? When is it all going to fall apart? I know I’m good at what I do but will that be enough? Will this success continue? It’s endless.

And the reality is the feeling of fear and the voice may be warranted. Everything could come crashing down tomorrow. We live in an ever changing, unstable, and unforgiving world. But should that stop me? Should it stop you? No. Embrace the fear and embrace the prospect of failure. A true warrior doesn’t fight because he knows or even thinks he can win. A true warrior fights because there’s a battle to be fought. And failure for the warrior means getting butchered on the battle field. What does failure mean to us? Not much really. Yes the financial issue is scary but you usually aren’t battling for your life. People might laugh at you and ridicule you, so what? In the words of the immortal Mr. Chow “but did you die?”

The real battle here isn’t against failure and for success. It’s the battle to not waste our lives being scared little punks. The giving in to the fear is something that I refuse to do now. Giving in means backing down and trying to find security in some passionless life I really don’t want. Security is where dreams die. Going to war with the unknown and uncertain is the only path to fulfillment. Fulfillment not success. You can fail repeatedly and have way more fulfillment than while working in a career driving a desk making 500k a year. The endgame, the income, the success aren’t the point, it’s about the fight. It’s about knowing you poured yourself into something you really give a shit about, regardless of the outcome.

We live in a society that chases security above pretty much anything else. How many of the young kids coming out of college majored in something they were passionate about? On top of that the majority are coming out of school only to realize that there is either no job for them or they have to start in an entry level position making 30k a year and MAYBE work their way up over the next 30 years. They took the path of “guaranteed success” and it ended with 200k in debt and a job as a glorified receptionist. They are in debt up to their eyeballs with nothing but a piece of paper and an expensive lesson that success is never a guarantee. What about you? Are you trying to find security or find the fight?

The reason I’m writing this is because in one of those quiet moments of reflection I had an epiphany of sorts. What if I fail? What if it all falls apart? I’ve survived much worse than failure, and came back from it. Hard charging forward like a wild horse. So what if? Well, I would start again. Find another way to pour myself into something I love. I’ve tried to work jobs I hated that provided security and I’m not built for it. The fight and the uncertainty get me up in the morning. It’s what fuels my fire. If I fail I want to fail big. Taking steps onto a staircase I can’t see and don’t know where it leads.

It’s really not about money to me. I don’t dream of expensive cars or a mansion with an elevator. For me it’s all about the battle. I want to make a difference and work with as many people as possible to help them conquer their fears and weaknesses. Everyday that I put the work in, I’m winning. I’m winning because I’m here in it. It’s about slamming up against that fear repeatedly and gaining ground on it.

Find your fight and rage on. If you finish it victorious, find a bigger one. Fail, succeed, fail hard, keep going.

There’s beauty in the battle. Don’t die without scars.

The Brain and Overtraining Syndrome

Rest time from training is unfortunately something that has been pushed to the side for a lot of lifters.  There is all that “hardcore” talk about overtraining being a myth.  Not taking rest time somehow means you’re more dedicated.  I’m not talking about 1 or 2 rest days a week either.  I mean prolonged rest of 7 days or possibly longer.  A lot of people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them since 16 years old I have trained 3-4 weeks on and 1 week completely off.  It was never because I didn’t want to lift or that I wanted to take a week off, my body told me it needed the rest.  The signs of needing a break are pretty obvious which means they aren’t easy to overlook.  You can ignore the signs but you will definitely pay the price for it.  It’s about more than the risk of injury, it’s about the loss of progress.  Not taking rest time when you need it doesn’t make you hardcore, it makes you a moron.

 

Most people think that if someone is well fed, sleeps well, and takes a couple off days a week, this means recovery can keep up with training demand.  This isn’t the case at all.  You can eat a caloric surplus with perfect macronutrient ratios and sleep 10 hours a night and still destroy yourself in the gym.  Much of the stress that causes overtraining isn’t due to muscular recovery issues between sessions but due to the demands put on the central nervous system and endocrine system.

 

The CNS, Adrenals, and Neurotransmitters

The central nervous system is the most overlooked piece of the puzzle when it comes to lifting.  Why can someone stay at the exact same bodyweight and body composition but add 100’s of pounds to their lifts over time?  Because strength is related more to the efficiency of the central nervous system than it is to muscle mass.  When you train as a competitive lifter you are training your central nervous system to recruit and fire as many muscle fibers as possible, as quickly as possible, for specific movements.  Increased efficiency in muscle fiber recruitment means increased strength.  The CNS sends nerve impulses to motor units to recruit the muscle fibers for contraction.  The higher the load, the higher the demand on the CNS to recruit the muscle fibers needed for the lift.  Pretty simple.

 

Now along with that is the hormonal response needed to support intense lifting.  The adrenal glands take a serious beating.  Studies have shown that adrenaline levels start to increase before you start training, just in anticipation of the session.  During training more adrenaline is released to carry you through the session.  Adrenaline is needed to redirect blood flow, increase metabolism for energy demands, and increase efficiency of motor unit recruitment.  The amount of adrenaline released is also in relation to the intensity of the session.  High intensity means more adrenaline needed to support it.  The flip side of this is the cortisol also released from the adrenals in response to workload.  The more demanding the session, the more cortisol is released in response.  Over time the adrenals start working more inefficiently which throws off adrenaline release as well as the balance of cortisol production/release.

 

Neurotransmitter (serotonin and dopamine) activity also changes during training which is where you get that “natural high” from.  CNS fatigue is something that has been studied and they are starting to figure out that it’s not just one of these components that’s the cause of it.  It’s likely a combination of issues with neurotransmitter imbalance, adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalance.

 

When the CNS and adrenals are burnt out from intense training you will see a downtrend in performance.  Weights start to feel heavier and move slower.  Coordination and ability to maintain bar path decrease.  You may even feel shaky or unstable during heavy lifts.  Along with this is the feeling of being out of breath doing things that normally wouldn’t tax you at all.  Or a faster heart rate during easy work, and a heart rate that stays elevated longer after a set.  This is all usually accompanied by more aches and pains than usual.  All of these are indicators that the CNS and adrenals are working inefficiently.  Trying to push through will dig that hole deeper, increase risk of injury, and you won’t get quality training sessions anyway.   A few days a week away from the gym isn’t going to fix it either.

 

Training Residuals

The idea of training residuals was discovered by the Soviets (of course).  Basically it’s the body’s ability to maintain a level of an aspect of conditioning for a certain period of time without training it, and without a significant loss in performance in that area.  The peak strength residual effect is around 30 days.  The idea is that the body can maintain that level of maximum strength for around 30 days after a switch to another area of training that doesn’t directly train max strength.  So you can train for 3-4 weeks for maximal strength, switch to a phase for strength endurance or even speed training for 2 weeks, and when you return to max strength training your peak will have been more or less maintained.  They also figured out that after 3-4 weeks in a max strength phase the returns quickly diminish and sometimes regress. This is an inadequate and small piece of the explanation of Block Training or Block Periodization but I’ll leave the deeper explanation for a later post.  Research training residuals and Block Periodization if you can’t wait, google has your back.

 

Why this matters is because most lifters are scared to take a full week off because they think it will hurt their progress and they will become deconditioned.  It isn’t the case at all.  And just like anything else I write or talk about this has been kicked around in my own training and with clients for years.  I mentioned I used to train 3-4 weeks on and 1 week completely off at the beginning of this post.  Well I had started doing that about 8 years before I ever researched training residuals.  I didn’t need research to figure out what my body needed and how often.  Like clockwork every 3rd week in a training phase I would feel as strong as possible but at the same time I could feel myself starting to turn the corner.  Big numbers would be hit in training but fatigue outside of the gym started increasing as well as a decrease in motivation.  If I tried to push through another week, which I did many times, it was a disaster.  I would go from being able to deadlift 700×4 to 600 feeling like it was 50lbs over opener weight.  From a peak to an all out shut down and crash.  If I took week 4 off instead and returned where I left off, the weights moved like an empty bar again.

 

Rest Week Vs Deload Week

Almost all lifters have programmed deload weeks for recovery.  Few program total rest weeks.  Like everything else, I have tried it both ways over my 12 years doing this.  For me deloads don’t work because they don’t provide adequate recovery for my CNS once it’s smoked.  After a deload at 50% for a week, I would come back to the training and still feel like I got hit by a truck.  Maybe a smaller truck but still felt pretty terrible.  So that’s when I realized that I always took a full week off before a meet and performed at 100% after, so why not work that into training?  That’s exactly what I started doing and it worked perfectly.  3 weeks on followed by 1 week off, repeat.  During that rest week I would still do light cardio and mobility work to keep everything loose and blood moving.  Deloads work well for some but for me and a bunch of my clients, the week off is perfect.  Nothing is lost and you come back fresh and hungry to chew through some steel.

 

Supplements

Something I’m always amazed by is the amount of flashy sports supplements people take while not even taking a multivitamin and no individual micronutrient supplements.  So hundreds of dollars is spent on preworkout, post workout, protein, BCAA’s, creatine blends, etc. while there is nothing to take care of micronutrient demands.  The micronutrients are what make the whole machine work correctly.  Everyone is so worried about muscular recovery and growth that most don’t stop to address CNS health and recovery.  First and foremost is diet.  If that’s not on track forget about trying to address any issues with supplementation.  The food is like 98% of the puzzle and supplements fill in the last 2%.  If you want to cover your bases without spending a ton of money (and you don’t need to) you can start here:

 

B-Vitamins

I’m not going to list and dive into all of them individually (there are 8 of them) but I will go over the group of them and touch on a few.  The reason I supplement with B vitamins is because of the role they play in all metabolic processes but mainly for their roles in CNS/Nerve/Adrenal health and recovery.  High intensity training, especially lifting, takes a serious toll on the central nervous system and the adrenals.  These are 2 of the major areas involved in strength and conditioning.  The brain is the computer that runs the machine.  When the CNS is burnt out from intense training it won’t matter if muscular recovery is on point, you won’t perform.

B5 (pantothenic acid) essential for: (25-200mg)

breakdown of carbs/fats/proteins

production of important enzymes (coenzyme A)

production of neurotransmitters (acetylcholine)

B6 (pyridoxine) essential for: (low dose may be best 10-20mg)

serotonin and norepinephrine production

myelin formation (the protective coating of nerves)

B3 (niacin) essential for: (low dose may be best 20mg)

precursor for NAD and NADP

DNA Repair

B12 (cobalmin) essential for: (100-200mg)

brain/CNS function

all cell metabolism

 

The B- Vitamins are water soluble which means they need a consistent intake because the body doesn’t store them.  B-complex can be good to cover your bases without needing to buy a ton of individual B supplements.  Be careful with the amount of B6 and B3 because they can have adverse effects on fat metabolism at higher levels.  To be safe you can stick with just B5 and B12 for supplementation.  If you have a well rounded diet the B6 and B3 should take care of themselves.  They can be used at higher doses for performance benefits but that is individual and sport specific.

 

Magnesium

This is a mineral that’s involved in too many processes for me to get through them all here.  The specific reasons I use magnesium are for sleep and mood (decreases anxiety) which both play a huge role in recovery and performance.  It’s also involved heavily in nerve activity which is huge for competitive lifters or any high intensity athlete.  It’s needed for 100s of biochemical processes and guess what?  A huge percentage of the population is deficient.  This would mean that the likelihood of many athletes being deficient is high due to the higher demand for the mineral due to intense training.  200-500mg/day can be used.  If you are taking more than your body needs it will usually cause some gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea.  If this happens, just dial back your dosage.  I like to take it at night because of the sleep improvements.

 

Vitamin C

This is another one that can be talked about in a ton of different directions.  The main reasons I use it are for it’s effects as an anti-inflammatory, immune health, and most of all, cortisol control.  It has been shown to help control cortisol levels when 2000-3000mg (2-3g) are taken daily.  You don’t have to worry about taking too much vitamin C.  This is another water soluble vitamin so consistent daily intake is important.

 

Zinc

Another mineral involves in many different processes such as hormone production/balance, metabolism, and the big one, cognitive function and brain health.  It’s essential in the formation of enzymes/neurotransmitters.  There have also been studies that show zinc having a role in adrenal health.  I use 25mg and the PDI is 15-60mg.

 

Phosphatidyl Serine

This is typically more expensive but has been shown to combat cortisol.  It’s important for the health of the CNS and in turn the adrenals.  You can usually get what you need from food but this is another one that can be used to supplement dietary intake.  When I use this I typically use about 100mg/day.

 

Herbs for Adrenal Support

Ashwagandha

Holy Basil

Turmeric

Ginseng

Gingko Biloba

 

This is just a list of things to make sure you aren’t deficient which will increase the likelihood of CNS and adrenal fatigue.  It doesn’t mean taking them will abate all CNS overtraining issues.  Rest weeks/deloads are still crucial.  The point of all this, listen to your body and realize that trying to push through a string of bad training sessions is the worst thing you can do.  If you start to feel like you are overtrained, shut it down and come back stronger.

Caffeine Can Slow Progress

Athletes use caffeine as an ergogenic aid for performance, focus, and fat loss.  There are countless studies that prove it’s effectiveness for increases in power output, mental alertness, and the increased rate of metabolism.  But the effects of caffeine really aren’t that simple.  Actually that’s just a piece of it’s effects on the individual.  Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world today.  It’s use ranges from a cup of coffee in the morning to high concentrations in supplements, energy drinks, and weight loss products.  Most people associate the negative risks of caffeine use with just blood pressure issues (and all things stemming from them) and sleep issues.  The truth is it goes deeper and is more far reaching than that.  Caffeine can be a useful ergogenic aid, that’s proven.  But at what amounts, frequency of use, and duration of daily use are the effects more positive than negative?  It turns out that it doesn’t take a lot of caffeine for the negative effects to start wreaking havoc on your body.  And for the athletes who don’t care about the health concerns, that havoc reaches all the way to impacting your performance and recovery.  Caffeine can be an aid in training but can also create an issue in training and recovery.

 

Hormonal Response To Caffeine

Caffeine acts by blocking the action of adenosine, a hormone released to control nerve activity in the brain, causing an excitement of nerve action.  Adenosine is also responsible for dilation of blood vessels and an increase of blood flow in the brain.  So with the constriction of blood flow and the increased excitement, or firing, of neurons the body reads this as the beginning of the “fight or flight” response.  Then the signal goes to the adrenals and cause adrenaline to be released.  Blood flow is directed away from the skin and away from the digestive tract to muscle tissue.  It also causes a release of glucose into the bloodstream for meeting higher energy needs.  In short, it’s your body getting ready for a fight.  That chain reaction that gives you the desired feeling of focus, alertness, aggression, and energy isn’t the end of the process.  If that was all I wouldn’t be writing this and would tell all of my athletes “the more the better” when I get the question about caffeine intake.   But let’s look at the hormonal responses that follow that initial phase.

 

Cortisol

Cortisol, a hormone also produced in the adrenals, is released in response to the adrenaline release.  This hormone increases the rate of gluconeogenesis (creation of glucose from protein and fat) which is responsible for that release of glucose into the bloodstream mentioned.  Along with the increase in blood sugar levels it’s also responsible for inhibiting the uptake of glucose from all cells except those of the central nervous system.  Remember this for when insulin is discussed later.

 

Cortisol is typically supposed to surge in the early morning hours but with caffeine intake this cortisol release can happen throughout the day even surging in the afternoon.  Cortisol is also thought to disrupt the slow-wave sleep cycle, which is normally a time of low cortisol level, and this phase of sleep is thought to be where memory consolidation takes place primarily.

 

It’s also an anti-inflammatory hormone which when needed by the body for short term effects is essential.  The problem is with chronically elevated cortisol levels the immune system is suppressed.  The body needs an inflammatory response for healing and recovery.  When the inflammatory response is suppressed long term you heal slower, are more susceptible to infection, among a few other consequences.  There is also a link between elevated cortisol levels and cancer due to this impairment of cell immune function.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

 

 

Insulin / Insulin Resistance

Ok so along with the release of cortisol and spike in blood sugar levels, you have an inhibition of cellular uptake of the glucose to be converted to energy.  What we end up with is a bunch of blood sugar in circulation not able to enter cell walls, due to the decrease in insulin sensitivity (insulin resistance), as well as a spike in insulin levels.  One study found a decrease of 35% in insulin sensitivity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17998023) with a 200mg dose of caffeine administered twice daily.  That’s a few cups of coffee, about 2 energy drinks, or 1 serving of some of the heavy duty preworkout supplements on the market.  Point being, it really isn’t a massive amount for most daily caffeine users.  So what does this mean?  Basically glucose has a tougher time entering muscle tissue and cells for conversion to energy, where we would like it, and is sent where we don’t want it.  The excess blood sugar is converted into fats and stored.  Insulin resistance means muscular recovery from exercise will be slower and fat gain (or difficulty losing fat) becomes more likely.  It also has many negative effects on the way you feel overall not to mention the extreme end of insulin resistance being type 2 diabetes.

 

Aldosterone

Aldosterone is a hormone that helps the body regulate blood pressure.  Constriction of blood vessels due to caffeine intake (vasoconstriction) signals the release of renin which is the first in the chain for aldosterone release.  Aldosterone signals the body to release more sodium into the bloodstream (by reuptake instead of being excreted through urine) and the release of potassium in the urine.  This imbalance is the perfect environment for sharp increase in water retention.  There are many other things that can cause release of aldosterone.  Caffeine specifically has been shown to increase plasma renin activity (the precursor for aldosterone) 57% in some studies. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM197801262980403

 

Caffeine and Adrenal Fatigue

Like most glands of the body the adrenals can’t be taxed hard repeatedly every day and still keep up their normal level of function.  Tolerance to caffeine doesn’t seem to be related to any change in the way it blocks adenosine from acting.  The decrease in effectiveness is likely not related to tolerance to caffeine itself but the inability of the adrenals to produce adrenaline as efficiently over time.  Adrenal fatigue can effect everything from your mood, energy levels during the day, appetite and cravings, sleep, recovery/immunity, to your strength and motivation in the gym.  When you have less adrenaline available in times you need it, as you would in an intense training session, the intensity suffers and you notice you have a hard time getting “fired up” before a big lift or for the workout.  “Just not in it mentally”.  You have a feeling of just going through the motions and don’t have the aggression to tap into.  This brings me into the last part.

http://www.orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1984/pdf/1984-v13n01-p034.pdf

 

Increased Stress on the Central Nervous System

People view overtraining as the inability of the body to recover from workouts.  Most think of it as a muscular recovery issue when it’s bigger than that.  That can be part of it but what most don’t recognize is the overtraining effect that stems from the central nervous system (CNS).  Your CNS is what sends all the signals to the muscles to fire during lifting.  The higher the workload the more stress the CNS is under to recruit all the muscle fibers for the lift.  This is the main reason lifters with a max of 400 on the squat can handle more volume than someone with a max of 700.  85% is 340 for one and 595 for the other.  Although the intensity (85%) is the same for both, the 595 is much harder for the CNS to handle.  It’s doesn’t have as much to do with muscular recovery between sessions but with ability of the CNS to recover.  When your CNS is burnt out (overtrained) your body can feel fine.  But when you get in the gym everything feels heavy and moves slow.  Your movement will be off and inconsistent and you may be shaky during lifts.  So what does this have to do with caffeine/stimulants?  Caffeine places more stress on the CNS by exciting motor neurons and increasing the rate at which they fire.  So add a moderate to high daily intake of caffeine to heavy lifting and intense training, and you are digging that hole faster and deeper.

 

Caffeine Use

I recommend my clients never have more than 200mg/day.  It’s best if the people who are using caffeine as a training aid only use it for training.  Limit it’s frequency as much as possible and use it for a specific purpose.  If you are a coffee drinker, 1 small cup of coffee in the morning and then no more than 100mg before training.  If you can go without caffeine in the morning than just use 100-200mg before a training session.  You are trying to use it as a training aid and not something to get you lit up like a Christmas tree.  The more you use, the more it taxes your body, the more it effects your progress negatively.  Less is more.