Have you ever thought about “why” you exercise?
If you’re daydreaming of Snickers bars half way through your workout… you need to listen to this show.
We’re here with my friend Mike Bledsoe of Barbell Shrugged, and you’re about to learn:
- How to find your optimal weight
- Why successful people fail more often
- The surprising thing that happens when you train too hard
- An easy trick to ditch your junk food habit
- How to train for life
- And much more…
MICHAEL BLEDSOE: BREATHE INTO IT, BABY
Abel: Mike Bledsoe is the CEO of Barbell Shrugged and Barbell Business. As an athlete, Mike has competed in and coached many sports, primarily Weightlifting and CrossFit, in the last decade.
More importantly, Mike is by far the best looking dude I’ve ever had on this podcast.
Abel: You’ve been training for a long time. I imagine the reason you started training in your teens is different from what keeps you going now.
What is the main goal of your training? What’s your “why”?
What’s funny is when I was training in my teens and twenties, it was more about punishing myself. There was a lot of comparing myself to other people and other athletes. When you’re in a sport, that’s what you do. There’s a lack of patience when you’re comparing yourself. The results can’t happen soon enough.
One of the reasons I retired from weightlifting was the accumulation of injuries. Had I been more patient with myself, I probably wouldn’t have accumulated so many injuries.
The reason for training now is that I really want to take care of my body. The reality of mortality has set in, so there’s the longevity piece. I changed my training a little because of that.
I go to the gym, or there’s a nice little porch area where I get my maces and clubs out, or I go to the beach. And if any of my neighbors ever were going to mess with me, not anymore, because I do it in my front yard.
It’s just moving meditation and loving myself.
The biggest change is this evolution where I was like, “I’m not good enough, I have to punish myself. I have to beat those other guys. These are the numbers I have to hit. I’m not good enough. I have to put another kilo on the bar. Another two or three pounds. Every week I need to be better than I was the previous week.”
Now it’s, “What can I do to care about myself more?” My purpose now is not to be on a podium, it’s not to get the attention.
When you’re in competition mode you don’t think it’s selfish or self-serving. But now I just want to treat my body with love. When I do that, it’s amazing. I feel great. My posture has improved.
I’ve been coaching people since I was 15 years old, my posture has been pretty good. When I stopped focusing on the weight on the bar, or how much I weighed, or looking a certain way… When I stopped thinking that I want to be jacked, big, muscular, have abs and have everything all the time… When you’re doing that, there’s a battle going on in your mind.
No wonder I had a hard time being successful in other aspects of my life, I was punishing myself. I was attempting success from the wrong perspective.
What’s interesting is that I live 30 minutes away from Mike Burgener, one of the world’s best weightlifting coaches. I’m about 30 pounds lighter than I was two years ago. I weightlift once a month when I go to Mike’s place. The rest of my training is almost therapeutic.
What does my body need in order to function at the highest level? And also not beat myself up so much that I can’t be productive the rest of the day…
I used to workout so hard that I couldn’t do anything the rest of the day. Now I’m drawing a line, so the workout serves my purpose, my business, my relationship with my wife. How does my movement practice fit into that, instead of everything else fitting into my movement practice?
Once I started approaching it that way, everything else got better. Even my movement improved.
Now, when I go and train the olympic lifts with Mike, I’m doing 80 – 85% of what I used to lift, even weighing 30 pounds less. And I’m lifting at that percentage of my peak lifting, without any mistakes and with better form.
It’s because I’m caring for myself instead of punishing myself.
SHIFTING PERSPECTIVE ABOUT TRAINING AND HEALTH
Abel: When you reach your teens, there’s a temptation to gun it, “no pain no gain.” It’s a double-edged sword. You have this drive to prove you can do it. But you can take training too far and easily blow out a knee or shoulder.
What helped you realize your training was a destructive path?
The last year I was competing. Last year, I was suffering from a lot of shoulder pain. I was doing just enough therapy to still compete, and two weeks before nationals I had to pull out. I couldn’t put an empty barbell over my head.
It’s a shoulder issue, and I was doing therapy so I stopped working with the barbell and my shoulder got better. I go to Burning Man. This was two years ago. I’m dancing and dance all night long, and I’m getting this pain in my groin. I was like, “Man, I must have danced so hard.” I was thinking I was dehydrated or a number of other things. I get home and it gets worse and worse. I get on stage for an hour long talk, and 45 minutes in I have to ask for a chair to sit down.
I had a hernia.
I go to a doctor and he says I have two hernias. One on the left and one on the right. I go in for surgery, and he finds a third one. Most people get one hernia. I’d probably had those hernias for a while… and I had three of them. I weighed more than I had ever weighed and I was pushing the weights harder than I ever had. From how much weight was on the bar, I was performing at the highest level.
I came out of surgery with a shoulder jacked, having to watch my hip, having things like hernias where they’re having to put hardware and mesh into my body and screw it in. That was kind the beginning of a better understanding that I just needed to slow it down.
I’ve had a lot of experiences since having that surgery where I’m seeing I need to be patient with myself. Maybe I’m in a hurry, or the motivation behind doing something is, “I’m not good enough.”
I am good enough.
I’m going to do these things because I love myself and I love the people around me. I know that if I do these things better, if my body and mind are healthier, if I’m emotionally more stable, it’s going to enrich my life and the lives of the people around me.
Every step of that journey I take, I experience more fulfillment and happiness and the people around me experience more growth.
I don’t wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and think I need to lose weight. Or, man I‘m looking kind of small… I need to hit the weights because I’m not good enough. Now, I look in the mirror and I’m like, “I’m happy with myself, but I would feel better if I did this.” Maybe my shoulders feel funny, and I’ll do some exercises to make it feel better.
The action could be identical, but it’s the intention behind it that changes the game. It switches you from not being happy with yourself to being really happy.
Abel: I ran in school growing up, but I learned how to run wrong. Many coaches teach stretching incorrectly, as well. I had shin splints, knee problems, hip problems. I would get fast, but then I’d have to stop for two or three weeks.
I’ve had Danny Dreyer on my podcast a few times, the author of Chi Running, which tunes up running form through body sensing. He comes from the Tai Chi world. It’s much less about punishing yourself and more about the body sensing: Feeling your hips opening up, looking at your feet to see if they’re a little wonky. But it seems like most athletes are trained to ignore senses (especially pain) and push through it.
What’s the way to balance those two extremes?
I have a military background. It’s like, push through the pain. “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” (Or a sure sign of injury.)
I like what you said about the sensing. That’s something I deliberately tried to turn off when I was younger. Put your mind somewhere else and push through it, because there’s a reward on the other side.
When you’re putting your focus on the sensing of the movement and noticing what’s happening in your body, your focus goes from how much weight is on the bar and how do I look, to how am I feeling?
When it comes to training, if you’re tuned into how you’re feeling, you’re way less likely to do something dumb. For me, it’s moving meditation. When you meditate, you’re noticing and you’re sensing. Maybe even letting go of thoughts and emotions. During moving meditations, I try to notice it objectively instead of as part of my identity.
Say I’m doing sprints on the beach and I’m pushing it and my lungs are burning. When I get into that lactate threshold area, I can feel it in my neck pumping hot blood into my head. Whenever I start feeling something now that might be unpleasant, I put my focus into it and breathe into it, and relax into that state that might be considered uncomfortable.
But that doesn’t mean pushing yourself so hard that you have to put your mind somewhere else to avoid or distract yourself. You need to be fully present with what’s happening in the moment, even if it’s uncomfortable.
If you get comfortable being uncomfortable, breathing into it, and accepting it for what it is, that carries over into the rest of your life.
The practice of noticing. Sensing. Accepting. Letting go. These are practices that apply physically, intellectually, emotionally.
I think that a lot of people get really into one area of that. Maybe they only do it intellectually or emotionally, and then completely disregard the physical lessons that are available.
I try to do the emotional work, the intellectual work, the spiritual work, the physical work around noticing, accepting, and letting go. If you’re doing it in all areas, you can start to see how it all ties together.
Abel: I can appreciate being in that uncomfortable state. It’s all a matter of perspective. A lot of times I’d run about 8 – 10 miles and that was my comfort zone, and then I wanted to run marathons. This was when I was learning how to run properly.
I had just moved to Austin, TX and it was 105 degrees. I’m from New Hampshire, so I’m used to running in the cold. The heat was uncomfortable. I remember running across a bridge and the sun was beating down on me, sweat everywhere, and I was miserable.
Then I realized this—imagine you’re at a hotel, you’ve had a rough day, you go down to the sauna and sweat it all out… and you feel great. What if I imagined I’m in a sauna?
I opened my joints, relaxed my muscles, smiled, and for the next 45 minutes I was in this place of euphoria. It was beautiful to get there and realize it was a mentality thing. I let my foot off the gas and focused on relaxation instead of pushing.
Especially in endurance, if you can learn to activate the parasympathetic nervous system under stress, you’re going to last alot longer. You’re going to do the same amount of work with less effort. That even applies to high force sports, like fighting. Can you relax and deliver the same movement with the same amount of impact? Everytime you move, you’re expending less energy so you’re going to outlast the other person.
Last week I’m hiking in the mountains in Idaho. Me and the two other guys decide to do it fasted. The guy that was from there was like, “Oh it’s like 4 miles.” But we took the wrong trail. Ended up in a beautiful place with a snow-fed lake. I treated the entire hike as a moving meditation. Relaxed, watching my breath, enjoying the scenery. Both of these guys, before we got to the halfway point, had to take breaks and were laid out.
Not only fasted, but the first half was also silent. I was running the rules for a hiking journey of sorts. We got to the top and I was like, “How are you doing?” I’m feeling really good. They were like, “Man I can’t stop thinking about candy bars!” They were both daydreaming about junk food for over half the hike.
I bet the fatigue had to do with the fact they were distracted the whole way. Physiologically they were expending more energy because they were trying to distract themselves from the discomfort rather than being present with it.
Abel: Physiologically, if you’re obsessing over foods you crave, your body will release a little hit of insulin to build up the experience.
It’s ridiculous when over the course of time, you find there’s an obsession with a certain food that kicks in the middle of a hike. That’s when you realize you’re addicted to that food and it’s a negative pattern.
Why are you out of that and why were they caught in it?
I think a lot has to do with experience. I practice sitting meditation at home. I do a lot of breathing. I do Wim Hof breathing—there’s an app. The value is incredible. it’s called Inner Fire. When I started doing a lot of breathwork, I noticed my training started to change. I should be focused on my breath work while I’m training.
I notice when I’m doing my breathwork, I’m actually able to shave minutes off of my murph time. A murph is a mile run, 300 squats, 200 push-ups, 100 pull-ups, a mile run. I’m doing less crossfit and I’ve shaved minutes off my time, all because I was present with the workout and breathing.
When I go on a hike and think it’s going to be tough, any time I start to feel discomfort, I go to my breath.
If something’s bothering me—some dude’s hitting on my wife, it’s bothering me—I go to my breath.
FUELING FOR PERFORMANCE AND LONGEVITY
Abel: When it comes to training 30 pounds lighter, how has your nutrition changed?
I used to put stuff in my body that would get me better results that day or in that window. Now, I put stuff in my body for health.
A lot of people argue that performance equals health. But performance is just a really small sliver of life.
I get more benefit from proper breathwork than I ever did from a pre-workout.
How am I going to fuel to optimize my whole day? How am I going to show up better to the people in my life? How am I going to sleep well and be rested when I wake up? How am I fueling my body for the week? I’m considering the entire system. The month, the year. It’s not about how I can max this workout.
I’m better at everything. My movement is higher quality. I’m shedding minutes off my workouts. I’m not even an endurance person. Anything over 4 minutes in crossfit used to wipe me out, but now it doesn’t.
I stepped on the scale this week at 165 pounds, the lightest I’ve been in a long time. I’ve spent most of my life trying to get bigger. Letting go of that identity has allowed me to fuel much more consciously, keeping that whole day/week/month in view as I’m doing it. Now my foundation of nutrition and fueling has to do with health, then I build my performance on top of that health foundation.
Before it was like “Health? Nah, performance all the way.” Whatever supplements I was recommending more than 2 years ago, don’t listen to me.
Abel: We push it too far sometimes. But that’s how we learn where the sweet spot is. When you notice you’re at the point of diminishing returns, move back to the sweet spot.
I’m a big fan of finding the edge. The only way to find the edge is to step over it. But step over it once. Not over and over and over.
There’s a million different areas of your life you can do that.
Abel: Being as big as you were, that’s pretty high maintenance to keep all that muscle. How does it feel now compared to being “huge”?
I feel amazing. I still have a cranky back, a little, just from years of overuse and I’m in therapy for that now. Overall my energy is up. That’s the biggest part. My joints feel better and I have better posture. When I was maintaining a heavier weight, I was eating so much that my energy was low all day. I would time my energy to peak during my workout and the rest of the day it was low.
I’d eat 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day just to maintain, and I was having to carb it up.
Now, I eat way fewer carbohydrates. I do post-workout nutrition, but it’s not me trying to maximize. Just recover.
Abel: It must be so much easier to maintain 165 pounds as opposed to the higher level. When I was running, I was at 148. I was gaunt and skinny. When people looked at me, they were like “What happened to you?” I was eating so many calories, but day after day that can be a shackle. It’s work. Now I’m between 165-175 pounds, that’s so much easier to maintain for me.
How can listeners find their optimal size?
We were talking about finding the edge. Get big. Get small. Nothing is forever.
The difference is that when you’re trying to put 3500 – 4000 calories of good nutritious food in your body, that’s hard. If I was just crushing Snickers bars, that would be easy.
My advice? Get a little bigger and see how that feels. Get smaller and see how that feels.
When I train, 90 minutes a day I’m focusing on doing training that’s taking care of my body and I’m eating nutrients that make me feel good, my weight goes where it needs to go. I step on the scale once every two months. It’s usually when my wife Ashely says, “What are you weighing these days?”
For me, it’s travel. I spend half my life on the road. I refuse to eat bad food, so I go into a caloric deficit when I’m on the road. Then I spend a week or two once I’m home kind of overfeeding just a tad, and I balance out and the cycle continues. I just go through waves.
Abel: I have been overweight. I was fat and sick. But when your weight fluctuates, you can experiment to change the way you eat. Maybe you have too much muscle or too much fat. When you practice moving your weight in either direction, it gives you freedom. We’ve built the confidence that’s a mechanism. That’s what most people don’t have, and what I didn’t used to have.
I used to think I had to keep running 50 miles a week to not get fat!
It has everything to do with awareness. Most people associate their knowledge with their actions, but that’s not the case. Everyone knows they shouldn’t be eating donuts. Everyone who goes through the McDonald’s drive-through knows they don’t really want to be there, but for some reason they’re drawn to it.
It’s unconscious behaviors. People like to make exceptions. “It will be different tomorrow.”
How many diets start on Monday? If you’re serious about it, you’ll start now.
What I’ve found to be most useful is keeping a log of everything that goes into your mouth. It’s not easy to do. I started doing it in college because I was a guinea pig for these exercise science studies. You have to log everything you eat for 7 days.
Someone has that candy bar or brings donuts to work every morning, and it’s always an exception. It’s a special occasion. When you start keeping a log, you start noticing how many special occasions there are.
I made an exception on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. What I love about journaling is that it raises awareness. It takes it from subconscious to conscious. You know the donuts aren’t good for you, but you don’t know you’re eating 5 donuts a week. You start journaling and it brings it to your awareness.
If people are listening to Fat-Burning Man, they know what they’re supposed to be eating, but for some reason their behavior has not changed. I like the journaling for behavior change.
The way I define learning is that you do not learn the thing until your behavior is changed. It’s easy to accumulate knowledge, but to take action and change your behavior, that’s when you’ve learned it.
If someone is grossly overweight, they’re hanging out at Paleo f(x), they’ve been studying it for 2 years and they haven’t applied it? Do you know it, or have you learned it?
If someone’s listening and you’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge but haven’t implemented and had results, it’s usually from a lack of action.
Speed of implementation. The thing that separates the successful from the not so successful in the world is the speed of implementation. Someone who tends to be quick at applying knowledge will be successful. The reason people don’t do that is because the person who has speed of implementation fails way more than the people around them.
To change a behavior means there are going to be moments when you fail. It’s the fear of failure that keeps people from changing their behaviors. You have to get comfortable facing your fear of failure.
Once you get comfortable facing failure in one aspect of your life, there will be another aspect where you’re not. I naturally have a strong constitution for failure for business and athletics, and I discovered a couple years ago… I let the fear of failure in personal relationships stunt my ability to grow those relationships.
There are some people who have no fear in relationships, they love openly, but they can’t do that with their fitness and nutrition. You have to take that same concept and apply it over here.
HOW TO FIND THE “WHY” THAT MOTIVATES YOU
Abel: We all need to be more conscious about the fact that we’re not perfect, we need to fail to find the edge.
What is your main “why” and how can listeners develop theirs?
I have a strong desire to help people define their why and purpose. I can’t make anyone do anything, but I can be a catalyst for them changing their own life. I get my kicks from helping someone get from step one, to step two, to step three and identifying where you are and this is where you want to be. What’s the next thing you need to hear to move in that direction?
I got my start in the health and fitness world, but now I find there’s a whole other world: relationships, money, business. All this stuff. I’ve developed as a coach to the point where I just really enjoy helping people remove the things that are blocking them from moving forward in their personal journey.
My purpose is to wake people up to their own significance and their purpose. What makes someone mediocre is not what they’re doing compared to others. Not being mediocre just means getting out of your comfort zone.
Abel: That’s so important. I was a shy kid. Even to this day, going out or stepping in front of a camera… sometimes I want to crawl back into my shell.
I realized recently, before I go out, even if it’s my best friend, I’m like, “Eh, I really don’t want to go.” But on my way back, I’m always happy I went!
That applies to everything from going on a hike, to workouts, exploring new foods, or building a business. They all depend on you getting out of that shell, and then realizing there’s a positive sensation and reward for doing so.
I get nervous almost every day. Today before the show I’m like, I don’t know what exactly to say. We were going to a party. I wasn’t nervous before we left. But when I got there they had us sit in a circle and in 60 seconds say: When and where you were born, what your family was like, what you do for work, and what your relationship status is. I started sweating. In comparison to other things I’ve done in my life, this should not be hard. I found myself getting uncomfortable.
Abel: My palms are sweaty just from hearing that.
WHERE TO FIND MIKE BLEDSOE
For health and fitness, if you’re into crossfit or lifting weights, you can check out www.barbellshrugged.com. There’s something for everyone… even shows on sustainable farming.
At www.barbellbusiness.com, the focus is mainly crossfit gym owners and helping them achieve success.
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Have you tried tracking your meals yet? Are your workouts like moving meditations? Leave a comment below to let us know what you thought of this interview with Mike, and any insights to add.