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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Changing the Odds

 "Circumstantial good fortune and serendipitous timing tied to the cultural legacies we inherit all play a perpetual role in our path to success."

 Over the last two years I have become increasingly aware of peoples rise to glory, or some form of it. We always hear the rags to riches success stories. Most commonly, people are convinced that success is self-made; that blood, sweat and tears are the keys to success. This truth has to be challenged.

We are told tales of the hard work and determination that got people to where they are but not very often do we hear about the path they took due to circumstance, the doors that were opened for them and the opportunities that were afforded to them. Bill Gates is one of those people who humbly state, “I got lucky”. In a best-selling book ‘Outliers: A Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell, he explains the highly fortunate circumstances that were afforded to Bill Gates during his youth. The author asks Gates himself how many other teenagers in the world had as much experience as he had by the early 1970s to which Gates replied, “If there were 50 in the WORLD, I’d be stunned. I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.” Gates’ talent and drive were unquestionable but his opportunities may have been even more privileged

If there were a million other high school students who had the same access to the resources that Bill Gates had., how many Microsofts would we have then?

Through anecdotal evidence, the author reveals the underlying workings of a number of similar success stories including The Beatles infamous rise to fame and the timely circumstances that got them there.
 Bear in mind this book is not based on scientific evidence, rather, joining the dotted lines to find an alternate, more encompassed approach to success that is not as publicized and glamorous. Although, it is not entirely without merit.

When I look at all the business opportunities that were afforded to South Africans after the apartheid era before the turn of the millennium, the up and comers of that time have done exceptionally well. With the fall of apartheid and international sanctions terminated the South African economy opened up to international trade. This coupled with the new age of the Internet, which was in full swing, and a rapid expansion of the technology bubble, allowed a most pristine boom in the economic climate. Our GDP tripled between 1985 and 1995. If you were fortunate enough to be of the right age, with access to capital and an entrepreneurial spirit, it was a time to make your move.

It has become evident (less now than previously, but still distinctly) that some cultures were better adapted to cope with corporate culture, its lifestyle and the related cognition it required, than others were. In some cultures children are brought up to be liberal, to question authority and to voice their opinions and know that their opinions held merit. In others, children are taught rigid subservience where you wouldn’t dare question authority and you kept your opinions to yourself. As adults, these mindsets are taken into the real world with a far-reaching personal impact. It profoundly affects the way we interact with each other. I’m no social scientist but it’s not hard to see how the former might benefit from their more liberal worldview, a fact that’s not easy to disagree with. Circumstantial good fortune and serendipitous timing tied to the cultural legacies we inherit all play a perpetual role in our path to success.

Case in point. While I was in Qatar I noticed that every Filipino and Sri Lankan employee called all their superiors “Boss”, mainly spoke about work related stuff and rarely joked with them. “Good morning Boss”, “Yes boss”, “No boss”. It seemed archaic at first but then you realize that they stem from cultural roots that lie deep in traditional respect, values and meek conventions. Then the South Africans arrive, Indian, Black and White, almost the whole rainbow nation shows up. We kick it off calling our superiors by their first names, much to the bewilderment of the staff that have been there for years. This is the culture that we were raised in, especially in the fitness industry. Liberal, autonomous and assertive. We related to them on a different level that allowed friendships to cultivate and there was often a healthy jesting between the “Bosses” and ourselves. Whether it was advantageous or not could be disputed but our cultural roots certainly didn’t hinder our circumstances.

You may think you’re not smart enough to achieve exceptional amounts of success but intellectual genius does not determine a person's success. Christopher Langan, a man with an IQ of 195 (way above any estimates of Einstein’s IQ), being well read in philosophy, applied mathematics and physics, who had a series of misfortunes during his critical college years and ended up working as a bouncer in a night club and eventually went on to run a horse farm in rural America. Langan never reached monumental success because of the environment in which he grew up. Langan never had well connected friends and family, his background was a melancholic mix of misfortune. Nothing to help him nurture his intellectual gift, he had to find success by himself. "No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone," writes Gladwell.

A study, conducted in 1921, by a professor of psychology named Lewis Terman that tracked a group of intellectually gifted children from 1921 until 1955, a period of 34 years and found varying results. Although over fifty of the subjects became college and university faculty members. Surprisingly, most of these intellectually gifted children with astounding IQ’s lead more mundane lives. Terman had noted that as adults, his subjects pursued common occupations "as humble as those of policeman, seaman, typist and filing clerk" and concluded:

“At any rate, we have seen that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”

Many studies have constructed the absolute amount of time it takes to master a skill, that number has been projected at 10,000 hours. Even the smartest of people need 10,000 hours before they can master a skill. Mozart’s childhood symphonies were a mix of borrowed works but by the time he was 21, he was head and shoulders above his peers and would be termed a musical genius. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and even The Beatles were fortunate to have unique opportunities, fueled with resolute passion and a stupendous number of hours of practice in their specialities, which allowed them to become successful.

As much as I agree that success is a product of being born in the right era, growing up with the correct culture, to the amount of hours you put into your work and to gratuitous circumstance, I would unequivocally state, that hard work and sheer grit is the key that opens the door of opportunity.

Without putting their skills into practice, without seizing their windows of opportunity, successful people would not be where they are now.

Every single thing we do, from working incessantly, studying rigorously and expanding our knowledge doesn’t guarantee success, as we’re led to believe. All these factors merely increase our ‘odds’ at succeeding. They say, the harder you work the luckier you get. This couldn’t be more true. In order for opportunities to present themselves, there needs to be considerable input from the individual - an increasing of the odds.

Keep adding to your skills, sharpening your intellect and refining your character to increase your odds at achieving success.

When life breaks down, you need to tell yourself that, it doesn’t always matter how hard you labour, what you sacrifice, the steps you take to improve or your level of commitment to a task. It’s all a matter of timing. Through perseverance and determination, either it will happen to you or you will happen to it. The key is to be relentless, adaptive and unwavering in your pursuit, taking time to shift thoughts, plans, strategies and outcomes.

Taken from the text: “Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

If I had to give you a formula for success I’d say: Success = 99% hard work + lots of prayer.
I’ll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Facade of the fitness industry.

How many of you have been slaving away at standardized gym routines for years with the hope of achieving the body of your dreams. You may be a seasonal fitness enthusiast or a pedantic individual on a mission of religiously attending gym for months on end only to end up impatient with the slow progress and eventually skipping a few weeks. But don’t worry, the fitness industry and mass media will suck you right back in after a sizeable amount of self-loathing has set in. At every turn, you will find fitness and body image marketing insisting that you need to have the physique of a Greek god.

It’s this ‘Adonis Complex’ of the fitness industry that bothers me. Is this perfectly chiseled physique for every one? Why do some people look good  with minimal effort while others slave away for marginal results.

Let’s just rip the plaster right off.
All the results you see in the gym is predominantly based on your genetics.
More specifically, how your body responds, at a cellular level, to external stressors. As well as the efficiency of that response.

I’ve seen guys walk into a gym for the very first time, with abs of steel and a pretty decent physique. Some guys who just look at the weights and bam! They increase in size.

At age 12 Lee Priest began strength training and by 13 he had entered his first competition. At 15 years of age he made more muscle gains than most 20-somethings that have been training for 10+ years.

Lee Priest at age 12, 13 and 15
Dorian Yates, former Mr. Olympia was stated to have lifted 140kgs the very first time he attempted a bench press. I’ve seen people come to gym and battle to lift 20kgs (yes, just the bar) on their very first try.

Let’s see what the research tells us about all this…

Genetics and muscle gain
Recent studies have shown that some people gain exceptional large amounts of strength and muscle mass through resistance training and some people don’t gain any at all! In fact, some of the participants in studies lost muscle size!

Yeah, you read that right.

A significant study by Hubal tested the strength and muscle gains of 585 men and women during 12 weeks of progressive resistance training. They used 1-RM tests for strength and MRI’s of the biceps to determine muscle size (cross sectional area). The results were shocking.
The worst responders lost 2% of their muscle cross-sectional area (size) and did not make any strength gains. The best responders increased muscle cross-sectional area by 59% and increased their 1RM strength by 250%. Both the respondents were subjected to the exact same training protocol.

Another study by Patrella tested 66 human subjects through a 16 week progressive dynamic exercise program. 17 of the participants (26%) never gained any measurable muscle mass.

Why is it that some people gain size and strength incredibly fast and some don’t?

The study by Patrella measured the satellite cell numbers per 100 muscle fibers. In layman’s terms satellite cells are what help your muscle grow. From the above-stated study, the best respondents had 21 satellite cells per 100 fibers which increased to 30 per 100 fibers and an increase in fibre area of 54% after the 16 week period. The other 26% who didn’t respond to the training had 10 satellite cells per 100 fibres which did not increase after 16 weeks. Nor did their muscle size.

Why is it that studies like this never reach fitness magazines? Cos it’s bad for business. You’re more likely to see articles about getting ripped in 6 weeks and “shortcuts to six pack abs”. There is no short cut or recipe or cookie cut routine.

Bruce Fordyce in his heyday.
What does this mean for the population in general.
When we look around us we realize this isn’t far from the truth. You don’t expect Bruce Fordyce (9 times comrades marathon winner and 50 mile WR holder) to pick up a few weights and win Mr. Olympia next to Ronnie Coleman and The Terminator. In the same way, the latter will never be a WR holder at endurance events (highly unlikely at least). Their genetics differ and simply won’t allow them. Each person is genetically gifted in specific areas. They say that if you want to be a gifted athlete then you need to choose your parents well!

Genetics and fat loss
There are variety of factors at the cellular level which play a role in the way our bodies burn fat and gain muscle. Fat storage is influenced in the way our body metabolises foodstuff and expends energy. We’ve all got that skinny friend who eats a horse’s weight in food and doesn’t gain a single Kg. Some people can maintain their normal diets with bouts of bad eating and still maintain decent body shapes. Others have to severely restrict calorie intake and substitute unhealthy foods for nutritious ones just to gain ¼ of the benefits.
Your genetics also determine WHERE you store fat. For most people it’s in the abdominal region with women tending to gain weight towards their hips and thighs as well.

Yes, obesity does have genetic origins but that is by no means an excuse to not exercise and live a healthy life.

What can you do about it?

This article has highlighted some scary truths in current research but all hope is not lost.
We all have genetic faults. Some people gain weight easily, some stay skinny, some have stubborn areas of fat deposits, some can’t build muscle, some have good muscle mass and lower strength capabilities. The list goes on.

I am probably one person who has every one of those faults. I can literally lose 5-6kgs in a month if I don’t go to the gym and stick to a calorie surplus diet. On a 162cm ectomorphic frame, thats a lot too lose. On a However, by employing different training protocols I have been finding different ways in which to challenge and change my body.

My bench press 1RM strength has tripled over the last 8 years accompanied by a fair amount of muscle gain, granted not as great as I’d wish it to be and far from Men’s Health cover bodies!!

The key aspect that I found was missing from these studies was that they were not modified for individual body types.
What works for one person will not necessarily work for all people. The law of individuality! That’s why having a trainer is important. They can determine, through scientific methods and fitness testing, the best training stimuli for your body to elicit the best results.

Some people respond to high volume programs and some respond to high intensity. Some will respond best to a total body conditioning program, some to a strength program and some to a hypertrophy program. The key is finding out which of these protocols best suits your body type.

One undisputed fact is that, everyone that I have trained or trained with has looked better in some way, be it in fat loss or muscle gain, granted that they stick to the exercise program and diet plan. Of course, the variability of the results will depend on genetics but consistency and continuous adaptation and progression will always elicit results.
Sound training principles will always be credited to a large portion of training benefits on body composition.

Yes, genetics makes a difference but knowledge in training methodology with a good diet and supplementation program will help you maximize what your momma gave you.

…Most importantly, be comfortable in your own skin… beauty is fleeting… and when youth departs, make sure you’ve trained and flexed your moral fibers more than anything else, this is the only imperishable beauty.