In his latest book, “Tribe of Mentors,” author Tim Ferriss catalogs the best advice given to him by the world’s top performers in a variety of disciplines. Ferris writes that the idea for this particular book sprang up from his anxiety about his future. He says that while he had become a successful author and entrepreneur, he hadn’t planned for his future past age 40. So, he began journaling about all the questions that came up about what was next for him.
The process ultimately came down to one question, “What would this look like if it were easy?”
Ferriss writes that asking this question serves as a way to reframe his views on any particular subject. We like to associate success with hard and grueling work. We feel like something has to be painstakingly difficult for it to be a success. We can often solve problems that seem too hard by reframing it with a question like this.
For Tim, the question lead to him asking, “What if I assembled a tribe of mentors to help me?” Thus, his next book was born.
As someone who grew up playing sports, I found myself wandering into my high school weight room at age 13, looking to improve my athletic ability. And I never left. Well, technically I left that weight room, but you know what I mean. I’ve been in one, more or less, ever since.
I’ve tried a whole bunch of different lifts and programs and have seen some success. But, I always had the feeling that I was leaving something on the table. I felt like I could be stronger but couldn’t manage lifts past a certain amount of weight, and I would always run into roadblocks in the form of pain and injuries.
Yes, everyone has a ceiling when it comes to how much muscle their bodies can carry and how much they can lift based on the structure of their frames. But, after reading about physical feats of ordinary people that seemed to have average genetics, I started asking harder questions.
What if I don’t know how to use my body? What if there’s more to strength as a skill that I don’t understand? Do I keep going the same route or do I try something else?
My version of Tim’s question ended up being, “What is the simplest concept I need to learn to move my best?”
The answer ended up being, breathing.
I needed to learn how to breathe to support my posture correctly. I needed good posture to align myself correctly. Understanding proper alignment gave me the best chance to complete heavier lifts.
I grew up with asthma and breathing was very difficult at times. As I learned more about the breath, I discovered that I was forcing myself to breathe while exercising. The more familiar I became with daily breathing practices, I learned the key to breathing was to relax. Our diaphragm is responsible for the majority of the breaths we take. Overactive or tight muscles can skew the way we breathe. Tight muscles around our ribcage can make it hard for ribs to expand and therefore keep us from using our diaphragms correctly. In turn, this can make our breathing patterns more laborious than necessary. And this makes exercising harder than it needs to be.
So, what would this look like if it were easy?
I picture a system in which our breath comes to us when we need it, in a relaxed fashion. The last part is essential. Picture two people are doing a lift with the same weight. We would assume the stronger person is the one who is more relaxed and in control of the weight. Sure, at a certain load or intensity everything gets extremely hard, and no one would look relaxed. But, up to that point, the person who looks like they’re having the easiest time is probably the stronger person.
It’s important to keep in mind that making something look natural and effortless doesn’t mean it will be easy from the get-go. Just like anything else, it takes practice.
Relax in a seated position. Sit up tall and exhale. Try to remain as relaxed as you can for as long as possible without inhaling. When you find the urge to inhale, try to remain relaxed, and the air should come into your nose and lungs on its own. Breathing like this should feel slightly different than inhaling immediately after we exhale because we feel like we’re supposed to.
This relaxed pause between breaths allows us to understand how much control we have over our bodies. There’s a difference between your body knowing when to inhale versus your conscious mind thinking you have to breathe. You’ll also notice your body will only breath as much as it has to maintain oxygen balance.
For more on relaxed breathing, CLICK HERE.
With enough practice, we can eventually turn our bodies over to our autonomous systems. We can learn to perform movements in a relaxed manner that allows us to breathe as needed. When we start to panic during exercise, we tend to make ourselves breathe in as much oxygen as necessary.
While that might seem like the right thing to do, it can throw us out of oxygen balance. Our lungs exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen and having too much oxygen in our bodies can cause a drop in carbon dioxide. When functioning correctly, our lungs inhale when there is enough buildup of carbon dioxide in our system. When there is less carbon dioxide to exchange, we get less oxygen into our systems.
Counterintuitively, more oxygen intake can mean less actual oxygen exchange and use.
So try it. Exhale and relax until your body decides to breathe. Do it while sitting first. Then try it while walking. Once you get the hang of it, try it with bodyweight movements like pushups or squats or even jogging.
The hardest work will always be tough. But, you might find that a lot of the work in between feels easier than it used to. Maybe to the point where you will feel like you have more to give in your toughest situations.
For an assessment or questions on training, email us at email@example.com
Want to know when the next post is up?
CLICK HERE to get on the mailing list.
If you have a comment or question, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org