Building “Muscle”

[Click here to listen to the podcast of this post.]

Ha! I’m probably the last person who should be authoring a blog entitled “building muscle”. I’ve always felt uncomfortable in gyms and I guess I’ve always preferred to be running out in the fresh air rather than doing sets and reps under fluroescent light in airconditioning.

But, I love a challenge.

I’ve just completed the second week of my unconventional marathon training program and a good percentage of my time has been spent in the gym “building muscle”.

The program, taken from Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body embraces the philosophy of ‘minimum effective dose‘. Which in other words means the minimum amount of high intensity effort required to achieve a maximum result. This program is not just about running but also building strength, based on the premise that “maximal strength training will improve endurance recovery.”

So, after two weeks of doing this kind of thing (below but imagine smaller weights!) I’m in a world of pain all over my body!

But strangely it’s not a bad kind of pain. I’m not injured in any way like I was last year with shin splints from too much running. It’s the kind of pain that tells me I am growing and inching closer toward where I want to be.

On Monday, I had an appointment with the University of Queensland’s Active Health Clinic and they did a video analysis on my running action to pick up areas where I could improve my efficiency. Turns out there were HEAPS!

One small thing is that I’ve been ‘heel striking‘ my whole life which is reaping my body a world of unhealthy side effects. So, I’ve adjusted my running slightly to land more on the balls my feet. As a result, I’m causing less impact to my back, shins and knees and I’m starting to use my calf muscles.

Woops! It appears that my calf muscles have been dorment for most of my life and are now being put into action! After a few intense short runs this week, I can hardly walk from the pain and tightness of my calves. But again, it’s not a bad pain or an injury.

So I was curious about my calf muscles. How can there be good pain and bad pain? What’s the difference between the pain of a serious injury and the pain that causes growth and improvement in performance?

I asked an expert, my awesome friend Jess, (former personal trainer turned dietitian) to explain to me what was going on with my calf muscles:

calf muscles

“After exercising muscles become damaged in the form of small tears in the muscle tissue, the extent of the damage depends solely on the intensity and type of exercise. As damage increases so too does the ability for the muscles to contract and eventually they fatigue.

The body will immediately act to repair the damage to muscles by sending new muscle cells to the tears which fuse together with the muscle fibers to heal the muscle. These new cells are regulated by hormones or โ€˜growth factors’ which promote the growth and gain of muscle.”

So it turns out that the extent of damage depends on the intensity of the exercise. Too much intensity and you have an injury. Not enough intensity and you have no damage, which means the repairing process doesn’t start and there is no growth, progress and gain of muscle.

So that’s what’s going on with my muscles, but I know there is a bigger lesson here.

To grow we need to experience some pain.

Growth happens when we put ourselves just outside our comfort zone enough to experience a little bit of damage (a small ‘tear’) and feel a little bit of pain.

The beautiful thing about this damage though is that we live in a resilient universe.

When damage is caused, nature immediately acts to repair and promote new growth. We see this everywhere in nature from life after a bushfire, the resilience of human spirit to rebuild after natural disasters, even the story of the butterfly that develops it’s wing strength through a process of continual struggle to escape the cocoon.

Growth after a bushfire

The truth is we live in a world of thresholds or invisible ceilings and we have the power, if we have the courage, to push through these barriers, feel some pain, grow stronger and continue to a wider reality. The book ‘Jonathon Livingstone Seagull‘ is a beautiful analogy of how our only limits in life are those imposed by our mind.

I’m loving this marathon training experience and the training that’s lead up to it over the last couple of years. From my first 10km run, to my first half marathon last year and now my first marathon this year, I’ve had to step up, feel a bit more pain and grow physically and emotionally. I love the challenge. It’s just far enough outside my comfort zone to hurt but still be achievable.

We build physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological “muscle” by facing up to challenges and fear and not being afraid to feel a bit of pain.

So, I’m curious.

  • What area of your life are you lacking strength or looking to grow?
  • What would be one step in that area that you could take beyond your comfort zone?
  • Think back to other areas in your life that you have improved in and grown over time (like learning to play a musical instrument or public speaking)
  • Can you think of moments along the way where you had to smash through a particular threshold or limitation? How important was this experience to where you are today?

Til next week, feel the fear, feel the pain, just do it and Be Awesome!


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7 thoughts on “Building “Muscle”

  1. Christian,

    You write well. I sense you’re authentic. And it is probably not coincidental that I happened upon this post with questions that ‘spoke directly to me.’

    But first a digression. I trained and competed as a Triathlete for years. Loved the sport. Hated running. ๐Ÿ™‚ I know and now pay the price for jarring the joints, especially my hips. So I’m back to my roots – swimming – which is from where much of this spawned. It’s good that you’re seeking out and heeding professional advice as you evolve with your marathon training.

    Along with the pain you cite, I believe we also need to experience failure; all in the name of growth and development. Which brings me to your thought-provoking, closing questions.

    1) Lacking strength/yearning to grow? – It’d have to be in the spiritual realm. I’ve yet to seal that beautiful connection with my Creator. It’s a longer story but presently, my #1 focus.

    2) The one step beyond my comfort zone? – Total relinquishing of ant doubt and a full embrace of absolute self-belief. I’m workin’ it.

    3) I’m quite blessed to have had several breakthrough moments in life that awakened and enabled becoming the authentic me. To your post about being in and appreciating the present moment, I look back upon those (at times frightening) experiences and appreciate how they catalyzed some beautiful transformation.

    I realize my brief responses shed little light on the depth behind it all. At the same time, thanks for prompting the opportunity to reflect and recognize.

    Have a great day!

    1. Hi Eric. Thanks for taking the time to make your responses to these questions public. That takes courage and it is also really valuable for me to be able to see how my questions have connected with someone. Without knowing the full depth behind each of these stories I can sense the power of your journey and experiences. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Quite welcome! While I sense readers ponder the questions we pose or calls to action that we present, it is nice when they create a little time to respond in writing. In my mind, the act creates a win-win outcome..

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