Krishnamurti, Zen and how to employ Brain-Train to enhance a workout: To change your body you must first change your mind
I coined the phrase Brain-Train to describe mental methods of focusing and sharpening the mind to improve the quality of a workout. In our world, success is achieved when the trainee intertwines lifting, cardio and nutrition in a periodized program designed to engineer a dramatic physical transformation. The conscious mind can be the trainee’s best friend or worst enemy. Old-time hardcore pros—men that have been there and done that—will tell you the key to both short and long-term success is rooted in the effectiveness of each individual workout. Regardless of the workout’s content, were the goals—planned in advance—for the specific session met? Yes or no? We want to want to compile a lot of “yes” workouts.
Those who’ve transformed will say the goal is to string a long, uninterrupted sequential series of quality workouts together like pearls on a strand. A proper mindset can turn a bad workout into a good workout—and a good workout into a great workout. Transformative success is built upon the success of the actual individual workout. All good things spring from the ability to consistently conduct a productive workout. How do we define productive?
- A productive workout induces hypertrophy, releases blissful endorphins, and oxidizes body fat. Limits are equaled or exceeded. Remember that limits shift hour to hour, day to day, session to session.
- Each workout represents an opportunity to improve in some way, shape, or form. The almighty workout is our ritual and religion—the gym our church.
Let’s get elemental—all tangible physical results have their beginning in a productive workout. Once we are able to successfully create a results-producing workout, something marvelous happens: the self-inflicted trauma unleashes a hormonal tidal wave. Blissful endorphins mingle with spent adrenaline to create a feeling of exaltation and triumph. Physically, you’ve just decimated some part of your body and are awash in sea of hormones which induce a heightened sense of alertness, awareness and perception.
The chattering little man inside your head who loves to control your thoughts and actions has been silenced by the monumental exertion of engaging in limit-equaling/limit-exceeding lifts or athletic tasks. The elite athlete is no longer preoccupied as the workout unfolds, pulling him or her under the silent “spell” that accompanies a savage workout.
Workout Grand Maestro Bill Pearl is famous for working out at 4AM. Civilians thought Bill’s early morning training was some grand act of willpower, like standing under a freezing waterfall. I know his secret—those early morning endorphin-releasing workouts are often the highpoint of the entire day. Bill got up at 3:30AM out of love, not duty. He couldn’t wait to do his next incredible workout. Bill absolutely loved the early morning purity of working out. By doing it first, he could take his time, get it right and still be done before the rest of the world woke up. He used to tell me, “The spaces between the sets are as important as the actual sets themselves.” He attained and retained a heightened, engaged state-of-being as he performed his exercises. He did them notably better once he achieved centeredness, focus and stayed in the zone. After a half century of weight training six days a week, he possessed an ability to access the optimal workout zone within the first five minutes of his 90-minute ritual workouts.
Sustained psych versus instantaneous psyche
We reserve psyching ourselves up for all out, top set efforts done with the heaviest poundage. Everything before the all out top set has been preparatory. The athlete will do 2-4 warm-up sets preceding the all out set or sets. As the warm-up progresses, the elite lifter concentrates on finding the technique zone. He knows from past experience that attaining near technical perfection will improve his performance in the unfolding workout. Focusing 100% of one’s mental abilities on the sole task of technical perfection is an elemental act of concentration.
Workout success is determined by success or failure with the top set rep and poundage. Only the top set is sufficiently intense to trigger the strength-inducing adaptive response. Everything else is just preparation for the main event. The elite iron athlete becomes more and more centered, focused, and aggressive during the warm up sets. His own experience tells him that allowing some aggressive, primal emotions to surface—but not too much—will improve workout performance. If his focus is deep and intense, when it’s time to perform the actual top set, the elite iron man will attack the barbell.
Workout gains reside in effort—the degree to which you’re willing to struggle and push or pull your guts out. The gains lie in those final, excruciating, limit-equaling or limit-exceeding reps which are so often barely achieved.
We must exert this degree of effort to throw the hypertrophy switch and unleash the hormonal tidal wave. Only by engaging in grueling physical effort can physiological changes occur. Spectacular gains only manifest in response to maximum effort. If we could reap all the muscle and strength gains with less than maximum efforts, then why not dispense with doing the top set altogether?
While performing the excruciating final rep of the top set, and exerting 100% effort, there is no preoccupation or mental fuzziness. There is no distraction or lackadaisical attitudes—there is only single-minded focus and the effortless concentration that comes with doing something dangerous. Krishnamurti described this state of mind as, “The observer must fall silent on his own—if we force the silence this is another act of will.” In a high intensity workout, the toughest reps—where a millisecond of concentration lapse will cause instantaneous failure—will effortlessly silence the thinker/observer/little man in our head. The lifter will assume the athletic version of a Zen Samadhi state—perfect, effortless, silent, thought-free concentration. This is an addictive peak athletic experience. How wonderful to be addicted to a beneficial habit.
Real, measurable results keep us coming back for more. That and the magnificent ‘altered mental state’ that accompanies peak athletic performance. The hormonal afterglow is one of life’s true natural pleasures. Anyone—regardless of their fitness level—can experience the altered-state hormonal bliss that inevitably and invariably accompanies a perfect workout. Everything of physical and transformative consequence begins inside an actual workout. Within the workout, what matters is the degree of effort we use in dealing with the toughest reps.
We need to learn to conduct a productive resistance training workout, then string a series of them together. Our workout results can then be amplified with a wholesome, organic, nutrient-dense nutritional program. Add metabolism-boosting cardio and a complete physical transformation is now longer a matter of “if” but “when.”
The iron elite knows that twelve weeks of consistent quality workouts—week in, week out—will result in an earth-shattering physical transformation. A successful workout is pleasurable on many levels, and humans repeat what’s pleasurable. The idea is to fall in love with the whole workout experience. This pleasurable experience is not illegal, immoral or unethical. In fact, this pleasure-inducing “vice” is actually good for you. Physiological effort creates psychological momentum.
The quality of the workout can be amplified and enhanced by a proper multidimensional mindset. The results from that workout will be substantially increased.
Martial Master Mentor
Bob Smith throws a powerhouse haymaker to the gut of Hsing I master Wang Shujin
In the early 1970s I saw a notice in the Washington Post that a famous local martial arts master was providing free lessons every Saturday morning at 7am in a nearby park. The dude teaching these well attended free classes was a charismatic man with the vanilla name of Robert Smith. I studied with him for five years.
Smith was anything but vanilla—he was a CIA operative rumored to have been a field agent and station chief. Smith spoke several dialects of Chinese fluently and was martial arts Renaissance man. He was a judo expert who became enamored with the (at the time) unknown Chinese “internal” martial arts. The three interlinked internal arts were Hsing I, a straight line attack style, Pa Kua, a style based on intricate circles, and tai chi which actually has a combat component. I began studying with him twice a week.
Smith had been stationed in Taiwan. Between performing clandestine assignments, he immersed himself in the internal martial arts. He studied hard and long under the very best and he brought all that knowledge back to the states. Once he organized his thoughts, he wrote a series of books about the Masters and their methods. Bob was arguably the best martial arts writer ever. With often time partner Donn Draeger, he wrote Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts, the best single-volume martial book. Bob also penned a dozen other books and his magazine articles were read worldwide.
Bob was a real man—mustached and stocky at about 5’9″. He was the polar opposite of pretentious martial arts “masters” that routinely wear costumes, demand to be addressed reverentially, and use props and pomp to enhance their thin credentials. Bob Smith was demanding and brilliant, and he routinely used me as his shoulder punch demo dummy.
While talking about a Pa Kua or Hsing I punch, he’d grin slyly and search the assembled class for me, the beefy weightlifter dude. He’d catch my eye, smile and motion me to the front of the class. Once up front, he’d say with a twinkle, “Assume the position son!” The class would laugh as resignation crossed my face. Naturally he hit hard as hell, and naturally I was not going to show any emotion. A rivalry developed. “You will NOT uproot me, Boss.” I’d quip as I sank and readied myself. “We’ll see about that, son!” Then he’d haul back and blast me with the punch he was demonstrating. He almost always rocked me off my balanced stance, no matter how deep I sank or how heavily I weighted myself.
Around this same time, I delved into different Eastern schools of thought. Before Smith wrote about it in his seminal book, I was intrigued by the Moko-San procedures Kendo experts used before their highly formalized practice sessions and competitions. . It was an interesting twist of fate that both my mentors, Hugh Cassidy in lifting, and Bob Smith in martial arts, were both superb writers. Smith’s biographies of the various martial arts masters helped shape my emerging literary style. Bob brought them to life along with their style, personality, and important contributions. He did this in compact vignettes chocked full of obscure but appropriate quotes that reaffirmed a point or exemplified the personality he was profiling.
Martial Masters lineage chart: systems passed down generation to generation
The martial arts, Chinese Taoists, and the Japanese Zen/Samurai/Budo traditions have formalized mental techniques inexorably linked to superior performance in battle or competition. Neil Claremon has a brilliant observation…
“The way of knowing,” the master said, “depends on subtle adjustments that occur with mindful repetition of form and the ingraining of a consciousness that tells us ‘when’ rather than ‘how’ to do something. This intuitive faculty—although innate—must be trained and organized if it is to become reliable.”
Smith was a big believer in chi and intuitive responses to threats. He spoke of ‘squaring the circle’ that existed between lock-step katas and being instantly intuitive when attacked. When rote training becomes so ingrained in both the conscious and subconscious mind, its use becomes instinctual, effective and spontaneous. Bob would say the perfect mindset for dealing with an attack is silent yet alert. I was fascinated—training for the brain, fantastic! Where do I sign up!
I wanted to learn more. Maybe these various martial masters had tapped into the same peak performance state I experienced when I accessed “the zone” during training and competition. Perhaps these mysterious Eastern martial masters had mental secrets that could take my performance and physique to the next level. I eventually developed a friendship with a high level Hindu “realized being” and genuine guru, Sri Chinmoy Ghose. I wondered if specific methodologies existed for improving the abilities of the human mind. And could this ‘improved ability’ convert into improved athletic performance.
Eventually all roads led to Krishnamurti, the man who resonated with me most profoundly. His strategy was stripped of any religion and ceremony—his approach was about logic, science, and deductive reasoning. Rene Descartes crawled out of a bread oven after two days muttering, “I think, therefore I am.” In the West we are big on thinking, and it doesn’t get much bigger than “I think therefore I am.” Krishnamurti would counter with, ‘I do not think, therefore I perceive reality as it unfolds in the ever-occurring present.’ He was all business and led listeners like a farmer leading a herd of dumb cows into a grassy pasture. He guided us to his ultimate conclusion, ‘the cessation of thought is the awakening of intelligence.’ In the same breath he cautioned students not to fall into the trap of allowing the mind to silence the mind—‘just one more mental trick designed to retain control while pretending to give up control.’
Forty five years later, I’m still working on the Koan that is Krishnamurti and his conclusions,—especially his idea that mental chatter creates an inky film blurring the immediacy of perception. He pointed out that reality is always occurring in the immediacy of the ever-unfolding present. If you allow the ‘thinker,’ ‘observer,’ or the internal voice, to carry on a conversation, then you are preoccupied. Preoccupation prevents perception. The internal voice needs to fall silent for clear perception of the immediate present to occur. One proven way to silence “little man inside your head” is to engage in intense exercise—intense enough for adrenaline and endorphins to flow.
Through the use of willpower, a strong-minded individual can force the inner voice to be silent, but every act of will is finite. Just like G. Gordon Liddy holding his hand over a cigarette lighter to impress a date, all acts of will must end. Enforced silence is filled with tension—exactly what we don’t want. How do we cause the brain to fall silent of its own accord? Krishnamurti says it’s a matter of always and forever being in the exact present. One way to spend more time in the present and enhance our ability to silence the mind without subduing it in an act of will, is to engage in absorptive activities. An absorptive activity is so engrossing that the ‘little man inside your head’ falls silent of his own accord.
The little man inside our head falls silent when presented the opportunity to become involved in a absorptive task—cooking, gardening, painting, dance, or any sport. In a perfect world you would spend your day rolling from one absorptive activity to the next, until the day ends and you go to sleep, relaxed and in a synchronous yin-yang balance. Activities that absorb our attention are usually conducted in an Alpha state, 8-12 Hz. The little man in our head wants to create his own movie, a separate and real existence in a parallel mental universe instead of your primal absorptive state. While concentration and contemplation are the friends of absorption, projection and reflection are its enemies. The little man wants to be in charge of projecting (mulling over the future) and reflecting (mulling over the past). Neither have any relevance to the immediate present, and if you give in and daydream, you’ll be seduced by the fascinating movie being made in your brain. It is far more interesting than the cold reality of the ever-unfolding present….
Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, is an underground legend. Mentored by a Hall-of-Fame strength athlete as a teenager, Marty set his first national record in 1967 as a 17-year old Olympic weightlifter; he set his most recent national record in 2013 as a 63-year old powerlifter. He is a former world powerlifting champion who turned his attention to coaching athletes and devising individualized training templates for the finest strength athletes in the world. Read more about Marty here.