Discover more from The Long Game by Mehdi Yacoubi
The Long Game 125: 40 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Lifting, Identity, Pessimism is a Barrier to Progress
🥛 Pouring One Out for Oat Milk, Conventional Wisdom, Status & Longevity, Kids, Expectations, and Much More!
In this episode, we explore:
40 things I wish I knew when I started lifting
Pessimism is a barrier to progress
Status & longevity
Let’s dive in!
🏋️♀️ 40 Things I wish I knew When I Started Lifting
I’ve been thinking about training a lot in the last few years. I thought I’d share what I wish I had known when I started my lifting journey—in no particular order.
You need to make sure you eat enough. Even if you have a good appetite, training hard & building muscle may require significantly more food than you can imagine. Tracking your food intake at first is helpful to make sure you’re not too far from the target. Aim at 2g of protein/kg of body weight and a 500+ or more calorie surplus.
Stop watching the content made by fake natural lifters (fake nattys). Even if you know they’re not natural, this will gradually shift your expectations and push you to aim for an unrealistic goal which may lead to body dysmorphia.
Most fitness influencers aren’t natural. The incentives are just too strong.
You can’t be very strong, very lean, and natty. You can only choose two among those three. Choose wisely.
Having a six-pack is not as nice/good as it seems. If you’re natty, chances are that when you’re very lean, you’ll look very small! You won’t look huge and lean, unfortunately. Six-packs are useful for photoshoots or if you live on the beach, and even then, they aren’t worth the pain of not eating enough and constantly tracking calories IMO.
Never let the fact that you’re natty be a cope for not being big/strong. Your natural potential is way higher than you think.
Make sure to reach intermediate strength levels quickly. You need to get stronger to grow if you're a natural lifter. Aim for a 2-plate bench, 3-plate squat, and 4-plate deadlift as soon as possible (it shouldn’t take years.) You can (and should?) aim to get way more than that.
Find what works for you. Some general principles will likely help you, but the truth is that you’ll be at the best of your capacity when you look forward to training. If you hate training, something is wrong.
Make sure you get enough sleep (7+ hours ideally if you’re training hard.)
Address your weaknesses. If you notice a lagging body part, make sure to take care of it early enough, or you’ll only worsen the overall disparity. And no, you don’t have stubborn calves.
If you get injured, give it a few days, go for long walks, chill, relax, don’t stress, and don’t stretch. It’ll be good in a few weeks. You can train other body parts, you’ll always find something that your injury doesn’t prevent you from training (neck, arms, forearms, calves, etc.…). If it becomes chronic (more than a few months, read Healing Back Pain/The Mind Body Prescription by Dr. Sarno)
Don’t overcomplicate nutrition: no need to cut carbs, fats, or anything like that. It is better to spread protein around the day, though, and fasting will be problematic if you’re trying to build muscle (it’s ok if you’re cutting.)
Eat your vegetables.
Novelty is the enemy of progress. Stop looking at those IG workouts with gimmicky exercises designed for attention farming.
Learn to hear the messages your body tries to tell you. Know the difference between good pain and bad pain. Know when the body tries to find an excuse not to lift vs. if you lift, you’ll get injured. This is key.
Stop caring what other people think of you at the gym. You think you’ll look silly doing those neck curls, well, do them anyway; that’ll work your neck and your inability to deal with discomfort.
Work every muscle group. As you get more advanced, this can change a bit, but things like the neck, forearms, glutes, and calves should not be ignored. And if you’re skipping legs, there’s nothing I can do for you.
Progress comes with progressive overload, and that comes with consistency. You can’t half-ass it and expect to progress. I don’t know what the minimum amount you can do to still progress, but why do the minimum anyway? Aim at 4+ sessions per week, and increase the weights or the reps gradually. If you don’t, it means you aren’t progressing.
Calisthenics is great for the upper body, not for the lower body.
Don’t neglect the compound lifts. These should be your bread & butter. Also, don’t neglect isolation work. The compounds only won’t maximize your growth. You need to be curling.
Cardio won’t kill your gains, but don’t overdo it if you’re in a phase focused on strength/muscle building.
It’s a mindset.
Alcohol will impact your progress. You can’t lift heavy if you’re hangover, etc.
Warmup, a lot, especially if you train early in the morning.
Be honest with yourself when it comes to your goals.
Set ambitious but realistic goals. It’s OK if you change your mind along the way.
Genetics do matter, but you must stop thinking about it at some point.
Don’t be afraid to try things. Stuck with your squat and want to try Squat Every Day for a few months? Go for it.
Keep it fun and enjoyable while also learning not to run away from hard things.
If you want to go for a high-frequency approach, make sure you learn how to prevent overuse: change the variations, use specialty barbells (if you’re lucky enough to have them, manage volume correctly, etc.)
Focus on one specific movement can be very helpful to break plateaus.
There are no magic supplements. Creatine can help, get enough protein, make sure you have enough energy before your workouts, and that’s pretty much it.
Stop cutting weight every so often. Building a decent amount of muscle can require long, uninterrupted periods of progress. Also: you don’t need to be very lean. Once you build a good amount of muscle, you can get away with being less lean and not looking fat.
Track your progress. That’s the only way to hold yourself accountable. A simple Apple Note or a notepad is enough. No need for fancy solutions.
Some accessories can help (fat gripz, gym pins, weighted pull-ups belt, etc.)
Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s good to know about the standards but focus on your journey.
You need to improve your pain tolerance at some point, especially for leg training.
Just because the scale is going up doesn’t mean you’re gaining muscle. Complement the scale with measurements, photos, and, ideally, bodyfat measurements.
Don’t ego lift. Go full range of motion.
It’s OK to care about different things than other people. For example, this is the squat I care about, not the powerlifting squat.
Bonus—41: Play the long game. Of course. Reaching mastery takes time, a lot of time.
I could go on and on, but I think it’s already a lot! Let me know what were your top learnings once you started exercising seriously.
I found this piece on how the self evolves through life very thought-provoking:
I have few memories of being four—a fact I find disconcerting now that I’m the father of a four-year-old. My son and I have great times together; lately, we’ve been building Lego versions of familiar places (the coffee shop, the bathroom) and perfecting the “flipperoo,” a move in which I hold his hands while he somersaults backward from my shoulders to the ground. But how much of our joyous life will he remember? What I recall from when I was four are the red-painted nails of a mean babysitter; the brushed-silver stereo in my parents’ apartment; a particular orange-carpeted hallway; some houseplants in the sun; and a glimpse of my father’s face, perhaps smuggled into memory from a photograph. These disconnected images don’t knit together into a picture of a life. They also fail to illuminate any inner reality. I have no memories of my own feelings, thoughts, or personality; I’m told that I was a cheerful, talkative child given to long dinner-table speeches, but don’t remember being so. My son, who is happy and voluble, is so much fun to be around that I sometimes mourn, on his behalf, his future inability to remember himself.
Are we the same people at four that we will be at twenty-four, forty-four, or seventy-four? That’s the question the article tries to answer.
Some people feel that they’ve altered profoundly through the years, and to them the past seems like a foreign country, characterized by peculiar customs, values, and tastes. (Those boyfriends! That music! Those outfits!) But others have a strong sense of connection with their younger selves, and for them the past remains a home.
Two types of people seem to appear:
Try to remember life as you lived it years ago, on a typical day in the fall. Back then, you cared deeply about certain things (a girlfriend? Depeche Mode?) but were oblivious of others (your political commitments? your children?). Certain key events—college? war? marriage? Alcoholics Anonymous?—hadn’t yet occurred. Does the self you remember feel like you, or like a stranger? Do you seem to be remembering yesterday, or reading a novel about a fictional character?
If you have the former feelings, you’re probably a continuer; if the latter, you’re probably a divider.
That article reminded me about the broader question of identity and how it’s the underlining question in so many things in life. Diet and exercise, for example, have become a central part of cultural/political conversations, and I think it’s unfortunate. Identifying with the people you like and who like the same things as you isn’t a problem, but when your identity becomes an obstacle between you and the truth, that becomes a problem.
Pair with: Keep Your Identity Small
🧠 Better Thinking
🚫 Pessimism is a Barrier to Progress
I frequently think about this great quote:
I think a lot about optimism, pessimism and their impact on how we see the world. I often come back to this piece:
I am not an “optimist”. Well, not exactly. Though I sing the praises of progress in these essays, and though I paint a bold vision for the future, I have hesitated to apply that term to myself. I have said that I am “fundamentally” optimistic, or a “paranoid optimist”; or I have reached for constructions like “short-term pessimist, long-term optimist”. But none of these are quite right.
In my discussion with Tamara Winter and Trevor McKendrick on optimism, the three of us converged on a formulation that I think resolves the paradox: descriptive vs. prescriptive optimism.
Descriptive optimism is the expectation that good things will happen, that an outcome will be positive, that the trend is in the right direction. It is a belief about the world.
Prescriptive optimism is the decision to work to make good outcomes happen. Whether lighthearted or desperate, cheerful or grim, it is a commitment to action and effort.
Descriptive optimism, for me, is highly contextual. It is situation-specific. I am mildly optimistic about our efforts against coronavirus. I am fairly pessimistic about US politics.
Prescriptive optimism is deeply philosophical. It is a belief about the nature of life, intelligence, and agency. It is a moral attitude, a way of living.
Descriptive optimism is determined by the external facts, but prescriptive optimism is an internal choice.
Descriptive optimism on its own can lead to complacency, Panglossianism, and other cavalier attitudes—progress as coasting. Prescriptive optimism calls for boldness, courage, and vigorous effort. When the two are combined, they call for expansive, ambitious plans. When prescriptive optimism is combined with descriptive pessimism, they together call for grit, determination, and fighting spirit.
This week, I came across this complimentary piece explaining why pessimism is a barrier to progress:
I argued that the message we tell our kids about climate change is not just cruel, it also gets in the way of progress. The majority of young people today feel anxious about what the future will look like as a result of climate change. Many think “humanity is doomed.” Some are hesitant to have kids.
Of course, they get this feeling from the messages they’re told from leading activist voices. This message is not just wrong, it’s also counterproductive.
We give up when we feel like progress is impossible. If a problem can’t be solved, then where is the incentive to work on it? In a time when we need the world’s smartest and most creative minds working on a pressing problem, we turn them away from it by telling them a false story. They give up — or they reach for extreme solutions that just won’t get societal buy-in.
In reality, it is possible to solve our environmental problems. Climate scientists certainly think so. They are often less pessimistic than the general public, which is a new and odd disconnect.
They have children, and believe that they have a future worth living for. They continue to push for action and solutions every day. Few accept that humanity is doomed.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
📜 On Conventional Wisdom
When it comes to building a great product & company, it’s clear that at some point, you’ll try to understand how other teams did it. Learning from their experience and insights seems like the logical and right thing to do. And for the most part, it is.
But part of me always felt that there would be times when you must go against conventional wisdom to create something extraordinary. The hard part is to know when. Aaron Levie put it perfectly in the tweet below:
Some recent examples of this include:
“For the past decade, the prevailing startup playbook has been to build an MVP, ship it early, and then iterate your way to success. But the environment in which we build products has evolved quite a bit.
Today, there's so much capital in the startup ecosystem, and so many tools that make it cheap and easy to ship a product, that baseline applications have become a commodity. Most users can intuitively feel the cheapness of the average product today, and their app fatigue is at an all-time high.
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, and I want to specifically emphasize the word "viable." We're continually experiencing quality inflation as app-building frameworks get better. As it gets easier to build basic applications, the floor for what is actually viable rises.
The problem today is that most founders' idea of what constitutes a software product's MVP is outdated.”
"Today, the conventional wisdom on how you should build a company is that you want to focus really narrowly and build one extremely narrow thing and go very deep on it, and I think that a lot of that conventional wisdom is wrong."
“SaaS wisdom teaches us narrow lessons: start by conquering a narrow market and expand from there, add at least as much in ARR as you burn each year, and build your product either horizontally or vertically.
Rippling rejects these norms entirely. It ignores the mimetic warfare of the Gartner quadrant. Its wedge was a data asset, not a narrow product. It doesn’t let SaaS metrics dictate its strategy.
Reminiscent of the foundational computing companies, Rippling shows what ambition in modern business software looks like. In the age of software incrementalism, Rippling is an anachronism.”
📚 What I Read
After becoming a darling among alternative milks, the oat milk backlash has begun.
In 2021, New York Magazine dug into why so many people were ordering cow’s milk at fancy coffee shops again, noting that some of the people interviewed were ordering it in a rebellion of sorts from the oat-milk-obsessed monoculture. As criticisms about oat milk became louder on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, many consumers likely realized that there is no morally right or virtuous choice when it comes to drinking milk, that every single option is going to have some sort of bogeyman that the diet industrial complex can exploit. At the same time, many people also want to feel freedom from an obligation to make the right choice — for the climate, for the planet, for their health — when they’re doing something as simple as deciding what to mix with their coffee. Why shouldn’t they drink milk that just tastes good?
And of course, there are plenty of consumers who have and will continue to use plant-based milks, like vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. Others legitimately prefer the taste of almond milk or oat milk, and that’s totally okay. But for a while, choosing oat milk could be categorized as a virtuous choice, whether you were doing it for the environment or simply to eat “healthier,” and that just doesn’t really seem to be the case anymore. In 2022, hot girls drink cow’s milk, an outcome that seemed unfathomable just a few years ago.
Pair with: Oatly: The New Coke
It’s never as good as it looks.
David Cassidy seemed to have the best life you could imagine. A teenage heartthrob who sold out arenas and was so popular his shows turned into stampede risks.
From the outside it looked like as interesting and lucky a life anyone could hope for. Everyone loved him. He was rich. He was on top of the world.
But after he died in 2017, Cassidy’s daughter revealed that his last words were, “So much wasted time.”
It’s never as good as it looks.
A sobering piece.
I view it as highly unlikely (<10%) that Putin would accept "Vietnam" without first going nuclear, because it would almost certainly result in him being overthrown and jailed or killed. On the other hand, I also view it as highly unlikely (<10%) that the West would accept a "Kosovo" scenario where Russia is granted a peace deal where it keeps everything it's annexed, because if the powers that be in the West were that appeasement-minded, they would presumable have opted for a "Cuba" scenario in 2021 by acquiescing to Russia's demand that Ukraine never join NATO. This means that with high (>80%) probability, the current vicious cycle of escalation will end only with de-escalation into one of the intermediate outcomes ("Libya"/"Korea"/"Finland") or with lower-case "kaboom" (Russian nuclear use in Ukraine).
Estimates of the "kaboom" probability have recently ranged from 5% to 9% in the Metaculus prediction community. My current estimate is a few times higher (30%, e.g. a 2-to-1 chance that the cycle will end with de-escalation rather than escalation), because de-escalation currently seems so disfavored: there appears to be a widespread assumption in the West, shared by Ukrainian leaders, that Ukraine is winning and that Putin will grudgingly accept "Vietnam". Moreover, there is a near-consensus in mainstream Western media and policy circles against peace negotiations, exemplified by e.g. the hostile response to Elon Musk's recent suggestion of a peace deal.
Pair with: What Would WW3 Be Like?
While Elon Musk and Nick Cannon are the poster children for fecundity, billionaires and celebrities are the anomaly, and most families with a lot of kids are like ours: middle class. Generally speaking, the data indicates that the more income one makes, the fewer children one has. Having a baby roughly every other year for the last decade is not a decision that comes cheaply, but if we’re being honest, it’s not as expensive as many might think. The largest cost for any parent is that of childcare, and with me writing, editing, and consulting part-time from home, the costs aren’t exponential. Even with the activities my kids take part in, there are financial workarounds. This year we found a violin teacher who charges by the hour, not by the student.
And fine, since you asked: We do at least one load of laundry a day, I’ve changed between twenty and thirty thousand diapers (and counting), we have no family nearby who helps us with childcare. The built-in flexibility of homeschooling makes managing a large family with little help attainable, and since Covid, my husband is able to work from home two days a week. The amount of sleep we currently get depends on the whims of a three-year-old who sleepwalks.
🍭 Brain Food
🥇♾ Mortality and immortality: The Nobel Prize as an experiment into the effect of status upon longevity
Here is an interesting research paper for you. The abstract:
It has been known for centuries that the rich and famous have longer lives than the poor and ordinary. Causality, however, remains trenchantly debated. The ideal experiment would be one in which status and money could somehow be dropped upon a sub-sample of individuals while those in a control group received neither. This paper attempts to formulate a test in that spirit. It collects 19th-century birth data on science Nobel Prize winners and nominees.
Using a variety of corrections for potential biases, the paper concludes that winning the Nobel Prize, rather than merely being nominated, is associated with between 1 and 2 years of extra longevity. Greater wealth, as measured by the real value of the Prize, does not seem to affect lifespan.
So it seems that status and not wealth would be the driver of increased longevity. However, there’s a lot of debate about such findings, as suggested in this paper:
In an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine in 2001, Redelmeier and Singh reported that Academy Award-winning actors and actresses lived almost 4 years longer than their less successful peers. However, the statistical method used to derive this statistically significant difference gave winners an unfair advantage because it credited an Oscar winner's years of life before winning toward survival subsequent to winning. When the authors of the current article reanalyzed the data using methods that avoided this "immortal time" bias, the survival advantage was closer to 1 year and was not statistically significant. The type of bias in Redelmeier and Singh's study is not limited to longevity comparisons of persons who reach different ranks within their profession; it can, and often does, occur in nonexperimental studies of life- or time-extending benefits of medical interventions. The current authors suggest ways in which researchers and readers may avoid and recognize this bias.
🎥 What I’m Watching
📡 America’s Missile Defense Problem
🏃+🏋️♀️ = 👌 Running & Lifting Weights — You Can Do Both
I dropped a bit of the cardio lately, this is a message to myself that it’s possible to do both.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
I really liked this white t-shirt. Perfect oversized fit, nice fabric, highly recommend.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
The work is to dance between the fun and seriousness of the material.
— Rick Rubin
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