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10 Ways to Build Mental Strength So You Can Navigate Any Challenge Life Throws at You

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You don’t have to be “tough” to face the real challenges of life. It requires awareness, finesse, and the knowledge of your own mind. We have experts answering the questions we hear most about building mental strength. Use their strategies to improve your grit game.

Nobody has to

© Jobe Lawrenson
Nobody has to be “up” to have mental strength. A strong mind is all about finesse, and here’s how to achieve it in training, at work, and anywhere in life.

Can you get stronger physically without leaving your mental comfort zone?

“The body can only adapt when it faces something new, and new challenges won’t always be comfortable,” says Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS, fitness director of Men’s Health. So basically no. Your mind will also adjust to the discomfort and you will increase both your mental and physical strength.

The secret: start small. “Add one to the goal you are pursuing each week,” says Samuel, “whether that means repeating another push-up for each set, adding another minute to your morning run, or holding a plank for another second . “

I hate to fail. Is there any way to end your obsession with what went wrong?

Start thinking like Michael Jordan. He considers himself a failure: by the time he counted, he missed more than 9,000 shots. “Twenty-six times I was entrusted with taking the game-winning shot and missed,” he said. “I’ve failed over and over again in my life.”

How did he get on? He went forward. “Making a mistake is just a source of feedback letting you know you’ve gone off-course,” said Lisa Stephen, Ph.D., career, personal, and athletic performance coach and owner of Ignite Peak Performance in Vermont. “Use this data to focus on the next steps. Then forget the mistake. You can imagine flushing it down the toilet or releasing it in a balloon. It’s about leaving the mistake behind and building on what you’ve learned. You cannot do your best if you focus on your worst. ”

Can I let go of negativity without writing a gratitude list?

Yes, by doing something for someone else. “One active approach to eliminating jealousy and negativity is to practice benevolent actions,” says psychiatrist Tracey Marks, MD, of Marks Psychiatry in Georgia. Start by giving others compliments and positive feedback. If you’re feeling extra generous, pay for it at a coffee shop or drive-through. There is some evidence that generosity is linked to activity in areas of the brain that are responsible for happiness.

However, if giving is frustrating you (what about my needs?), Try gratitude without the list, says Dr. Marks. Spend a moment each morning thinking about what you are grateful for.

Brain on papers and iPad

© Jobe Lawrenson
Brain on papers and iPad

My workload is ridiculous. How do I avoid burnout without dropping the pecking order in the office?

Learning to use the word “no” is natural for some of us, but it is slow for others. Many people do not use it because they fear they will miss out on opportunities or be seen as unwilling by employers or customers. In reality, the opposite may be the case.

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What your friend with endometriosis would like you to know

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“My experience is that if I say no, my worth increases,” says Elizabeth Day, creator of How to Fail podcast and author of Failosophy. “If you respect yourself, others will also respect you more.” “I can’t get on with any other project” is an easier conversation than “I can’t get along with this job”.

I am a hopeless procrastinator. How do I work out more get-up-and-go?

Let go of the concept of creative inspiration or you need to be “in the zone” to do what needs to be done. There will never be a right time to get the job done, and if you wait for the mood to hit you will be a long wait.

James Clear, author of the bestselling Atomic Habits, advocates sticking to a schedule rather than a deadline. If life gets in your way, reduce the size of the task – spend ten minutes on it instead of the original 30 – but always stick to the schedule. Just don’t give yourself the option to skip it.

I am grappling with the loss of a loved one, but I have to be strong for my family. What can I do?

Being “strong” doesn’t mean holding back emotions and tears. “The way to show strength is not to be afraid to reveal your pain,” says Dr. Marks. “When everyone is hurt, the people who depend on you will see you as a role model for dealing with themselves.” If you hold it back, you can telegraph that grief is a shame. To be strong, show how you feel.

Close up of blue background: brain made from rolled up newspapers

© Jobe Lawrenson
Brain made from rolled up newspapers

Reading the news often bothers and annoys me. How do I reset?

That is understandable; The news causes stress because it can create feelings of hopelessness and injustice. To handle difficult news, try to create boundaries on how you can get it, and find people to have meaningful conversations with about it, psychiatrist Gregory Scott Brown, MD recommends something to cool it down, like meditation or at least watching a fun, non-news and dramatic show.

Another solution: Swap passive news consumption for active discussion. Using the Black Lives Matter movement as an example, Eugene Ellis, founder and director of the Black, African, and Asian Therapy Network, points out the psychological benefits of talking to others. This can also help you know what action to take. “It’s an antidote to the feeling of powerlessness that many of us experience. When you start getting involved, you discover that beneath hopelessness lies the connection. And when you can find a connection, it’s easier to know what to do. “

Close-up of a basketball hoop: shoes with laces that outline a brain

© Jobe Lawrenson
Shoes with laces that outline a brain

I’m doing an ultra marathon. Is it true that the mind is about the muscle?

“Ultras are likely 90% mental and 10% physical,” says Michael Wardian, a professional endurance runner who was one of only three people to have completed the Leadville 100-mile / Pikes Peak combined marathon (and also the Backyard Ultra 2020 won). intense running mentally and physically).

To master an ultra or endurance performance, “you have to have a big why. Don’t just run for social media, run for your kids or to prove something to yourself, ”he says. Also helpful: Rely on “chunking” – set yourself small goals such as reaching the next mailbox or the next refreshment point. You don’t always have to run to build your mental strength. “Get used to doing things that are uncomfortable for you,” he says. Set your alarm clock for 4:00 a.m. – or just do the damn dishes.

I don’t have the patience to meditate. Can I reduce my stress differently?

“Yoga is an excellent way to relieve stress, and it’s good for people who can’t sit long enough to meditate,” says Dr. Marks. It also brings you stress relief benefits from two directions: As with meditation, focus on breathing, which can help relax the body. “And by stretching tense muscles, you release tension,” she explains. You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga and there are tons of virtual ways to practice it these days. Two of our favorites are Alo Moves and Apple Fitness +. Both offer a wide range of courses, from one-hour stress busters to ten-minute yoga snacks. (A side note: meditation is really worth persevering, so stay tuned. Try an app like Calm, Headspace, or Ten Percent Happier to make it less boring.)

This story originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Men’s Health.

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Men’s Health

The Most American Flex Is a Fitness Fad

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As exercise equipment maker Peloton Interactive Inc. struggles to reinvent itself, investors must decide whether it’s worth giving the fallen Wall Street star a second chance. Let history be their guide.

Not just the company’s history. Modern humans’ relationship with physical fitness provides a cautionary tale for future investors in the next big exercise craze — and rest assured, there will be another.

Why do Americans go to such extravagant lengths to stay in shape? The rise of the so-called physical culture movement in the late 1800s, along with its close cousin, “Muscular Christianity,” marked a newfound obsession with fitness in Western nations, particularly the United States.

These movements grew out of a strange amalgam of pseudoscience, theology and anxiety about the future of native-born Whites in late 1800s. Enormous numbers of immigrants were flooding into the US and many of these Whites expressed unease that “Anglo-Saxons,” as they referred to themselves, had become “overcivilized” and soft.

Thus native-born Whites increasingly embraced team sports, outdoor activities and mandatory physical education in public schools. Private groups like the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA, also promoted exercise, opening a network of gyms that mixed religion and fitness.

Still, most Americans had little interest in gyms and regimented exercise. After all, they had limited leisure time in those days and got plenty of exercise in their everyday life by walking or doing manual labor.

Moreover, some figures in the physical culture movement seemed, well, weird. Consider Bernard McFadden, a sickly child who renamed himself Bernarr because it evoked the roar of a lion. He made a fortune promoting a regimen of weight-lifting, calisthenics, restrictive diets and brisk walks. He also published a magazine called Physical Culture that became the unofficial voice of the movement. “Weakness Is a Crime,” it declared to would-be readers. “Are you a criminal?”

The eccentric bodybuilder, who courted controversy by promoting exercise for both men and women, was eventually overshadowed by another fanatic with an exclusively male clientele: the Italian immigrant Angelo Siciliano, better known as Charles Atlas. Both men gained fame and fortune hawking their programs, but they would soon be eclipsed by developments in the post-World War II era, when fitness became an abiding obsession of the White middle class.

The new ethos owed much to the suburban ideal of the 1950s. Initially, everything about the suburbs worked against fitness, from the growing dependence on the automobile, the use of buses to shuttle children to centralized schools and the advent of television. Even the single-story ranch houses that defined the era put an end to the exercise provided by going up and down stairs.

In her insightful account of this shift, historian Shelly McKenzie argues that much of the ensuing debate over fitness was framed by a new problem confronting the White middle class: “How could they enjoy the fruits of post-war affluence while also managing their bodies for optimal health?” The solution, McKenzie observed, was “the invention of exercise.”

The movement arguably began with a report by the US National Institutes of Health in 1952 that called attention to obesity as a serious health problem. A year later, a widely read study found an alarming gap between the levels of fitness in American and European children, with 56% of American children failing a standard set of tests versus only 8% of European kids.

The reason, the author concluded, was simple: European children walked a lot, climbed stairs instead of taking the elevator and spent much of their free time playing outside; Americans did not.

This article eventually came to the attention of Dwight Eisenhower, who responded by forming the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Its leaders, working with advertising executives and other corporate allies, orchestrated an effective public relations campaign that yoked physical fitness to the imperatives of the Cold War, arguing that American boys and men had to get into fighting shape if they were to defeat the Soviets.

But the campaign targeted girls and mothers as well. One spokesman for the program declared that it not only aimed to produce “healthful, vital, masculine men,” but also “active, healthful, vital, feminine women who can mother a vigorous generation.”

All of this marked a sea change in how many Americans viewed exercise and fitness. What had formerly been a subculture associated with eccentric impresarios like Bernarr MacFadden and Charles Atlas was quickly becoming a mainstream preoccupation.

It was also becoming a big business. One of the first to see the potential was the fitness fanatic Jack LaLanne, who opened his first gym in the 1930s. In the 1950s, LaLanne launched several televised programs in which he would perform exercises — he dubbed them “trimnastics” — with the audience following along.

LaLanne, who wore a form-fitting jumpsuit to show off his sculpted body, worked on a set that resembled a suburban living room, much like those occupied by his overwhelmingly suburban, female audience. He preached the virtues of exercise for maintaining “zest” in the “marital bed.” Long before the “Peloton wife” ad stirred controversy, LaLanne’s exhortations openly connected a woman’s physical condition to her sex appeal.

The 1950s also marked the moment when commercial gyms entered the mainstream. A new generation of entrepreneurs like Vic Tanny opened gleaming temples filled with the latest exercise equipment. Tanny, who believed that “good health can be merchandized just like automobiles,” counted half a million men and women as members by decade’s end.

Other fitness chains sought to overturn the age-old adage, “no pain, no gain.” High-end salons like Slenderella, which counted three million clients in 1956, promised women that their machines, which used vibrations or rollers, held out the promise of what McKenzie, the author and historian, has called “effortless exercise.”

A paradox defined these developments. The ease of suburban life left Americans out of shape. But if modern consumer society caused the problem, it could also solve it. For a price, Americans could buy fitness via gyms, exercise programs and other pursuits.

Some of these began modestly. The jogging craze, which required a relatively minimal investment, quickly grew into an entire industry worth half a billion dollars by the end of the 1970s. Other fitness fads, like the workout program founded by Jane Fonda, wedded celebrity culture to new videotape technology to build a mass following.

The fitness business, which encompassed everything from books, tapes, equipment, apparel and gym memberships, kept growing through the 1970s and beyond. Everything from Jazzercise to Nautilus weight-training machines to Pilates gained a following in subsequent years.

In 2022, the fitness business is bigger than it has ever been. In the US, gyms and fitness clubs generate annual revenue of nearly $40 billion; home fitness equipment makers generate nearly $5 billion more.

Set against this backdrop, Peloton is nothing more than the latest entry in a decades-long quest of affluent Americans to stay fit, no matter the price.

More From Other Writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

Peloton’s New Strategy Spins All Over the Place: Andrea Felsted

Peloton’s Real Rival Is Doing Laps of Central Park: Tim Culpan

Will New York’s Fitness Scene Stay Home?: Tara Lachapelle

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Stephen Mihm, a professor of history at the University of Georgia, is coauthor of “Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance.”

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Men’s Health

The MGTOW Movement Explained

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The MGTOW Movement Explained

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Men’s Health

3 Heavy Barbell Back Squat Alternative Exercises for Workouts

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We’ll never say barbell back squats are a terrible exercise—especially since some will argue, convincingly, that the movement is the king of all exercises. But for the average gymgoer wants, this heavyweight staple might not be the best move for their training and needs.

It may sound like leg-day lunacy to even question whether we should be squatting, especially considering the multitude of benefits—from building strength and power, burning fat, improving both core strength and posture to name a few. But unless you’re a pro athlete or a powerlifter whose sole pursuit in the weight room is to lift as heavy as possible (specifically in the back squat!), there may not be as much need for you to rely on the back squat as the backbone of your leg day.

You might even be putting yourself at a disadvantage, especially if your physiology isn’t ideal for the movement, or your goals don’t align with exactly what the back squat will do. According to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS, and Mathew Forzaglia, NFPT, CPT, founder of Forzag Fitness, there are plenty of effective lower-body exercise options that can provide the same benefits and possibly even do more for you to increase your leg day gains.

“There’s a very, very good chance that for all your leg goals, whether you’re trying to get more athletic, whether you’re trying to get stronger, whether you just want to burn some calories and just want to move a little bit that there are a bunch of exercises aside from the back squats that will be safer than the back squat and still get you all your goals,” Samuel says.

Why Back Squats Might Not Work for You

You Don’t Need to Back Squat if Athletics Isn’t Your Goal

Sorry to break the news to you, but unless it’s your goal to squat religiously like a powerlifter or you’re a top-level professional or amateur athlete who’s training for a particular sport or activity, the back squat don’t necessarily have to be your go to leg exercise. They do it because it’s part of their job or goals. You on the other hand, can benefit from any other variation without having to get too tied down to squat mechanics.

“Very specific athletes learn the back squat because the back squat itself is a combination of two ideas,” Samuel says. “We have the idea of ​​a squat where we’re driving down, but we also have the idea of ​​a hinge where we’re pushing our butt back slightly and you have to understand completely both of those mechanics before you even think about jumping into the back squat that takes time that is not something you do on your first personal training session.”

Back Squats Might Drag Down the Rest of Your Workout

Back squats are hard. Beginning from the setup and holding the bar on your back can be challenging, especially if you have shoulder mobility issues. Stacking a pile of 45s on your back will not only accelerate the discomfort of your shoulders; the stress will target your lower back as well.

“It opens a window for us to shift as we go down into the squat. And when that happens, we start to overload that lower back and it’s not really needed,” Forzaglia says.

Back Squats Are Limited for Athleticism

You may see NFL athletes loading crazy weight to the squat bar for a few reps, but besides these feats meant to test their max strength, their workouts aren’t strictly dictated by back squats. What you won’t see on social media are the specific leg and core movements that promote athleticism—they’re not as visually appealing as a 500-pound squat, but equally as necessary. That’s why when it comes to athleticism, you need more than just back squats for your training.

Try these 3 back squat alternatives

● Goblet Squat

3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you forces you to work from a more upright position while also focusing on keeping your core nice and tight. That makes this variation more spine-friendly than loading a bar with heavy weights on your back. At the same time, you’re also able to blast your legs like a heavy back squat day.

Safety bar squat

3 to 4 sets of 5 to 8 reps

This specialty bar, which provides handles to help manage the load, eliminates the potential discomfort you may get from the back squat. The safety bar squat gives you more freedom to move your shoulders while still forcing you to create tons of core tension. And like the back squat, you can pile on the weight without the shoulder stress.

Rear foot elevated split squat

3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps

You might know this move as the Bulgarian split squat. This single-leg exercise is extremely useful for helping to eliminate muscle imbalances. And although a pro career might not be in your future, rear foot elevated split squats can certainly help to improve your everyday athleticism and functional fitness. You can even go heavy with this move as well.

Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.

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