“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
I am a big believer in the power of developing and maintaining positive habits. Every morning, I sit down and think of one small change I want to make in my life and implement it. Doesn’t have to be anything grand- and I think that’s a big key. Most people fail to follow through with their resolutions because they set too big of a goal.
If you set out to improve yourself by just 1% everyday, after 70 days you would be twice the person you are now.
Consistent small improvements can dramatically improve your life in a short amount of time.
In this article I want to share 4 habits that will directly improve your ability to build muscle (and even lose weight).
Habit #1 – Practice good sleep hygiene
From my experience, I’ve found that one of the most important factors for building muscle is quality of sleep. When I get a good night’s rest I recover faster, and furthermore, build muscle faster. And the benefits don’t stop there- my mood, energy and concentration are all greatly improved.
I often wonder why such a critical aspect is so often overlooked. Perhaps because it cannot be capitalized? In any case, you should take sleep seriously as it’s quite literally the most important part of building muscle. You can eat all you want and train for hours, but if you’re not getting quality rest, your muscles will not recover.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, your body produces key muscle building hormones (including HGH) while you sleep.1 It’s actually during sleep that the majority of tissue growth and repair occurs! The repair and growth happens specifically during the 3rd stage of NREM sleep. During the REM stages the muscles relax, which reduces tension and alleviates pain.
I wanted to go more in-depth, but let’s not bore you with microbiology. What you need to know is quality sleep = quality muscle.
If you are not getting enough hours (or quality) of sleep, you are missing out on allot of potential muscle gains. Even worse, a lack of sleep has been proven to destroy your hard earned muscle.
A 2018 study examined the effect of sleep on muscle and fat, and what was discovered is shocking.2 The research indicated that after just a single night of bad sleep, the body’s capacity for storing fat increases, while muscle mass decreases.
Another study conducted in 2011 concluded that “sleep debt decreases the activity of protein synthesis pathways… increases degradation pathways, favoring the loss of muscle mass and thus hindering muscle recovery”.3
So, how can we go about improving sleep?
The first thing you want to do is establish a sleeping schedule. Ideally, you should go to bed and wake up at the same exact time each day. Even better, you should sleep a few hours after the sun sets and wake up a few hours before it rises.
Doing so aligns your sleep with your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is an innate internal timing device that cycles between intervals of sleepiness and wakefulness. It’s what makes you feel alert and drowsy at the same times everyday.
If you sleep at inconsistant times, your brain will be unsure if it’s time for bed. On the other hand, sleeping at consistent times sends a more potent signal to the brain that is indeed time to sleep.
The stronger this signal, the more quickly you will fall sleep and more deeper your sleep will be.
If you have trouble sleeping, you may need more cues to strengthen this signal.
For instance, if you brush your teeth then head to bed at 9:00 PM everyday, your brain will be pretty certain its time to sleep. But if you, say, meditate for 20 mins, read a book, brush your teeth, then head to bed at 9:00 PM, your brain will have no doubt that you are ready for bed.
Having a routine like this is part of what specialists refer to as good sleep hygiene. Practicing good sleep hygiene actually helped me overcome severe insomnia. I now sleep longer (and deeper) than when I was taking pharmcutical sleep medications!
Unfortinaly for many people like my self, falling asleep is only half the battle. The real challenge is staying asleep.
I’ve listed below all of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years to help me fall asleep and stay asleep. Note that while some may seem extreme, they are a necessity for an insomniac like myself to even fall asleep. For those of you without sleep problems, they will help you get deeper sleep, which will have profound positive impacts on your physical and mental health.
Tips to help you sleep better.
- Eliminate light entering your room using blackout curtains. Even the slightest amount of light can disrupt your circadian rhythm and wake you up. Turn off all sources of light and cover LEDs with scotch tape.
- Turn off all electronics at least an hour before you sleep. Smart phones, TV’s, and other electronics seriously disrupt your circadian rhythm, suppress the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and ultimately make it very difficult to fall asleep.4 A great substitution is reading on a backlit kindle!
- Take 1-5 mg of melatonin before going to bed. While melatonin won’t necessary make you feel drowsy, it will help you establish a sleeping schedule. Once you are falling sleep around the same time everyday, discontinue use as it will no longer be of benefit.
- This one has been life changing for me. If you are a light sleeper and wake up to the sound of someone fixing up a midnight sandwich, I highly suggest purchasing the LectroFan High Fidelity white noise machine (arguably one of the best investments I have ever made). This machine has been running non-stop in my room for the past 2 years and shows no sign of wearing down. At night, it helps me sleep well, and during the evening, it helps me focus on my work by blocking out background noise.
- Hear me out… wear sunglasses before you sleep. I was introduced to this idea by the father of biohacking, Dave Asprey. Check out this video to learn more about his work, and this one to learn more about light hacking. If you are convinced, this is the brand I use (its actually produced by Asprey).
- Taking COLD (not warm) showers before bed will help you fall asleep faster. I must admit that there exists no studies supporting this idea and that this is completely anecdotal. My theory is that the sedating effects of taking a cold shower at night comes from the taxing effort your body goes through to establish equilibrium. Taking a cold shower will drop your internal body temperature, which will prompt your body to use up resources to bring it back to normal. However, a cold showers are very rejuvenating, so taking one too close to bed time may actually make it hard to fall asleep. More on cold showers later.
- Lower your thermostat. When you go to sleep, the temperature in your brain goes down, and this drop induces sleep. According to Craig Heller, PhD, professor of biology at Stanford University, “if you are in a cooler [rather than too-warm] room, it is easier for that to happen.” But if the room becomes uncomfortably hot or cold, you are more likely to wake up.” 5
Habit #2 – Push your self in the weight room
Muscle is built through the application of three simple concepts:
- Progressively lift heavier weights.
- Provide your body with nutrients.
- Provide your body with enough rest.
The first rule is formally known as progresive tension overload and was coined by U.S Army physician Thomas Delorme in the 1940s (1). I like to call it the golden principle of muscle hypertrophy.
It states that inorder for muscle to grow, it must adapt to a tension (or load) that it has not previously experienced. And tons of studies have backed up the idea that load is the most important variable in muscle growth. 6, 7
So forget what everyone else has told you. Forget about the drop sets, burn-out sets, and all that other crap. While that stuff looks fancy, it’s not backed by any science.
As long as you follow this golden rule, you will make progress.
But the progress you make can sometimes be overlooked if you are not keeping track of what you do inside the gym. Which brings us to the next habit.
Habit #3 – Track your progress
One of the most important things you should do is to keep track of your progress. Doing so provides a visual representation of your fitness development. A fitness journal keeps you accountable and gives you confidence.
Progress in strength development and weight loss happens slowly and my not be evident without documentation. You may feel unmotivated to discover that you have been bench pressing the same weight for two weeks.
But with a fitness journal, you may discover that you actually did 7 reps last week and was able to push 8 reps this week. You can then set a goal to hit 9 reps next week or increase the weight by 5 pounds.
These small victories gives you the motivation to continue grinding. With so many different workouts, it is impossible to keep track of everything you do without a good workout tracker.
When you wake up with zero motivation to hit the gym, flip open your fitness journal, look at the great progress you’ve made, and watch your body fill up with energy and motivation. The best way to motivate yourself is to provide your subconscious mind with solid and tangible proof that what you are doing is paying off. Studies have shown that keeping track of your progress helps you stay on course and achieve goals faster!
One of the best fitness trackers I have ever used is the NewMeFitness Journal. It is simply the best way to track your progress. The NewMeFitness Journal is written by experts and designed for bodybuilding and cross-fit.
It comes with a sturdy binding, thick pages and a nice laminated protected cover. This is not a flimsy journal and will withstand whatever you trow at it. The quality is excellent, but what I enjoy most is the format.
Habit #4 – Practice Cold Shower Therapy
This is one of those habits that has the potential to change your life. Seriously. The impact it’s had on me is truly astounding.
Fear, procrastination, laziness, etc., are all negative mental states that slow down our development in life. Like all behaviors, they are controlled by neural pathways in the brain. The neurons in these pathways are connected by dendrites. You can think of them as little antennas that transmute singles between neurons.
As the frequency of a behavior increases, so does the number of dendrites. This strengthens the connection between brain cells. With enough repetition, these behaviors become automatic.
The fascinating thing about that brain is how malleable it is. Just how pathways can be strengthened by repetition, they can become weakened avoidance. Lots of people have trouble dropping bad habits because they think they will crave it with the same intensity forever.
But this is not true. With each avoidance of the habit, the pathways controlling them weaken. Each time you say no to smoking a cigarette, it gets easier and easier to quite. Each time you force your self to concentrate on your work, your ability to concentrate grows.
This is where cold showers come in.
Cold showers strength the pathways that help you get shit done.
Take a cold shower as soon as you wake up. Jump in, close your eyes, and turn the temperture to the coldest setting. Try this for 30 days.
The first time will absolutely suck. You will stare at the shower head for 10 minutes dreading what’s to happen next. If you’re brave, you will face it for a few seconds.
The next day you might be able to run the water for 10 seconds. But it will suck and you will quickly turn the water warm again.
The third day you will brace the cold with allot more resolve.
The big change happens when you welcome the experience. You make sure that the water touches all parts of your body. Your are no longer afraid. Your body start doing something amazing- it adapts. You know how difficult it will be, but you welcome it because you know it will make you better. You start to realize that fear is nothing but a weak emotion.
Then this strong resolve starts to transfer to all aspects of your life. You no longer think twice about waking up at 6:00 AM to hit the gym. The smell of food you know you shouldn’t eat doesn’t faze you. You immidialaty start working on that assignment you’ve been procrastinating on. You become a different person.
And that’s not all…
Cold showers can you help loose weight and build muscle.
Cold showers reduce muscle soreness after a workout due to its regenerative preterites.8 It increases circulation which drives nutrients and oxygen to all parts of your body.
When are exposed to cold water, brown fat cells generate heat, which helps you lose weight.9
1 – Quality sleep after lifting weights could be the secret to building stronger muscles, faster.
2 – Acute sleep loss results in tissue-specific alterations in genome-wide DNA methylation state and metabolic…
3 – Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis.
4 – Why Electronics May Stimulate You Before Bed
5 – Can’t Sleep? Adjust the Temperature
6 – “Progressive Overload.” Optimizing Strength Training: Designing Nonlinear Periodization Workouts, by William J. Kraemer, Human Kinetics, 2007, pg 33-36
7 – The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training
8 – Cold Showers vs. Hot Showers: Which One Is Better?
9 – There’s more evidence that exposing yourself to cold temperatures could trigger weight loss