This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Becca Borawski. Becca is the managing editor of the wonderful website BreakingMuscle.com and is here to tell us about empowering exercise and finding your inner accidental athlete.
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Jonathan: Hey, everyone, Jonathan Bailor here. I’m very happy and very excited about today’s podcast, because we have a special guest. We have the managing editor of a relatively new and objectively awesome website called breakingmuscle.com, which is really, I think, all about breaking through this archaic dogma of “just do aerobic exercise all the time,” and “women, please, God, don’t step in a weight room, because you don’t belong there” nonsense and really bringing the modern science of peak performance and wellness to the surface. That individual is none other than the Becca Borawski. Welcome so much, Becca. Welcome so much doesn’t make any sense. That’s because I’m excited. Welcome and thank you so much for being here. Welcome so much, Becca.
Becca: I like welcome so much. That works. That works. Thanks very much for having me. That was an awesome introduction.
Jonathan: Oh, well, Becca, I really love what you’re doing over at Breaking Muscle, and certainly we can dig into that more in a second here; but I want to hear a little bit about your story and how you broke through the mainstream, dogmatic approach to exercise. Tell us about that.
Becca: Yeah. I was a total nerd growing up, and I didn’t even find fitness until I guess “late” in life when I was in graduate school; and for me, I tried and failed like a lot of people, going to the gym, sitting on the elliptical, trying to eat less. I did Weight Watchers years ago. All those things, and none of it ever stuck. It was that same kind of chronic yo-yoing, and for me, what ended up breaking me through was discovering martial arts; because it was a more functional application of fitness.
It became more about what I was doing and how I was feeling rather than how I was looking, and for me, that was the gateway to discovering a whole new take on fitness. From there, I discovered CrossFit and weightlifting and kettlebells and all of those things, but for me, that initial step was getting out of the global gym and discovering martial arts.
Jonathan: Fascinating, fascinating. It sounds like there was also a profound mental sense of freedom. I am reading into what you said a little bit but almost like you were freed and liberated. Is that accurate?
Becca: It’s totally accurate. It became, for me, more about performance, and the aesthetics were just a happy byproduct. I wasn’t obsessed with them anymore. I
didn’t touch the scale anymore whereas before that, it was every morning — get up and weigh myself and then analyze like “Oh, is that half pound from this, or I better go run today.” It was, “No, I’m going to go learn this and do this and have fun; and I’m going to eat healthy, but I’m not going to be obsessed about it.”
Jonathan: The irony, Becca, is that I think your story is being experienced by more and more people, and that is that when the focus goes off of making the scale happy, and the focus goes on to high-quality physical movement — not necessarily hours and hours and hours of it, just when you do it, don’t just go through the motions; put your heart and mind into it, and higher-quality food and more of them. Again, you’re not thinking about the scale. You’re not thinking about your physical appearance, but it’s shocking, because those seem to be doing better than they ever had when you were worried about them.
Becca: Yeah, and I think there’s a mental health that comes with that, too, that you will never get from counting calories and sitting on the cardio machines, because it feels good to eat good food, and it feels good to move your body in a way that it was meant to move, and so there’s a mental peace of mind and confidence that comes with that kind of fitness that won’t ever show up with the old way of doing it.
Jonathan: Oh, absolutely, Becca, I could not agree more. I think, again, it is also so empowering. I think a lot of the stereotypical approach to diet and exercise in many ways — not only does it seem not optimal, but it’s almost like it’s degrading to the body. It’s like ‘just rip calories out of your body.’ That’s bad. You just want to drain yourself, go on the treadmill as long as you can to rip as much stuff out of your body as you can, and then put as little as possible into it. It’s almost like it’s trying to shrink the individual.
I don’t want to get into this like conspiracy theory, but it’s almost like it’s suppressing people, and it’s confining them; whereas when we’re reading at breakingmuscle.com, and you check out your blog and all the awesome pictures of you doing handstand pushups and all this amazing stuff, that’s liberating. It’s empowering. It’s all about strength and not bulky strength, I mean spiritual strength. I mean confidence. What do you think?
Becca: I agree. I think that the older way of fitness, that traditional way of thinking about things is, in my experience, both depressing and demoralizing, because the longer you do it and the more you realize that it’s not sustainable, it’s pretty
overwhelming to have that realization that you can’t live that way forever. Who knows if you ever even got your goal to begin with, and your life just becomes about all the things you can’t do and that you can’t eat.
You don’t have the time to do what you actually want to do, whereas looking at Breaking Muscle and the people that we attract to that site, it’s the complete opposite. It’s about what can you do? What possibilities are there? What can you become? What can you try? What food you can eat? How can you open up your mind as opposed to closing down your option? That’s it.
Jonathan: Becca, I’m going go out a little bit on a limb here, and I can always have my audio technician edit this out of it if it doesn’t go well here, so I’m doing a little bit of an experiment here. Chris is my wonderful audio technician, so Chris, listen up. Becca, I always love to focus specifically on females around this subject, because I was raised by a very, very strong woman, and I’ve always been a fan of strong women.
I don’t necessarily mean physically strong although that usually accompanies emotionally strong, but I have always been a fan of a strong female, and one of the things I love about Breaking Muscle and just your example in general is it seems like there’s two approaches a female can take to aesthetics. One is to try to make yourself as small as possible, literally. When you take that approach, even if you’re successful, the type of people you will attract into your life appreciate small women in every sense of the word. In every sense of the word.
However, when you take Becca’s approach, which is about celebration, and it’s about what you can do, there might be some people who aren’t interested in that, but the people who are the people who you want in your life, because they’re not the people that want women to stay small in every sense of the word. What do you think?
Becca: Yeah. I think that’s a fantastic correlation. It’s something I’ve actually talked a lot with both my male and female friends about. I know strong women sometimes struggle with how people react to them, and again not necessarily physically strong, but just strong in general. Sometimes men don’t know what to do with that. I came to a point where just like you said, I realized this is actually a great filter. I’m going to wear a tank top every time I go on a first date, because if this guy can’t handle the fact that I have biceps, there’s a whole lot else he can’t handle it, either.
Jonathan: He probably can’t handle the fact that you’re the managing editor at an awesome website and that you probably have a lot of goals and aspirations other than just making him happy.
Becca: Yeah. Exactly, so it all ties together. I think for me, what martial arts did for me and discovering fitness and all these things, it became a conduit to really learning how to express myself and be an entrepreneur and be a business person and be an athlete, and all these different aspects of what might be a more masculine side but was really my personality wanting to get out. I think to a lot of people, fitness becomes a conduit and kind of a therapy for them to learn how to fully express themselves.
Jonathan: It’s brilliant, Becca. I just want to dig into one thing here, and that’s maybe a distinction, and it might just be a semantic thing, but I think it’s something that I would at least love to see change in our society, and that is — you mentioned something there. You said, “It might be perceived as a bit more of a masculine thing.” To me, that perception of “That’s a bit more of a masculine thing,” that’s one of those remnants of an older, more limiting society that we’ve got to get rid of.
The idea that expanding yourself and being strong is a masculine characteristic, in and of itself, is the most suppressive, ridiculous thing in the world. It’s like, “Oh, if you want to do something with your life, and you want to celebrate yourself, that’s masculine.” What?!
Becca: Totally. It’s pretty wrong, and I think it really ends up being limiting for both sexes. The guys — everybody has a male and female side, ying/yang, male/female, whatever you want to call it, and we’re all slightly different balances of those, and we all should be allowed to express whatever balance of those things we are.
Jonathan: I love it. Well, and another thing that I love about what you’re talking about and what you’re representing, Becca, is that you have a term on your blog you call an “accidental athlete.” Can you dig into that concept a little bit?
Becca: Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t really know that I was an athlete. Looking back, now I get that I have a lot of great genetics, but I was all about film and music and art and all those things, and I accidentally realized that I was really
good at physical stuff. For me, it was really cool to discover some talents and some possibilities that I never knew I had.
It also made me want to share that with everybody, because you don’t necessarily know what’s inside of you. You haven’t been exposed to everything in the world, and you might realize one day “holy cow, I really love doing this thing,” or “I’m really good at this thing,” or “I just have fun doing this thing,” and just to open yourself up to all those possibilities and not live by whatever rules you set for yourself — fitness, life, or whatever.
Jonathan: Becca, I think fitness and this more Breaking Muscle-esque, ‘move heavy things’ rather than ‘try to rip calories out of your body for long periods of time’ is such a — there’s so many areas in life where there’s so many things are out of our control, so many external things and political things, whereas if it’s just you and a pullup bar, it’s just you and that pullup bar. When you get started, it’s going to be like “I could never pull myself up and make my chin pass that bar,” but then you start trying, and then one day you do a pull up. As you start to win those little victories, which are completely up to you — there’s no politics. You’re not relying on anyone to throw you a ball correctly. It’s all on you. As you start to win those little battles, the battles in the broader world start to become a lot easier, too. What do you think?
Becca: Yeah, I think so. I completely agree. There’s a confidence that comes from each time you face down the barbell or the pullup bar or the kettlebell or whatever it is, and you know. I thought I couldn’t do that, and now I just did it. Maybe there is something else I can do. Let’s see what comes next, and that’s what I meant earlier when I was mentioning that fitness becomes a conduit for bigger things outside of that.
For me, what I really like about working out and that leads over into my life is that it’s just about that moment. I can’t really worry about what’s happening next if I’m trying to do a set of ten heavy kettlebell swings — just dealing with that kettlebell right there in that moment and enjoying it for what it is. If I can take that mentality out into my regular life, it’s pretty empowering and makes things a lot more fun.
Jonathan: Absolutely, Becca. One thing I like to tell people is that effective exercise does not require distraction, and what I mean by that is if you need to watch a movie, or if you can talk to a friend while you’re exercising, that is a great sign that that
exercise is not particularly effective at transforming your metabolism, because when you are exercising effectively, it is a flow-inducing, all-encompassing, hands-on-deck type of activity. Correct?
Becca: Yeah, totally. What’s funny about that is I think people who’ve never done it before, who’ve never gotten to that place, have a fear of it, because they think it’s going to feel really bad and then when you actually do it, it feels so good, and it’s so freeing and refreshing and afterwards you’re like, “Whoa, look what I just did.” It’s really enlightening to have that experience and realize it’s totally different than you thought it was going to be.
Jonathan: I love it. Well, and Becca, one thing that I wanted to cover with you, because as the managing editor of breakingmuscle.com, I can imagine you see quite a bit of what’s out there and can provide some great insight here is — I’ll use my mother as my personal example. I’ve already talked about her once on this podcast, so I’ll keep it going. My mother is in her sixties, and when she was growing up, she actually tells when she was in University, for example, that women were not even allowed in the weight room, because that was back in the time where it was actually thought that it would cause infertility if you lift weights and just ridiculous things, just like smoking used to be good for you, and the world used to be flat.
All kinds of interesting paradoxes, but what do we say to CrossFit, for example. It’s really, really popular, but if I’m a 50-year-old woman or a 60-year-old woman, or a 50- or 60-year-old man, what are some things I can start doing? I might not be able to start going and doing muscle-ups tomorrow, but what can I do given that baggage that I’m carrying with me from my youth as well as some, opportunities let’s call them, that my age puts upon me?
Becca: Yeah, I think one of the more popular movements right now is body weight exercises, and I think for people who are de-conditioned or are recovering from any kind of situation that the body weight exercises are a great way to go. Obviously there’s no investment. You can just do it in your living room. I got my mom going on squats and wall pushups and things like that. Really, some of those body weight exercises are the difference, in the long run, between being able to live at home and having to live in a nursing home. If you can get up off your couch by yourself, which is squat, then you get to live on your own for the rest of your life. I think for people trying to break their way in that body weight circuits are a great place to start.
Jonathan: I love that. How do you best describe to people — because again, with more of a traditional approach to exercise, you may work up a sweat, maybe. You may get out of breath a little bit. I remember being quite young, and it was my mom’s first foray into a more effective exercise, and I remember her working with the trainer — it was the West Athletic Club — I’m from Columbus, Ohio originally — and what my mom was doing, in retrospect, was a sprint interval on a stationary bike.
I was yelling at the trainer, I was like “Stop, you’re hurting my mom. Stop!” Because my mom’s sweating. How do you help people to overcome this initial, let’s call it the good hurt, or what’s the difference between good hurt and bad hurt and really pushing yourself. How do you ease people into that?
Becca: Yeah. I will say I think it’s worse to watch than to actually do. That was my experience when I first started coaching. I was like, “Oh, my God, what am I doing with these people?” I didn’t remember it being that awful when I was actually doing it. There’s that to keep in mind. What’s nice about doing things more intensely is that it takes a lot less time, so it fits into your day better.
For a lot of people who have a lot going on, kids, work, everything else, it’s worth it to work a little harder. I also find that you get into that flow state like we were talking earlier much easier when you’re working harder, so your concept of how much time is going by is very different. Doing sprints versus spending an hour on the treadmill — I would much rather be miserable for five minutes doing sprints. I don’t know if that’s helpful.
Jonathan: I think it’s spot on and I think it’s also really important to help people understand that it’s brilliant that, for example, if you want to cover a certain amount of distance, if you sprint that, you will cover that distance faster than if you were to walk that. The other thing which is, I think, where people are only starting to realize and appreciate now is not only do you do it faster, but you actually cause something in your body to happen, which is literally impossible via any quality of a less intense type of exercise.
It’s like trying to push a heavy piece of furniture across the floor. You can sit there and tap on it one, ten, 100, 1,000 times, and the couch is not going to slide against the carpet if you’re poking it with your index finger. I don’t care how many times you poke it, but if you push it one time, hard, it moves. I think that’s what when you talk about speeding up our metabolism — you can poke your metabolism as many times as you want. It’s not going to move, but if you push it one time, hard, that’s when it actually starts to move, and that’s when you start to see these results. You’re like “How in the heck am I exercising less,” and I’m looking at your photos on your blog, and you’ve got a washboard stomach. It’s phenomenal.
Becca: I think what’s important for people getting into fitness to know is that that couch is a different size for everybody. The couch that I’m pushing might — you might just be pushing the love seat, and the intensity level for everybody from the outside is going to look different. On the inside, we’re all going to be feeling that flow, that intensity, but on the outside, observers might think we’re doing something totally different, but we’re all working at our own personal max capacity.
Jonathan: Absolutely, and that’s the key thing, is really to make sure you’re doing — that’s really the overarching message of what we’ve been saying is all of this is about you, focused on you and growing you and doing the best you can do, not doing any better or worse than anyone else.
Becca: Exactly, because every body, physical body is different, and everybody’s mind is different, so what’s ideal for you is going to be slightly different than your neighbor, and you just have to let go of caring what the people around you are doing or thinking.
Jonathan: I love it. Also the one thing I think we can learn and appreciate from the more, let’s call it classic or old school approach to exercise like running a marathon, for example, which may be a fine hobby for people, is — let’s say your goal was to run a marathon. You wouldn’t go outside and try to run 26 miles on day one. You’d ease your way into it. The same thing applies here. You’re going to ease you way into it.
Becca: Exactly. Just start with little bits. Start with five minutes every day. If you’re starting from scratch, just do something for five minutes, five days a week and then slowly work your way up. If you’re breaking a sweat, and it feels like you’ve worked hard, awesome. You’re a step ahead of where you were yesterday.
Jonathan: Well, Becca, let’s transition here in the last part of the podcast about your most recent project. Again, you’re the managing editor of breakingmuscle.com, and I’ve had the awesome opportunity to collaborate with you a bit on that project.
I’m a big fan of the site, and the site has really taken off. Can you tell me a little bit about what the vision and inspiration behind the site was?
Becca: Yes. I think one of the reasons that you and I connected was because we both have the same idea of sharing all this hidden science that’s out there. There’s so many journals and so much research and all kinds of information that’s out there that people — who’s going to really read all these journals and understand what’s going on. You have to pay for them all.
You have to decipher all the words, so we do that for people. We have experts from all different branches of wellness and fitness, and they share their expertise, and they translate these journals and explain how these things are applicable, what they’re proving or not proving, and share what they’ve learned. We literally have hundreds of years of experience between all our coaches in just about every facet of health and wellness that you can imagine.
Jonathan: Becca, I love it. I sat my wife down the other day — she’s actually quite busy at the moment because she’s an accountant, and it’s busy season; so she doesn’t have much time to sit down, but she historically had gotten Shape Magazine and these types of things. I finally convinced her to stop getting those, because again, we can understand all of this intuitively, but if we keep putting these images of the traditional approach and trying to shrink ourselves into our minds, we can rationally understand these things.
At the end of the day, we’re emotional creatures, and that constant imagery will tend to set us back. I sat her down, and I said, “Check out breakingmuscle.com, and check out these images of strength.” When I say strength, I don’t mean Arnold Schwarzenegger strength. I mean strength like when I’m 80, I’m living by myself, and I’m able to function, and if I’m walking alone at night, I don’t feel nervous, because I know I can handle myself.
I know that I can pick up my kids and not be out of breath, and I can carry on a conversation while I’m walking up steps and not feel embarrassed, because I’m out of breath. That kind of strength. The imagery and just the examples that the site provides I think is so wonderful. Where do you see the site going?
Becca: Well, that’s a good question. We’ve expanded a lot in the last year and really brought on a lot of different coaches, and we’re going to be expanding more in the future. We have some projects which I can’t totally talk about yet, but we have a lot of really exciting things coming in the coming year. I think what I really want to do — one of the things that I really enjoy about our coaching staff is that they’re all real people, and I think that’s what great about you having your wife look at the site.
We have an athlete, Valerie Voboril, who’s placed in the CrossFit games multiple years in a row, and she’s trying to figure out right now how to work out with her baby on her hip. Other people are trying to figure out “How do I eat Paleo on a budget?” It’s all real people trying to have peak performance, peak wellness, but in their real lives, so I think going more along those ways and appealing to people who have actual lives with real science, giving them legitimate workouts, and just really providing people with as real information as we can so that they can choose the path they want to go on, but with the best information possible.
Jonathan: I love that. Now that’s exactly it. That’s real information. You’ve got categories here for the mommy workout. You’ve got the mature athlete. You’ve got all kinds of different categories for each individual, and I love it, too, is that you can tell ‘real’ is such a great description of the site, because it is real, and it’s not — you can tell it doesn’t have this cosmetic feel to it. It’s all about ‘real.’
I think some people might not like that, but I think the people who are listening to this podcast definitely will. Folks, if you haven’t already checked out breakingmuscle.com, please do. Becca, just to wrap up here, what’s next for you as an individual, because you have such a cool story. Where do you see yourself going next?
Becca: Yeah. Now that’s a good question, too. I think one of the things that I’m thinking about doing is possibly writing a book. I have some ideas in mind. I’m sharing my journey, sharing what I’ve learned. I really love inspiring people to try new things and facilitating people to become the best they can possibly be, so that’s what I’m thinking for myself.
Jonathan: Wow, that’s cool, Becca. Well, thank you so much for what you’ve already done, and I’m sure that anything you do next will be wonderful if your past success has been any indication of your future success, which I think it will be. Thank you so much for joining us, and folks, her name again is Becca Borawski. I think I’m probably mispronouncing your last name, but…
Becca: That’s all right. You can just call me Becca B. That works, too.
Jonathan: Becca B, and you can learn all about her at breakingmuscle.com. She’s also got an awesome blog, so please do check that out. This week, remember, eat more and exercise less, but do that smart.
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