Image by Seb Charles shot at Les Mills Auckland City
Just before New Zealand’s first Covid lockdown last year, the general public made a run to the supermarkets for toilet paper, flour and other supplies we hadn’t really paid a second thought to before. Not so for Les Mills instructor and Under Armour ambassador, Gary Mulholland, who spent lockdown eve hitting the sporting good stores to make sure that he had the ability to train at home. Not only did he manage to train at home okay, but on the very first day of lockdown he helped other people train by streaming his workout live to social media. This spawned the Live On The Lawn series and a library of over 70 workouts. We talk to Gary about the link between mind and body, the power of consistency, smashing fitness goals and giving your body the right fuel.
You talk about the fact that most of us only exist at 40% of our potential. What is your take on that?
David Goggins is this incredible Navy SEAL, who has accomplished the training camp for that multiple times and does all these ultra marathons. He’s an incredible athlete and he’s got this quote from his book that says most of us are only pushing ourselves to 40% of our limits.
When you realise that, something awakens within that allows you to find that extra gear, and you can take it up a level. When you’ve already taken your body to its limit, you can game your own mind to push past where your mind thinks it can go, allowing you to level up.
People often talk about how you’ve got the thinking part of your brain and then the doing part of your brain, and I like to think of it as having the Bruce Banner part of the brain, and then the Hulk part of the brain.
Bruce Banner is overly analytical. That side knows that you’re tired, he knows that you’re exhausted, but then if you can make something snap and just allow the Hulk to take over, then the Hulk will smash through whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish.
It allows you to move into that flow state that allows you to take your mind out of it and allows the body to operate almost autonomously through the task. Runners talk about it as the Runners High, and a lot of people talk about it when they’re doing monotonous work, it’s rhythmic.
It’s the same thing at the gym; you just pick it up, put it down, pick it up, put it down. There is a monotony to it that allows you to find a rhythm, which is almost meditative in itself and rewarding.
David Goggins is very inspiring, but totally utterly insane. His journey is incredible.
Yeah, his resume is ridiculous. The desert runs, the nighttime runs, just the long runs in general. He’s a machine. I’m not much of a runner, but that is something I’m also trying to improve on. I’m working on running gait, form, stride and stuff like that.
You look at people like Goggins, he’s just pushing it so far. He pushed his body beyond its limits. There is this thing called rhabdo where when you push your body too far, the body’s like, ‘No, you’re sick now, you’re pushed it way too far,’ and he’s had some extreme cases of that.
A lot of people talk about over-training, but no one over-trains like David Goggins. It really is so phenomenal to see where he’s been able to take his body to. Way beyond its limits. All driven by his very hard mind.
Reading his book, it has a lot about his upbringing that’s resulted in creating a bulletproof mind, allowing him to push their body to also become bulletproof. David Goggins is ridiculous though. I’m very much about training your body and training your mind every day, but pushing it to that level is extreme!
Can you talk a little bit about how this mental and physical connection develops – does that change the way you think? does that change how you perform?
Oh, absolutely. We talk about a mind-muscle connection quite a lot. When you’re moving any weight and you can connect your mind to that muscle, instead of just picking the thing up and putting it back down, to actually squeezing the bicep and squeezing everything out of it to lift that weight, it gives you an entirely different experience and different results.
If you can connect your mind truly to the tasks that you’re doing, you can take it way further beyond some limitations. Whether it’s writing an email and applying your mind to it in more of a way of understanding more about the user on the other end, rather than just writing the email to get the information across.
The disciplines we learned in training our body differently apply to everything else that we do. And in a way, it helps you develop work ethic. We can go so much further than what we see on the surface level, from better understanding ourselves, better understanding the people we’re communicating with or better developing relationships further.
Every task we do, whether it’s building a website, creating art, or seeking out the best content for people, we can always dig that little bit deeper if we recognise that we’ve gotten it to just 40% of our limits. If we apply just a little bit more energy, and find that extra gear, we can take it so much further.
Could you apply that to other parts of your life, whether it’s running a business, or being a functioning member of society?
An easy example is just eating. We can all eat so much better. Traditionally, you’d be hungry, you’d go to the fridge, eat, problem solved. It’s just the eating of that food, if we were in a position that we can apply a little bit more thinking into it, that would allow for us to have a better understanding of the nutrients our body’s requiring for that moment in time. It allows us to then have the amount of calories and build enough fuel so that we’d have enough fuel for the task at hand.
If we were able to understand that our body needs X amount of fuel to proceed to the next chapter, then we can go to the kitchen, prepare the correct amount of fuel that isn’t going to create negative effects at the same time, and it’s going to sustain us through to the next chapter. But if we were to go in there, hungry and grab a quick snack, you might not have given yourself enough fuel or the right fuel for your body to do what it needs to do.
In the same way, similar to training, it’s so easy to go to the gym, work out, hammer yourself and get sweaty, but the exercises you’ve done, or the way you’ve trained might not be helping you progress. If you can work with a trainer, you can understand a little bit more about how your body works, then you can craft a routine to help you get more science in to it, and hopefully see a little bit more progress out of it.
Even just squeezing the muscle and connecting the mind to the muscle allows for so much more growth and hypertrophy. You can fly through pushups and only get a little engagement through the target muscles, being the chest and the lats and triceps.
But if you were to slow that right down, connect the mind to the muscle, feel the squeeze on the muscle through every rep, you might only do half as many pushups, but they’d be more effective. Then long-term, that would allow for better growth, assuming that the intent of that session’s workout is growth, strength or hypertrophy. Some sessions are more dedicated to cardio.
How do you make that leap? How do you go from murky reactionary stuff, to how you’re talking now, where it just seems so obvious and so clear?
That’s a very good question. I think sometimes allowing Bruce Banner to drive is very important and so he’ll over-analyze the situation. It’s just when we’re in a rush, the Hulk’s driving. The Hulk is there when it’s time to eat, it’s stuffing down food.
But sometimes I just try and let Bruce Banner pick which food that we’re going to be eating. Hulk just wants a burger. Bruce Banner knows what the body needs. For most of us, getting calories in is extremely important so that we’ve got enough fuel to attack the day and to put out all that energy.
The amount of food I eat is incredible. It’s all very healthy food and because it’s so healthy, it makes up such large quantities. It’s the more processed stuff that you can squeeze a lot of calories into a small piece, but when it’s less processed, I have to eat a crazy amount of food.
I get great enjoyment out of eating those kinds of foods. Just because it feels real and it’s insatiable, the kind of energy that I get from it. The body processes it well and it gives me a lot of energy for any tasks.
Was there a particular catalyst in your life that really made a shift in you where you got serious about mind, body, health, energy and drive?
One time I was talking to a friend and giving them advice and then I realised, ‘I need to hear from someone like me’. That sounds crazy, but I started doing audio recordings just to myself, almost like I’m having a conversation with myself, and was able to give myself the kind of advice that you’d give to a friend. Almost talking to yourself like a friend.
I’ve always found that was kind of a crazy thing and definitely helped me overcome certain things and challenges. The same thing would apply at the gym where you can talk to yourself in that same way. Telling yourself, ‘You’ve got one more rep. You’ve done it before, you can still keep going’.
The biggest catalyst would definitely be learning how to meditate and understand the mind a little bit better. Ted Talks, Masterclass, continued learning, the amalgamation of all of that entertainment and all that information that’s out there in the world to help you understand more about what’s going on and understand how some of the great thinkers have thought, like Nikola Tesla, Joseph Campbell and Einstein, talking about the idea that everything is energy.
And then on the understanding that if everything is energy and I can control the energy I apply to things, then that in itself would have probably been the catalyst point where I was truly aware that the more I put in is directly resulting in the more I’m able to get out of the situation.
It’s definitely something I wouldn’t have understood when I was younger. Males get a lot more mature as they get older.
When we’re talking about energy, in my mind I’m considering a certain momentum and a certain forward motion with things. But when you’re talking about meditation, that seems quite different. Do you need both?
Everything is balanced and you’ve really got to find a way of allowing the body to sleep, allowing it to rest, allowing it to refuel and then allowing both the Hulk and Bruce Banner to drive at separate times throughout the day.
If you do too much gym stuff, and you don’t expand the mind or have a deep conversation at some point in the day, there’ll be a conflict. And then similarly, you gotta let the Hulk unleash on something because he’s got rage to get out and it’s just an expression of energy.
Once you’re able to deplete all of that energy from both of those sources, and then you can spend that remaining time to refuel and energise, and also to train the mind in terms of meditating. I know it seems so crazy to have all that energy and then try to slow things right down to the point where you’re only focusing on your breath and you’re only focusing on the sensation, going from your toe, all the way through the body, slowly up into the pinky.
It really is such a contrast, but while everything is energy, you’ve got those energy waves and you have to ride both the up and the down with that.
When you realised that you could be that friend, giving yourself advice, what was the first bit of advice that you gave yourself?
Ah, that’s a good question. I guess the first piece of advise I gave to myself was probably along the lines of “do what you want to do”. And it’s only when you’re having that deep honest conversation with yourself that you can begin to realise what it is you want to do. If I was to talk to some of my mates about things, some would have given a typical bloke response.
There’s an element of toxic masculinity in the world and if you’re taking feedback from that world, you might be doing the typical bloke thing, and not necessarily what is true to yourself. Being able to talk to yourself allows you to be a different type of voice to what you could have had from your immediate peers.
That’s fascinating. That opens up this whole other can of worms in terms of these echo chambers polarisation.
Totally. Talking to yourself could be the worst of all echo chambers, because you’ve only got yourself without any other perspectives to feed into that. But in a way, it allows for you to have a true conversation with yourself.
I listened to an audiobook by Kevin Hart. Not that he’s an expert, but it was a very interesting and very, very entertaining audiobook. He mentioned how he does audio recordings to himself just to flesh out the idea a little bit further. And so it was actually from that audiobook that I began doing that kind of process.
In a similar way, it’s no different to journaling. But I find speaking to a digital device is much easier than writing it down and it’s much faster, so I’m able to put in more energy, and your external voice can be much kinder than your internal voice.
If we go back a year, instead of freaking out and buying heaps of toilet paper and flour, you started doing fitness videos that then went crazy. You took a really practical, analytical proactive, instead of reactionary, view of the crisis.
The entire world was freaking out and they’re all buying toilet paper and flour.
Maybe I was too obsessed with fitness at the time that I was more worried about how am I going to keep training while all this is going down? While everyone was doing that, I was just trying to make sure I had equipment at home so that I would be able to continue to work out.
Then the series Live on the Lawn, came more out of a friendly conversation with a group of friends. Everyone on my Instagram has really been a close group of mates. There’s not a lot of followers, but I do feel very close to all of them. Especially all of them who’ve jumped in on the Live on the Lawn; there is a connection.
Earlier this week, this lady came up to me out of the blue and said, ‘I joined your Live on the Lawns last year. I changed my posture, I got a trainer as a result of it. I change how I train and how I think about training’. It was really positive and cool to hear that, it was really moving. She absolutely made my day.
It was a very cool experience and I’ve had incredible connections with people as a result. I think that’s one of the biggest things that allowed for that online boom of activity was that people were, despite being home and alone or in the confinements of an online world, they were still able to create a way of connecting to that wider online world.
Were you surprised by the level of engagement? I was worried that we’d all be bingeing on Ozark and making sourdough, but a lot of people seemed to be really focused on their fitness and their health last year.
Yeah, it was really cool. With the way that the world has become so much more digital and being able to go live on all of these platforms, it gave the feeling that we were all doing it together. Every morning we were all in it together. Going live was so much fun.
I did some prerecorded workouts, but it wasn’t quite the same as having people engaging in real time, giving a wave, sending a comment, or even just popping in for a coffee. Having that connection with people really did make it so incredible.
I guess that might be part of it as well, they weren’t just doing the workout on demand. They were doing it with someone who was doing it that day and they were still doing it with that community of people who are all in it together, all at the same time.
That’s the thing with group fitness, whether you come to one of the boxing classes or the functional or the high-intensity ones, there’s a whole room of people pushing their body to their imaginary red line. Everyone’s red line changes every day, but everyone’s in there together finding that red line.
I know that you are surrounded by very motivated people, but have you noticed a change out there in the mainstream in terms of people becoming more conscious of their health, wellness and our fitness?
I really hope so. Fitness and health content has been really popular on social media.
The boom of social media over the last few years and the content within that platform has probably given those voices a place to be, whereas traditional media platforms haven’t been able to carry that sort of narrative.
I actually thought about that not that long ago. If it wasn’t for Instagram, would I be as into fitness as I am today? I don’t know. I ended up following a bunch of very muscly-looking dudes, it was inspiring, and I learned so much from them.
I found real enjoyment when I was training, using some of the ways that they were training and went on to do a variety of the different training programs and learned so much. It is a very fair question. I don’t think it necessarily happened in the last couple of years.
I think it happened with the birth of things like Instagram; Instagram allowed for a richer media. Everyone is a now a photographer and a video editor. People that were not educated in the world of film, television, photography, were able to create entertaining pieces of informative content at their fingertips, and the content is incredible.
In terms of your relationship with Under Armour, you get a real sense of community and you get a real sense that there is this ambition to be a part of something that is not just about sticking a label on something. Have you noticed that shift with brands around the fitness space and wellness space as well?
The guys at Under Armour are amazing. They encourage their team to be as great as we can be, it’s extremely motivating to have them in your corner, and to be on the same team as so many weapons! Every time I look down and see the logo, I’m reminded of “Through the work”, and “Hardest worker in the room” and it gives me energy to find that extra gear. Nothing gets you to run a little bit faster than a new pair of shoes!
The New Zealand team are awesome, and I really do love being a part of the Under Armour team, as well as the Les Mills team. There’s so many people in those communities who are passionate about health and fitness, and everyone’s so encouraging, and all a part of that growth mindset.
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