The Real-Life Superhero Dream Team

Tuesday April 2nd

Ten Pros Provide Critical Support for Achievement of Fitness and Wellness Goals

Have you ever met one of those people who simply seem to have more energy, more motivation, more strength, and more ambition than us mere mortals? Where does it come from? How can I get some of that?

If you’ve ever met Mike Torres of Seattle, you’ve probably asked yourself those questions. Mike’s day job -- as a Director & General Manager of Kindle at Amazon -- is no joke. But “technologist” is not only how he’d likely describe himself. Rather, he’d say he’s an athlete. A martial artist. A dad.

Mike is strong. He’s a certified “elite” instructor and team leader with StrongFirst, which means he’s one of the highest ranking kettlebell instructors in the world (note: a kettlebell is like a cannonball with a handle). He has multiple black belts and a lifetime of martial arts training. But Mike’s superpowers go way beyond the physical. He’s created his own framework for living a life focused on achieving goals, and it includes a community of pros that support and coach him along the way. We interviewed Mike to learn about how -- and why -- he makes physical strength part of his daily life, and he introduced us to his dream team.

How did you get into martial arts and strength building?

I was an 80’s kid watching a lot of the 70's and 80’s movies: Superman, Stallone, Arnold, He-Man, The Hulk, Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee… so of course I wanted to look like them, beat up bad guys, and save the world. The movie with the biggest impact on me as a kid was The Karate Kid. I was 8 years old the year that movie came out. That fall, I started studying Tae Kwon Do and have never looked back. That movie remains a major influence on me.

Over time, I started studying Bruce Lee’s philosophy through his writing, and that had really impacted me in my teenage years. So much so that it kept me focused on my martial arts and strength training instead of partying, even as early as 14 or 15 years old – and it lasts to this day.

In a typical week, how much time do you spend training?

Not as much as people might think. About eight years ago, I realized that if I’m going to be consistent, I needed to do two things: 1) train in the early morning (usually between 5:30am-7am) before anyone else is awake and 2) use every opportunity I can throughout the day for “practice”, while including my family in the process vs. trying to get a single, long, solitary session in.

Currently my scheduled training looks like this:

  • Monday: 6am Jiu-Jitsu at Framework BJJ
  • Tuesday: 6am Movement Skills and Strength at home
  • Wednesday: 6am Jiu-Jitsu at Framework BJJ
  • Thursday: 6am Movement Skills and Strength at home
  • Friday: 6am Jiu-Jitsu at Framework BJJ
  • Saturday: 4pm Jiu-Jitsu Private Lesson with Drew Vogel at Framework BJJ
  • Sunday: 8am Sunday Strength at Kettlebility

I no longer plan for “off days” since I’ve come to realize that when I’ve done my training in the morning, I’m happier and my brain is “switched on” the entire day. I’m more effective at work and I’m a better person to be around. I also sleep better at night, which reinforces the ability to get up the next morning. Of course I take days off – but I reserve them for travel or days where life truly gets in the way.

I also try to move throughout the day and include my kids when I can. Just yesterday, my 9-year old son and I did 10 straight minutes of “loaded carry variations” with a bunch of different implements (kettlebell, medicine ball, sandbag, barbell plates, etc.) We picked things up, walked, balanced on a beam, pressed them overhead, got on the floor and got back up while carrying something, etc. It was just 10 minutes, it was fun, and it was effective. Then my daughter, my son, and I went on a long bike ride through the Arboretum, stopping every few minutes to throw some rocks, balance on a log, and jump on stones. Everything can be a skill practice.

Is your dedication to your practice a reflection of how you generally live your life?

I do tend to be disciplined at home, at work, and with my training, but I don’t know which came first. I believe that habits build on each other, and I know that training is my “master habit”. If I fall out of a rhythm with training, the wheels fall off of everything else. My email inbox will start building up, my nutrition will fall apart, I don’t read as much, and I will even stop flossing. The discipline of doing something challenging every day allows everything else to fall into place.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been motivated to do anything difficult before getting after it. The magic comes when you convince yourself that you don’t need to be motivated to START. The motivation comes AFTER the fact. It’s actually a result of the process and feeds off the kinetic energy of the thing you started. You will always be more motivated at the end than at the beginning. It rarely works the other way around. I consider just putting on my training gear and warming up a success. 99.9% of the time, once I’m in, I can’t stop.

How much of your practice is mental and how much is physical?

I’m a big believer that a strong and resilient body builds a strong and resilient mind. So while I’m not directly training my mental game, it’s ultimately the primary beneficiary of the training. Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, so we must get stronger and more resilient. Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

Most of us avoid the feeling of discomfort at all costs. We lounge in temperature controlled homes and cars. We sit all day. We take the elevator. We never turn down a glass of wine, because there’s always a reason to celebrate. We don’t have hard conversations, even when it’s critical to do so.

We have forgotten how to struggle and test our limits. But as a species, we are more unhappy and unhealthy than ever. Resilience is born in the trenches. Discomfort is medicine. Stress to the system is required for growth. Learning to breathe through struggle is a skill you can develop. You can become comfortable with discomfort. You just need to introduce some into your day.

I get knocked down all the time. I can feel beaten down at work, at home, on the mat, and in the gym. But when you’ve looked it all squarely in the eye and thought, “I’m still standing and I’m ready for another round,” it becomes just another day.

How does the community of professionals you’re a part of impact your motivation and your results?

Being surrounded by like-minded people who are striving to be better helps enormously. It’s incredibly motivating to know that I’m not alone and that others have similar challenges they need to overcome. I tend to be pretty self-motivated, but it wasn’t until I found a community with StrongFirst and at Kettlebility that I have been as dedicated to strength training. It wasn’t until I started training at Krav Maga Seattle and then Framework BJJ that I have been this committed to a regular martial arts practice as an adult. The community, the coaches, the friends… it’s all critical.

Mike with Andrea Chang of Kettlebility.

Is recovery an aspect of training that is too often undervalued?

I’m a believer that there’s no such thing as over-training, only under-recovery. I take advantage of recovery modalities like massage, cryotherapy, heat, and cold plunges when and where I can. The goal with any training is self-improvement, and it stands to reason that the more training you have under your belt, the faster you will improve - but you need to do it fresh. So if you want to get better, you have to plan your recovery practice just like you plan your training - deliberately and practiced consistently.

If someone is interested in exploring these practices, where should they start? (It looks intimidating for the uninitiated!)

It can absolutely be intimidating, but you have to start somewhere and be ready and willing to have a “white belt mentality” and look & feel a little silly for a while. I believe everyone should have a movement practice of some sort, and it should be something that challenges you just enough physically and mentally in order to continue progressing. To start, it doesn’t matter what that movement practice is so long as it excites you and you want to get better at it.

Once you’ve found a movement practice you love, seek out the best coach in the area to learn from. If you’re interested in kettlebell, barbell, or bodyweight strength training, StrongFirst has thousands of instructors around the world – and we do 1-day introduction courses on a regular basis here in Seattle.

Be willing to spend a little money. When you’re older, you’ll probably give anything to be able to move well – so start now by investing in your practice. People are frequently willing to spend $400 a month on alcohol or takeout, but can’t bring themselves to spend $150 for a private lesson with an expert that could possibly change their lives forever. Make it a priority.

Mike with Drew Vogel of Framework BJJ.

What are the main tenets of your approach to recovery?

SLEEP a lot. It’s the single most important thing you can do for longevity, health, and energy. Sleep quality is more important than quantity, and everyone’s needs are different. I listed my sleep hacks on Instagram last year (and rocked over 10 hours last night). Dropkick Netflix and go to bed.

MOVE. Do light mobility work and maybe some self-myofascial release every single day. I’m a huge fan of Jill Miller’s book and videos (The Roll Model) and Kelly Starrett’s MobilityWOD, and I strive to do 10-30 minutes at the end of every day. Ground Force Method and MovNat are two movement systems I also love and do often.

SUFFER. Find extreme heat and extreme cold a few times/week. I use hot epsom salt baths and an infrared sauna at home, and make sure to get in my cryotherapy, cold showers, and ice baths. This is where those professional facilities come in handy.

FUEL yourself with quality foods. I’ve been Paleo/Primal for about a decade and it keeps me sharp and strong. I like certain supplements like turmeric/curcumin, krill oil, and collagen -- but supplementation is very personal. Find what works for you.

BREATHE. Learn to breathe well in order to downregulate and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Check out a book called “Just Breathe” on Kindle. If you’re interested in learning more and have some cash to burn, there’s a great retreat called XPT Life with Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece that goes deep on breathwork. StrongFirst also has a new course for performance breathing called Second Wind.

HYDRATE. Avoid all alcohol. It’s easy to do when your goals are more important than social lubrication. Drink lots of water instead.

Follow Mike Torres on Fresh Chalk and Instagram.

Most of us rely on professionals to help us take care of the important things in our lives, including our health, our families, our homes, and even our appearance. But for people that set out to achieve a big dream or to overcome a big obstacle, the right team of pros is often an essential part of the journey. Fresh Chalk’s Dream Team series tells the stories of the teams of professionals that help people to make their dreams come true.

Have your own Dream Team? We’d love to tell their story on the Fresh Chalk blog. Email us at [email protected].

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