Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Reclaim Your Motivation - Everyone Loves a Comeback

A close friend of mine reached out to me recently. He's someone who's struggled with his weight and body image for a large part of his adult life. In the last couple of years he managed to really turn himself around and completely reshape his entire body. He lost close to a hundred pounds and then packed on a solid fifteen to twenty pounds of muscle. As his friends, we were all blown away. A lot of my male friends even started to wonder if he was taking....something. Jealousy is a funny beast.

Anyway, my friend got in touch with me because though he had been really killing it at the gym for a long time he had somehow misplaced his motivation and felt like he couldn't find it again. No matter how he tried he just didn't feel like going to the gym or eating clean. It was too much work and not enough reward anymore.

Anymore. That's key. Remember that.

Now there's certainly a line of response that goes something like this: "SUCK IT UP FATTY! WORKING OUT IS CALLED WORKING OUT BECAUSE IT'S WORK! FITNESS ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! NOTHING WORTH HAVING IS EASILY ATTAINED!" While I agree with the central sentiment of a lot of those, that kind of response is also pretty much the worst possible way of dealing with his issue.

On some level we all already know that stuff is true. That's part of why he's frustrated and why we all get frustrated. We know it's work and that it's hard but we'd found a way to get past that. We'd found a program or a diet that, though it was work,  it worked for us. To me, that is both the problem and the solution.

Fitness is easiest when it's a routine. It's a universal truth that if you have to completely alter everything about your life to include your workouts you're not going to keep up with them. Yea, yea fitness is a journey and it's about changing your life but that's not what I'm talking about. It's simply much more realistic to throw in a workout at a gym that's on your way home a few days a week than it is to sign up for some crazy bikram/ashtanga yoga fusion class at a studio that's at least half an hour from any of your stomping grounds.

When people work hard enough and successfully make the changes that my friend did it is typically because they found a routine that worked for them and they were able to stick to it. The really unfortunate problem with this is simple: boredom.

It's like when you first get a new job that you're really excited about. Maybe the pay's great or its a shift into a better industry or something more in line with your eventual goals. For whatever reason, you got a job you're really excited about and for the first year or two you work as hard as you can and you get consistent returns: raises, promotions, a bigger office, managerial duties; whatever it may be. You love your job which gets you to work hard and you get consistent returns which motivate you to work harder.

Then, like in many organizations, eventually you top out. You hit the ceiling of the upward mobility available to you in that position. Work simply becomes a grind. You're going in and putting in the same effort and getting less and less in return. Eventually you're just showing up to keep collecting a paycheck. When this happens you have three options: keep grinding, quit, or start looking for a new job.

This is almost exactly what happens with your body and a new workout routine. Your body becomes acclimated to any stress placed on it, this is what gives rise to the plateau effect: given the same exact program with the same parameters and loading schemes your gains will begin to decrease even when load and intensity increase. This is one of the main reasons athletes periodize their workouts: to avoid stagnation.

When your results stagnate your motivation follows soon after. Who wants to keep cranking away in the gym when you're not getting anything out of it? Unfortunately when this happens a lot of people's instinct is to do just that. They keep trying to do their old routine, keep trying to get BACK to the thing that USED to work.

Unfortunately that's the trap that too many of us fall into. We want to go back in time to when that routine worked for us but you can't and even beyond that you shouldn't want to. So what do you do instead? Try this:

Tips To Reclaim Your Motivation:

1. Stop kicking yourself. It happens to all of us at one time or another. Read this
2. Do what you did before, but in a different way. What worked initially? You CHANGED your habits. You started something NEW. Do something new, again. 
3. Acknowledge your progress. When you first started you were having trouble with the basics but now you're running and lifting with the best of them --> it's become boring. Try something different - take up kettlebells, powerlifting or oly lifting. 
4. Stay within your relative comfort zone --> If you initially had success with lifting you don't have to give it up and become a cross country runner. There's many different types of lifting. Maybe just try one you're not familiar with. Same thing with bootcamps and the like. If you're bored of your bootcamp find a different one you like or sign up for CrossFit (it's what most bootcamps wish they were anyway).
5. Conversely, don't be afraid to try something completely new --> Maybe you weren't in good enough shape to take an honest crack at kickboxing or hot yoga before. Maybe you didn't feel comfortable signing up for your first spartan race....but now you might. Just don't get too upset if you find it isn't for you. You'll never know until you try. 
6.Keep moving forward. Fitness is a journey and while some journeys involve retracing your steps, they are always moving decidedly in one direction. So your routine worked for 3 years but doesn't work anymore. So what? Don't get caught up wondering why it doesn't work because it's usually not just one thing. Keep your eyes out for the next thing. That's what matters. 

I've been doing this for a long time...coming up on about fifteen years. Thats fewer than many but still more than most. I've done martial arts, gymnastics, bodyweight fitness, SPARQ, CrossFit, P90x, Bootcamps, bodybuilding and all sorts of weight lifting. I've spent more time on a bosu than anyone should and attempted a couple of very cute exercises on very pink physio balls. My point is that to stay interested you have to keep it interesting. You guys know how I feel about bullsh*t "functional" training, but that's not what I mean. You don't have to wrap yourself in rubber bands and try to do walking handstands while doing leg extensions with a kettlebell hanging off your foot. There are literally hundreds of different entirely legitimate approaches to exercise. You found one that worked for you before. I'm willing to be you can do it again. Here's a few ideas to get you started.

Just remember you didn't fail and you're not done. You hit a speed bump. I've been there and you aren't alone. It's just one more obstacle to overcome and you overcame the f*ck out of it last time. You're going to do it again. 

Besides, everyone loves a good comeback.

Good luck and good lifting.


Monday, December 2, 2013

On Bullying and Creating Cowards

Bullying sucks. Plain and simple. It's no good for anyone involved. Even for the perpetrator of the wrongdoing bullying is like heroin. It feels really good for a while but once that short lived ecstasy has run its course those feelings of pleasure are replaced with sadness, pain and a longing to escape them which often leads right back into the already vicious cycle. As I said before, bullying just sucks.

What causes bullying? Well, that's a bit more complicated and I'm not entirely qualified to answer. I think at the most basic level we can all understand the driving sentiments. Humans are competitive by nature and it seems to me that Americans are even more competitive by culture. Competition requires a winner and a loser and we all know which role we'd prefer to play. When we feel badly about ourselves we want to feel better so we find a meaningless and ambiguous competition (bigger, funnier, more popular etc.) declare ourselves the winner and then from our new ivory pedestal we laugh at all of the peasants far below in the lowlands. Unfortunately, oftentimes said peasants don't believe themselves to be the losers so the bullies are (in their minds) required to demonstrate the truth of this matter to them, whether it be through name calling, Facebook stalking or plain old fashioned physical violence.

I have a very personal relationship with bullying. I used to get the sh*t kicked out of me as a child. When I was very young it was predominantly emotional but it got worse as we got older and bigger. Supposedly I used to come home from school crying on a regular basis. I don't remember that. My mom claims I blocked it out (possible) but I think she's exaggerating (likely). Either way the point remains that I was bullied so often and to such a degree that it significantly affected my childhood. I was afraid of people for a very long time. This was compounded by the fact that I was a very sick and frail child and not particularly physically capable unless the feat under examination was the strength and dexterity of your thumbs (I crushed at video games. CRUSHED).

Like a lot of children I sought solace in fantasies. I played video games and when my mother banned me from the living room lest the yet-to-be-discovered gamma rays emanating from my NES melted my brain, I retreated into the world of superheroes and high fantasy.

Despite her penchant for robbing me of my digital gaming fix, I had an incredibly tolerant, loving and supportive mother. She was and still is a saint (she has fostered eleven children in the last ten years for no reason other than she wanted to). Unfortunately this led me into a pattern of running away and crying for my mommy. To bullies this is more or less chumming the waters and frequently I was just making it worse for myself. Hey, I was like nine. Cost/benefit analysis of social interactions wasn't something I'd discovered yet. Frankly it's something I wish we never really needed even though I'm pretty sure we all do it on a regular basis.

There's nothing particularly unique about my bullying story I don't think. I was bullied when I was younger and it made me insecure. I still carry some of those insecurities with me today, even though I like to believe I have the worst of them under control. What's frustrating for me, now, is watching all of the reports on bullying in children today and what seems to be the typical response: don't fight back.

I'm sorry, what?

If you watched the video I posted on this subject my current stance might confuse you. "But Bob," you may say, "you said in your video that simply because someone punched you it does not give you the right to cripple them, didn't you?" Why yes, faithful follower, that is precisely what I said. I'm not saying that we should teach our children that anytime anyone offends you in any way whatsoever you should probably kick them in the teeth. I'm saying that telling our children to run away and find an adult isn't always productive.

What happened to teaching kids to stand up for themselves? What happened to letting kids figure it out on their own? I think we all know in one way or another that we're supposed to let our children fail while they're still young so that they can experience it when it's still safe, when failure isn't really failure it just really feels like it. Unfortunately we also have an entirely understandable mama-bear, don't-touch-my-child-or-I'll-murder-you instinct that, while understandable, is also highly detrimental in most cases. There's nothing wrong with wanting to protect your child. Pretending as though the other small child that is tormenting them on the playground is not another small child just like yours but is in fact a sociopathic, insult-flinging evil-genius that may be the one true son of satan made flesh, on the other hand, is a little problematic.

If the number of articles fling around the internet is any indication, then it seems that a lot of us seem to have noticed a running theme about some members of my generation. We're afraid and anxious, like, all the time.

Maybe it's because we were raised on a steady diet of entitlements and being told we were special. We were never forced to try because even if we lost we'd get a medal for participating. At some point in time we all became so terrified of hurting our children's feelings that we never really considered the consequence: an entire generation of adults who don't know how to deal with anxiety or take positive risks. We (and by we I mean the people that raised us) fostered a culture where the average 22 year old with a bachelors degree in art history believes that being a Starbuck's barista is below them.

Yea. It's like that.

Now I will say that every time I see one of those articles it makes me a little nuts because obviously our entire generation isn't like that. Even so, there does seem to be a fair amount of this stuff that applies DIRECTLY to bullying but some of us have yet to make the jump.

We don't want our kids playing dodgeball or getting physical in gym class. We might be getting rid of recess (in an already dangerously overweight nation) to "combat" bullying. I've got some news for you. None of this is dealing with the issue in any way. It's avoidance. It's more of the same. Rather than equipping our future generations with the self worth and strength of will to be bullied and weather the storm, we are teaching them to run like hell anytime it happens because, you know, it'll probably never happen when you're adult. Nah. Adults don't do that sh*t to each other. We're past that.

Right guys?

Even beyond that we're teaching them that they shouldn't stand up for themselves because they can't. You can't solve this problem without someone helping you. Without even considering what that does for their mentality long term, we have to be tanking your self worth. They're already in an uncomfortable situation and rather than first trying to support them through it on their own, we're conditioning them to believe that they shouldn't even try because they'll never be capable. It might not be the message we mean to send, but I'm sure to a lot of children it sounds awfully similar to, "you're just not good enough."

I can't tell parents how to parent because I don't have any children of my own. What I can focus on is the other things that we do as people and as a society that contribute to this crap. Making light of each others feelings. Popularizing mean spirited humor that offers nothing in the way of intelligence or satire. Reinforcing the idea that there are only a handful of very specific societal ideals and teaching our kids that if you don't fall into them you shouldn't value yourself. This, of course, is where it all becomes very complicated very quickly.

The problem, ultimately, is that we judge and value ourselves far too much based on external feedback. This is nothing new or mind-blowing. We love our bodies insofar as they resemble someone else. We value our intelligence insofar as it meets the guidelines laid out by another person. Our own athletic capabilities exist only to the extent that they can fulfill external, already determined requirements. The complicated part is that ignoring all of those things would very quickly make you a social outcast. In order to be a functioning member of society we simply cannot reject and disregard all cultural feedback on who we are as people.

So what do we do? We remind ourselves what we were all taught as children.

Treat others as you would like to be treated and not only when it's convenient.

You don't need to be like everyone else or even like everyone else, but you have to respect their right to be them.

True inner strength is your ability to resist and be yourself. When caught in the raging rapids that are popular culture and society, the truly strong individual will follow their own path. Not the hard path because it is hard nor the easy path because it is easy, but the right path because it is right.

You must always defend yourself and others, but never let your enemies make you the attacker.

Being different will always be painfully, heartbreakingly hard. It will also always make you beautiful.

We can't fight our children's fights for them. Perhaps more important than that is a simple question: how many of us are truly qualified to do so anyway? I've often said that insecurity and denial are the root of all evil, something I believe because I personally know they led to many of my own flaws. When it comes to fighting, both physical and metaphorical, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Winning may feel good, but it's losing that drives us to become better. We can say this to each other over and over and there's a chance the kids might listen but I think we all know that sometimes it's not real until it's actually real.

Sometimes we need to lose.

Good luck and good lifting.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On Programming - The Lifting Templates

Right. So we're back to this. Yea. I know. It was like two months ago. Leave me alone. (I've been working on this post on and off for about a month now trying to put as much information in as small a space as possible. You're welcome.)

Anyway, you can find the first part of this post here.

So, how exactly do I propose you go about your strength training with an adaptable program that you can change as you go? Allow me to introduce you to the templates.


Also all example workouts assume you have already performed a 10-15 minute dynamic warm up (ex. rowing/jumping rope, squats, lunges, push ups, pull ups/body weight rows, leg swings front/side, hip stretches) 

The SwoleBro (Body Part Split 1):
Focus: Bodybuilding (muscular hypertrophy):
every muscle 1x per week (for example: mon/back,tue/chest,wed/legs (quad focus),thu/shoulders, friday/arms, saturday/legs(hamstring focus))

3-4 Compound (multi-joint) lifts per main muscle group
2-3 Isolation (single joint/muscle) lifts per muscle
Sets: 3-4
Reps: 8-12

Monday - Back
Deadlift - 12,12,10,8
Barbell Row - 12,12,10,8
Pull Up - 4x10
Cable Row - 4x10
Straight Arm Lat Pulldown/Pullover - 4x10

The Metro(Aesthetic)Bro (Body Part Split 2):
Focus: Bodybuilding, Metabolic/Conditioning (increased focus on energy systems/fat loss)
every muscle 2x per week (for example mon/upper body, tue/lower body, wed/rest, thu/upper body, fri/lower body, sat/shoulders, sun/rest-active recovery)

1-2 Compound lifts per muscle group
1 Isolation lift per muscle
Sets: 3-4
Reps: 8-12
Alternate Antagonistic Movements (Push/pull, horizontal/vertical, extend/flex)

Monday - Upper Body

Superset 1
Cable Row/Chest Press: 3x12
Superset 2
Cable Lat Pull Down/Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3x12
Superset 3
Fly/Reverse Fly: 3x12
Superset 4
Bicep Curl/Tricep Extension: 3x12

The EliteFitnessBro
Focus: No one is really sure. (Supreme fitness and stuff)
no discernible rhyme or reason to muscles used or program patterning

Okay I'm just kidding. The truth is that this one is a bit harder to quantify simply and I'm pretty sure the organization would have all sorts of problems with me trying to do so but oh well.

Focus:  Metabolic Conditioning
try to stress as many muscles/systems as possible in as few movements as necessary (in a very general sense)

Descending/Ascending Pattern Schemes
like 3-6-9-12-15, 21-15-9, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, 50/25-40/20-30/15-20/10-10/5 (for two exercises ex: 50 squats/25 push ups, 40 squats/20 push ups etc.)
or a set Goal Number (25,50,100 etc.) for time (AFAP) 
or a set of exercises done for as many repetitions or rounds of a circuit (AMRAP)
Or a set of exercises done every minute on the minute (EMOM)

Ex. 1
Pullup - Front Squat/Push Press          

Ex. 2
Pull Ups
Sit Ups
x10 ea
AMRAP 15 min.

Ex. 3
Clean & Jerk complex:
Squat Clean & Jerk - Hang Clean & Jerk - Push Jerk
EMOM 10 min.

The Beginner PowerBro
Focus: Strength (Ability to lift a lot of weight), Power (Ability to lift a lot of weight quickly)
Full Body 3-4x per week (every other day)
Sets: 3-5
Reps: 3-5
Scheme: 1 Upper Body Pull, 1 Upper Body Push, 1 Type of Squat, 1 Type of Deadlift (optional depending on tolerance. Optimal deadlift frequency in training is something that I could devote an entire post to.) 
So this is a thing. Thanks, Google. 

Front Squat 5x5
Deadlift 5x5
Strict Press 5x5
Barbell Row 5x5

The Intermediate to Advanced PowerBro
Focus: Strength, Power
4-5x per week
1 Main Lift Per Day + Accessory Work
Try not to hit same/similar movements 2 days in a row (don't do benchpresses tuesday and strict presses wednesday)
Sets/Reps: This isn't as specific as the others but generally for whatever your main lift is load the bar with about 50% of your 1RM (yes, you need to know your ACTUAL, TESTED 1RM) and do a set of 3-5 reps. 

Lets say you pick 5 reps - Perform each set and then add 5-20 lbs in regular increments (probably 5-10 lbs for upper body lifts but you might use 10-20 lbs for deadlifts/squats/olympic lifts....though they would want me to write it in kg) working your way up to a 5RM. Continue adding weight but move down to 3 reps per set until you hit a 3RM. Then do singles until you can't lift any more. 

If at this point you want/need to add some more volume to your workout you can knock the weight back down and start working back up 3 reps at a time. You could do 5 as well, but from personal experience I can tell you that really, really sucks. You should pick a method that's relevant to your goals. If you're trying to add mass --> High volume. If you're trying to increase the max strength of the mass you have -->Lower Volume/More maxes/multiple rep maxes (for example Olympic Lift Programming often sticks to three or fewer reps/attempts per set)

You can then perform your accessory lifts (typically performed as a Bodybuilding split for the body part corresponding to the main lift (See SwoleBro above))

It's also worth mentioning Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program here. It follows a similar scheme to this one but with slightly different parameters (and was my original exposure to these types of programs). 

The Reasonable FitnessBro

Focus: General Strength, Fitness and Structural Integrity
Full Body 3-4x Wk (Every other day)
Sets: 3-4
Reps: 8-12
Scheme: 1 movement per pattern. try not to do the same  exact movements or directions in consecutive workouts.

Hip Hinge
Loaded Carry/Postural Exercise

Workout A 
Push Up 3x12
Lat Pulldown 3x12 105lbs
Barbell Back Squat 3x12 185lbs
Lateral Lunges 3x12 ea. leg 20lbs ea. hand
Stiff Leg Deadlift (Romanian Deadlift) 3x12 135 lbs
Cable Core Rotation 3x12 ea. side
Farmers Walk 5x50 yds 80lbs ea. hand

Workout B 
Standing Overhead Press (Strict Press) 3x12 95lbs
Front Squat 3x12 155
Cable Row 3x12 120
Deadlift 3x12 205
Alternating Forward Lunges 3x12 ea. leg
Hi-Low Cable Chop 3x12 ea. side 50lbs
Bottoms-Up KB Hold 5x30 sec. or Bottoms Up KB Farmers Walk 5x50yds 

So these are some solid, basic templates for constructing a sound training program. While they can be performed to the letter of the descriptions above, the real fun of this system is the ability to mix and match and how much room for creativity there is within the programs especially when on top of set/rep schemes you start to consider lifting tempos, time schemes and order of exercises.

For Example:
Circuits - Rather than performing each exercise in consecutive sets, it can sometimes be useful to perform one exercise after another with little to no rest in between in one giant set and then rest after one set of each exercise has been completed. This is typically called "circuit training."

Ballistic/Explosive Lifts- rather than performing each rep in a slow and controlled manner, lower the weight slowly and then try to lift it as quickly as possible. These types of exercise tend to focus on building power (the ability to generate force quickly) and also frequently exhibit a high metabolic demand (...they make you puke if you do them a lot).

So say you take the Reasonable FitnessBro above and in order to save time and burn a few extra calories (at the expense of a small amount of muscle growth) you decide to perform it as a circuit. This particular template actually lends itself to this scheme very well and happens to be a program I use with my clients often.

You can also mix and match the templates once you start to understand each individual templates purposes. For example, say you want to retain the strength you've built with your PowerBro program but now you want to focus on a bit more aesthetics. Pretty easy - just combine the PowerBro and AestheticBro templates into one:

Day 1 Lower Body
Back Squat
Performed Following PowerBro Standards (3 rep sets to 3RM etc.)
With our powers combined...
Remaining lifts done AestheticBro style:
Front Squat 4x10
Stiff Leg Deadlift 4x10
Lateral Lunges 4x10 ea.
Box Jumps 5x5

Day 2 Upper Body
Strict Press
Performed Following PowerBro Standards
Chin Up 4x10
Dumbbell Bench Press 4x10
Barbell Row 4x10
Bicep Curls and Tricep Extensions (If you're into that kind of thing) 4x10 ea.

Then take a day off....and start over but this time swap the back squat for a deadlift on lower body day and the strict press for either  a bench or a bent over row on upper body day. Ideally a solid program would be balanced between pushing and pulling movements.

Of course this isn't the only possible combination just one of the easiest examples to provide. The truth is that if you really want to get creative you need to understand the principles that drive your programming. In other words, you need to understand from a physiological perspective what the possible goals of exercise are and how to program for each of them.

In addition it would probably be useful to know how to program aerobic/cardiovascular work and maybe even some agility and plyometrics since this post is just about lifting stuff.

Well guess what? Those posts will be coming at you soon.

And no, it won't take two months. Thanks for waiting anyway.

Good luck and good lifting.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Defense of Bodybuilding

I've been at this for a while now. Not as long as some of the older industry vets but long enough to have tried some things. Well...a lot of things. With the notable exception of Prancercise I've at least tested the waters of every emerging fitness trend over the last decade and a half. It's been a long, strange trip but I've learned more than a few things along the way.

I think one of the most important lessons I've learned is resistance to the trends themselves. At their core trends are often based on something solid. Tae Bo was founded on the basis that martial arts are an incredible and fun work out. Totally valid. This fact remains true despite the fact that the average Tae Bo workout (or as we know it today, cardio kickboxing) resembles a montage from Flashdance far more than an ancient art used to temper the mind and body. Very similarly I can also tell you that functional fitness has some valid points; the human body should totally be trained as a whole, functioning unit. What I can't tell you is how multicolored rubber balls and bands or something called a both sides up trainer (despite the boldfaced warning on the platform specifically warning against using a particular side) has any relation or bearing to the functionality of your body.

Fitness is cool these days and this simple fact has caused a myriad of ripple effects across the industry and culture. Leading the charge we've got CrossFit and Spartan Race (who are now both owned by Reebok, hmm...) and falling in behind we've got everything from boot camps and cardio bodyweight blasts to zumba and yogilates. There are now more options than ever for the wanna-be  and would-be exerciser and gyms are coming up with such oddly specific classes that people are running out of excuses. Need to work on your flexibility while preparing for your coming child and caring for your canine? No problem! check out Pre-natal Doga!! (For the record no, I don't know if this is a thing and please don't ruin that for me)

Despite how prolific it once was and that in my opinion (as well as the opinions of a multitude of others) it is singlehandedly responsible for the popularity of well muscled leading men, bodybuilding seems to have all but disappeared from the popular culture-sphere. I fully understand that not everyone wants to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike but I find the contention that you're not bodybuilding because you don't want to get HUGE f*cking hysterical. That sh*t doesn't just happen by accident. If you could slip and fall and WHOOPS you've now got a six pack and 23" arms people like me wouldn't ever write articles like this.

We should all be able to be honest with ourselves. In terms of setting goals it's really hard to reach a goal you're not honestly even trying for. We've been sold this idea that you can't just go to the gym because you want to look good, nooooo. That would be vain and vanity is BAD. Instead you should go to yoga and the lululemon store and every organic food outlet within five miles of your house all while ceremoniously logging every step of your journey to health and exercise enlightenment on your incredibly well curated facebook timeline. Or, conversely, you could sign up for every obstacle race under the sun, tell everyone and their mothers that you're going to run a tough mudder (you f*cking badass you) and then not workout or train once but make DAMN SURE you post at least forty photos of your shirtless mud covered beer gut while you drink your celebratory craft beer.

Ok, ok, I'll stop being a dick (at least as much as I'm capable). You see the point here is not for me to tell you to stop doing yoga or stop running races. That's all good stuff. My point is simply this: be honest with yourself when you consider your reasons for working out. Why? Well, it's really pretty simple. Because while there are about a thousand different definitions of fitness that are all entirely valid in their own way, there is also legitimately a best way to accomplish most of these widely varied goals and troves upon troves of recorded knowledge from all of those who've tried before you.

The simple truth is that bodybuilding gets a bad rep because it IS vain and it's main purpose is to very specifically alter the appearance of your physique. The fitness industry wants you to believe this sh*t too, because it's really lucrative for us. We don't want you to actually learn how to effectively change your physique because then you wont continue giving us hundreds and hundreds of your dollars in exchange for our questionable knowledge and training techniques. TRUE fitness isn't about vanity and how you look. REAL health isn't just about the size of your biceps. In order to achieve GENUINE fitness you have to run and jump and climb and do cartwheels while wearing weighted vests and having someone resist 2 of your four limbs with rubber bands on alternating sides SO COME TAKE OUR BOOTCAMP!!!

Just...ugh...god damn it.


1. Bodybuilding teaches you about your anatomy - Bodybuilding is typically done in a body part split and involves a lot of muscular isolation. Despite all the arguments that isolation is bad (it isn't) and that your body works as a whole, contiguous unit (both completely true and utterly irrelevant), isolating muscles requires you to know a few things. First, it requires you very simply to know the locations of most of your muscles which, frankly, you probably should anyway. Secondly it requires you to know which types of motion produce activation of which muscles. Bodybuilding familiarizes you with the step by step musculoskeletal interactions and functions of your body joint by joint, muscle by muscle and that knowledge is something that a ton of people, even a lot of very experienced exercisers, are lacking.
Bodybuilding was my first foray into exercise and it gifted me with an invaluable resource in my ability to understand my own body and how it moved.If nothing else it will significantly improve your ability to heal yourself and to seek professional assistance for your musculoskeletal needs. "I think I did something to my tricep tendon because it hurts to extend my arm" is a much more useful cue than "my elbow hurts."
Look at it this way, a professional race car driver may not know how to dismantle and repair every component of their engine and suspension, but I guarantee you they have a very specific idea of what almost all of the components do and how they're used. If you view your body as a high performance machine, the same principle should apply.

2. Bodybuilding teaches you feel your muscles - In addition to the knowledge of how to activate your muscles and which muscles are responsible for producing what kinds of movement bodybuilding creates intense body awareness as it requires you to hold static posture and squeeze the everloving sh*t of the muscle/group that you're isolating. I used to think the whole "squeeze" thing was some esoteric bodybuilder broscience nonsense until I experienced it. It's far easier to recognize weaknesses and deficiencies in your body when you first learn how it's supposed to feel when it's working.

These photos were all taken from Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier. Buy. This. Book. Seriously.

3. Bodybuilding lets you change your physique in a deliberate and controlled fashion - Sure, doing CrossFit until you puke your lungs out next to the lifting platform could very well get you jacked but you don't really have much control of what kind of jacked. Want to make your biceps bigger? There's an exercise for that. Want to add some width to your quads? We've got one for that too. Genetics will always play a central role in what your physique can potentially become - meaning that the exact shape of your muscles isn't entirely within your control. That being said, bodybuilding is the best (non surgical) tool that we have for creating specific changes in our bodies on an aesthetic level

4. Bodybuilding can significantly change the way you look without requiring you to get nauseous every workout - In any kind of training intensity is key. It is the main factor in determining the overall efficacy of your workout. That being said, there does seem to be a growing mentality in the fitness world that you can just work out balls to the wall all the time no matter what and that somehow this will give you the body that you're looking for. That's like saying that if you go into a construction site with no plan whatsoever but just start putting shit together as hard and as fast as possible you'll end up with your dream home. I suppose it's possible if you're incredibly lucky (and in this case you would be one of those genetically gifted jerks who can look like Ryan Reynolds while facing three pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream nightly) but for most of us it just doesn't work that way. The great thing about bodybuilding is that you can get significant results without murdering yourself in the gym every time you go in.

Bodybuilding still requires extreme intensity and focus on every rep and in my opinion THIS is the real reason bodybuilding faded away. It's really f*cking hard to do 12 perfect repetitions with a challenging weight. Yea, sure, it's all well and good to talk about the neurological benefits of the 5 rep set and we can all appreciate the huge amount of science behind those assertions but at the same time we should all be able to admit that in a certain way, fewer reps are easier. They just are, especially to the type of people who are drawn to lifting in the first place.

Most of us gymheads are natural sprinters. We want to do something hard and fast for a little while then put it down and move on to something else. Obviously the 5 reps are of a significantly heavier weight, but when you're on your seventh rep and you've still got five to go with a weight thats challenging for those parameters you can start to understand what I'm saying. Lifting heavier for fewer reps is easier. Sprinting short distances is easier than cross country. Going balls to the wall is harder than having control. Physiologically and mathematically it may work out to a similar metabolic cost but sustaining a high level of effort over a longer time period is more difficult in terms of your mental fortitude. It's too god damn bad that we shy away from things that challenge our discipline.

There are a wealth of things about bodybuilding that aren't so great but the last ten years of the fitness industry has run over that horse with a steam roller. Movement trumps all and unfortunately improving movement quality isn't really the main focus of bodybuilding, but so what? Who says you can't do both? I would like to submit that bodybuilding is like running: an incredibly useful tool for a very specific task. You wouldn't use a hammer to drive a screw would you? And is the hammer "bad" simply because it's not the best tool for that specific job?

So do yourself a favor. Go pick up Ahnold's Total Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding and get reading. Then maybe you people will stop pointing at random body parts and asking me "what do I do for this?" (well..actually ma'am that's your pelvis so...)

Good luck and good lifting.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Good News - It Is, In Fact, All About You.

As many of you know I have something of a man crush on Elliot Hulse. Personally I like to believe that he's a kindred spirit, a like minded individual genuinely trying to help people become the best versions of themselves. I'm also a huge fan of anyone who can deadlift a couple hundred pounds while quoting everyone from Walt Whitman to Aristotle. He put up a video this morning, the title was ostensibly referring to CrossFit but the real subject of the video, to me anyway, was a topic I come across all the time. He was responding to a question about why, when someone who follows every tenet of a particular program to the letter, do they not always look like the people who created the program? In other words...why doesn't every dedicated CrossFitter look like Rich Froning and why doesn't every one who undertakes p90x come out looking like Tony Horton?

Elliot goes on at some length about genetics and puts forth the notion that those people were going to resemble that no matter what they did because they are who they are. Rich Froning looks like he does because he's Rich Froning, not because he does CrossFit. I think this is a totally valid assertion that a lot of us ignore because it's incredibly unfair. It's very difficult to tell ourselves that we can never achieve exactly what someone else has simply because we aren't them. In some ways it's almost un-American and very antithetical to the cult of the individual that I believe is so pervasive in our culture these days. "What do you mean I can't accomplish anything I want? As long as I work hard and keep at it the sky's the limit right?"
The only thing this picture is missing is a unicorn.

Well, yes and no. The sky is the limit within your given genetic potential. That is to say, you're only "limited" insofar as you decide you are. Is it really "limiting" to acknowledge that as a 5'8" female with genetics that lean towards the heavy side, you'll never be as good at basketball as Michael Jordan? You might be able to deadlift 500lbs with that kind of frame or you could be an olympic track athlete given the right training. Realistically, even those situations would make you a genetic outlier. Unfortunately the bell curve is a real thing. You can let that be diminishing if you want or you can let it be kinda awesome.

Reach for the sky is still a great (if generic) ideal. I'm not saying you should just get complacent and accept a life of mediocrity. I'm saying part of becoming the best version of yourself is taking advantage of your inherent genetic dispositions. I mean, if you love dancing despite the fact that you're 6'2" and pushing three hundo, far be it from me to tell you to chase a different passion. All I would say is that a funny thing about us humans, we find we tend to get passionate about the things we're good at. It feels right.

People have different names for it: flow states, transcendent moments, religious experiences. While these are ultimately different ideas I think they all speak to a similar idea; that in certain moments we are so close to the limits of our experience, so close to the fulfillment of our potential that we experience something beyond our normal perspective. You can get pretty esoteric with the idea like those marathon monks who run until they trip out in an attempt to experience enlightenment or you can look at it under a more simple light. It's what athletes mean when they say they're "in the zone." They're operating on a heightened wavelength where their entire being is perfectly in sync and everything just seems to work.

So Aristotle, despite having existed in ancient Greece, had some notions that were pretty cool and a couple that were pretty scientifically profound considering what he had to work with. One of the ideas he wrote about was how a living thing "expresses" its nature. He felt that in many ways the expression of a thing's nature is the purpose of its existence.  If you take that idea and apply it to our understanding of genetics then I think you can see what I'm getting at and maybe what Aristotle was as well. Our genetics are what they are when we're born and as of right now there's no way to really change that. What we do have control over is how those genes are expressed. You may not have the genes to be the next Rich Froning, but you can express the ever-loving shit out of the genes you do have.

While I'm on the topic of genetic differences I want to address something I've been thinking about lately. We oftentimes take liberties with advice people give us. We're all guilty. I know I am. It's one of the ways we justify choices, particularly when some part of us already knows we're wrong. While it is totally valid to recognize that each individual is different and what works for one person may not work for others, oftentimes people draw this out to some pretty absurd conclusions.

A mistake I often see people make when they're first getting into working out is not following a plan of any kind. Or, really, the issue is people who are following a "plan" and have no real idea of what it is they're doing or why. Frequently when you ask them why they're doing something, these people will respond along the lines of, "I don't know but it works for me. I've been seeing progress." There's some validity in it if you've been seeing progress but the truth is that if you've only been working out for a little while (less than a year) doing anything will help you progress. Even if you've been "working out" for a year, fitness is specific; if you started running a year ago but you just start lifting today, it still holds that pretty much any lifting regimen (unless you've got the terminal fuckarounditis) is going to make you progress because it's a new stimulus.

So, it's true that we all have different potentials and that we all respond differently to different types of training. It's also true that in the early stages you can see progress just by moving more and eating less. All I'm saying is that if you're serious about your attempts to become bigger, stronger and faster and you're already putting in the time, why wouldn't you want to do it in the best/most efficient way possible? There are absolutely many different definitions of fitness that are all totally valid but within each of those realms there are legitimate and tested methods of improving each aspect of your physical performance. The recognition that everyone needs an approach specific to their individual needs is meant to help you refine your scientific process, not disregard it entirely and use it as an excuse for lazy training. I'm all for winging it and using ambiguously defined programming, but I still believe in having a plan. If you don't have some kind of plan then you're not really working towards any measurable goal. It's really hard to accomplish something when you're not trying to.
That's all for today. Do some research. Have a plan that's proven. Try different things until you find something your body seems receptive to. Be willing to let go of unrealistic goals particularly when the things that are within your grasp are still pretty awesome in their own right.

Now disregard everything I just said and go lift something heavy.

Good luck and good lifting.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Breaking Bad: The Death (and Hopefully Rebirth) of the American Dream

I recently binge-watched the entirety of the AMC television series "Breaking Bad." I have a confession: I went into it wanting to hate it. I did, can't deny it. This is a fact that will hardly surprise many of you, particularly those that know me well. I have an instinctive, knee-jerk revulsion to certain types of popularity and while I staunchly maintain that I am not a "hipster" of any kind, I am at least mature enough to acknowledge the childish defensiveness inherent in that response. I can't lie, when I was younger I was big into LotR (Lord of the Rings for you fantasy n00bs) and when Harry Potter came out I hated it. The Harry Potter series is brilliantly written, imaginative and in its own way very original but to my sixteen year old ego all it represented was a derivative work, something inferior to what I loved and yet was considered "nerdy" for liking while Harry Potter wasn't just popular, it was cool - the high school colloquial antithesis of nerdy. That was hardly the last time I've felt that way. Inception was a great movie but again, when it came out, a huge part of me was frustrated. People thought that it was a little weird that I minored in philosophy and kind of rolled their eyes at me when I wanted to engage in discussions about the nature of perception. Then the guy who directed the new Batman trilogy comes out with an action film - 'cuz let's face it, that's what it was - that's dark and fuckin' edgy and all of a sudden everyone with a movie stub is an armchair philosopher.

Look, I get it. Any time you're passionate about something to the point that you begin to engage the fringes of that particular interest, you're going to end up feeling like I have - it's a lot of the reason for the whole "hipster" concept. I'm sure millions of people have felt this way about whatever particular passion it is that gets them all hot and bothered. I can still recognize that it's great when something different (at the time) like a Harry Potter or an Inception becomes popular because it exposes the main stream to something new and hopefully thought provoking. In this way, despite my own bizarro insecurities and concurrent frustrations, popularity can be an incredibly positive tool because it gives you the attention of the populace. 

Take CrossFit for example. Something I've said any number of times is that hate it or love it, CrossFit has the attention of the fitness community right now and in a lot of ways the attention of the population at large. Despite the things that CF could improve on (because nothing's perfect) there is a huge amount to be said for the trickle-down effects of CF. Equipment is cheaper and more available There's now a huge and growing movement in the community to understand and focus on mechanics. CrossFit is making extreme fitness cool and even though it may not be for everyone it's popularity is causing a paradigm shift in the overall thinking about fitness. Personally, I gotta believe a culture making health popular is beneficial to everyone and therefore worthy of me canning my knee-jerk, popularity induced reaching for an economy sized jug of haterade. Having said that I hope you can begin to understand why the popularity of Breaking Bad, a show about a borderline-sociopathic meth-cooking murderer  represents a beast of an entirely different nature. 

I think that for you guys to understand where I'm coming from it might first be helpful to try to elucidate my feelings on the concept of story and storytelling. You see, stories are kind of my thing. They are as human an impulse as stargazing and tree climbing.  They are as important to our existence as breathing. The truth of the matter is that simply put existence, our reality, is story. 

We often take for granted that this thing that we all collectively refer to as "reality" is some sort of concrete, externally existing thing. We call it reality because we assign to it some sort of inherent "real"-ness. It is outside of us and therefore not subject to our internal psychological turmoil. Regardless of what we see, think, feel or believe, reality is immutable. The problem with this foundational assumption is pretty simple. Whatever this "reality" thing happens to be we only have an indirect relationship with it. It's entirely possible that it is, in fact, inherently  real and concrete but we aren't exactly equipped to ever know that. What I'm saying is that what we commonly refer to as "reality" is something quite different. I'm going to have to ask you to willingly suspend your disbelief for a moment and just come with me on this little thought experiment. It's a fundamental philosophical principle and, in my opinion, a pretty f*cking cool idea. 

Consider the fact that we interact with the world external to our own consciousness through our senses. Our experience of reality is a construct: we see, hear, feel, taste and smell things and our minds assemble all of that information together into this thing that we all call "reality." Seeing as everyone's senses function to different degrees and in different ways (and in the case of the deaf or blind, some do not function at all) I think we can all agree that everyones sensory experience or "reality" must therefore necessarily be different. Then, on top of the simple sensory aspects, consider the way our assumptions about how the world works color the way we perceive daily events. Think about how different your perception of two things could be simply if you were in a good or bad mood. A short text message from a loved one ("K." for example) might be perceived in two wildly different ways dependent not on their intention but your reception of the message. 

Our brains are incredibly good at offering us explanations for things when we want them. At it's best, this impulse is what gave rise to mythology, early religion and then scientific inquiry as different modes of understanding the world around us. At it's worst, it gave rise to a host of anxieties and misunderstandings, chief among them the concept of racism: the idea that through a series of "scientific" or "real" observations, the completely nonexistent inferiority of a people is conclusively demonstrated. Look, guys, we're all looking at the same stuff here. It is at the very least true that we're all on the same world. Even so, we're clearly all experiencing it in very different ways. So you tell me, which version is the real one? Even when you consider your own memories of your past, they don't represent exactly what occurred. They're a kind of mental imprint or reflection; they're the story of those events as your mind decided to record them.  

This "reality" thing that we all covet is nothing more than a story. Thing is, it's not just story; it's the story. It's what separates us from the animals, self awareness, the awareness of our own personal narrative. In a way we are all meta - aware that we are characters in a story: our story. It is every bit as important to recognize that often what we refer to as "reality" is just an aspect of our personal narrative as it is to recognize that despite the existence of seven billion different personal narratives, true reality is still a distinct thing. In other words, you can believe pigs fly in your head all you want and in your own internal personal narrative that may be true but no matter how hard you believe it, pigs will never simply begin to fly because they do so in your head. This does, then, bring into question the ideas of collective consciousness and the power of collective belief but that's something that I could go on about for far too long. 

So what the f*ck does this have to do with Breaking Bad? Good question, glad you asked.  Breaking Bad is one of the most brilliant and brilliantly told stories I'm personally familiar with. I might even go so far as to say it's the best show that has ever been on television (for...whatever that's worth). At its core Breaking Bad is so fundamentally American it f*cking hurts. No, seriously. Breaking Bad is such a quintessentially American story that it makes me f*cking hate all of us.

Let me explain.

First off I want to say that I'm aware that there is a gigantic subculture of Breaking Bad die-hards who've speculated, investigated and blogged the ever living f*ck out of every aspect of this show. I'm not one of those people. I apologize in advance if I'm missing something or if I get anything "wrong." This is just what I saw when I watched the show. 

To me Breaking Bad is ultimately a story about the american dream. Is starts out with a man who has a career, a home and a family. As in most cases, appearances are not everything and underneath the thin sheen of Walter White's fading dream are the ever present reminders that often things aren't as good as they sound. His career is an unfulfilling job as a high school chemistry teacher where he has long since given up any hope of making a difference and instead complacently drawls and scrawls away his classes. His wife is a character who vacillates between justified suspicion and anger to broken complicity to her husbands more sinister whims. She is, in fact, so nasty to Walt on such a regular basis that a humorous drinking game for the earlier seasons was to drink every time Skyler was a bitch. I'm personally of the opinion that she was fully within her rights to be so nasty to him but the point remains. Their relationship is far from ideal. His son has cerebral palsy and his daughter, at the beginning of the series, is unborn and as such they both represent an extreme financial drain, yet another issue weighing down Walt's mind. On top of all of this he discovers he has cancer and likely only a few months left to live.

Some American Dream. 

All I've really described is the set up for the show. The show itself of course, the story is about Walt's transformation from a spineless chemistry recitation drone into a somewhat successful drug kingpin although personally I would say both his success and his status as a kingpin at any time in the series are highly debatable. In the spirit of not ruining anything for people who haven't seen it I can't address the specifics of the show that much but I also don't really need to. The set up for the show gives us a somewhat fading version of an older american dream but the story of Breaking Bad gives us the real thing; the genuine article. Breaking Bad is a story about a man seizing his destiny. It's a story about a character who forces himself to change and adapt to overcome increasingly adverse situations. We witness an incredibly deftly handled and organic transformation of Walter White's life and it revolves entirely around something a lot of us consider to be intrinsically american: the idea that a man who works hard and never gives up can, through his own sheer force of will, accomplish whatever it is that he wants to accomplish. I mean... that's what happens. That's an entirely accurate description of the events contained within the main plot arc of the series. The problem is that another entirely accurate description of Breaking Bad is that it is the story of one man's descent into the pits of everything selfish and terrible about humanity...and that's it. One of the greatest parts of Breaking Bad is that it tries to be very, brutally real and as such never attempts to tie things off in nice neat little bows. This is a story about awful people doing awful things to each other and leading awful lives. There is very little good to be found anywhere and yet, as I said before, it's still an entirely accurate depiction of what a lot of people would consider the American Dream. That's kind of f*cked up, right?

I was raised on a steady diet of superheroes and knights in shining armor. Like I said, LotR was my jam. The stories that informed my childhood revolved around characters that did selfless things simply because they were right. I would love to say that I embody the moral sensibilities that I was so enveloped in during my developmental years but just like anyone else I'm only human. Stories are important to us in so many different ways and one of the most important is that they are instructive. We use stories to teach. Morals are one of the most difficult human concepts and something that I think we all struggle with. They are also an incredibly difficult thing to teach to children or really anyone because of their nebulous nature. Even so, we've been teaching morals or at least trying to through the use of stories for as long as we've been capable of putting words and images together in any form. Mythology, fables, religious texts, these things are all stories that our cultures use to impart values to their members. They become the assumptions at the foundations of our stories, the rules of our own internal narratives. Our own stories, whether consciously or not, begin to resemble the stories we choose to immerse ourselves in. You can probably see where I'm going with this. I'm not trying to say that we all need to read more comics and genre fiction. Unfortunately from a literary or artistic quality standpoint most of those stories I so loved as a child are as about as comparable to Breaking Bad as a wooden rocking horse is to a thoroughbred stallion. Breaking Bad is substantially more real or at the very least evokes much more real emotional responses. That's kind of my problem with it, I think. 

I've tried explaining this idea to a handful of people and frequently the response I get is a very emotionally charged, "dude, relax. It's just a TV show." Fair. I get really riled up about things so I'm sorry. Still, though, "it's just a TV show," isn't a good defense for something so morally reprehensible. I'm not saying Breaking Bad is going to turn us into a nation of meth cooks (although apparently the quality of meth has skyrocketed since the shows first airing) the same way that playing Grand Theft Auto won't turn us all into multiple felons. What I'm trying to draw attention to is the present cultural underpinnings that both enable Breaking Bad to be so popular and what makes it so painfully relevant. 

The Internet age has been a complex thing with complex influences. Some would say it has greatly increased our ability to share information and communicate. Others would acknowledge that it has certainly changed the way we exchange information, but that some of these changes may not necessarily be positive. Social media is a great example of this.

The story of FaceBook is, in some ways, similar to the story of Breaking Bad. On the surface we have what appears to be something revolutionary, an opportunity to communicate with thousands of people all over the world in the blink of an eye. Sounds great, the same way the american dream sounds great at the beginning of Breaking Bad when not put under too much of a microscope. Of course, in reality social media is at it's best useful but often really weird and at it's worst downright petty and often incredibly vain (For our current purposes we're going to ignore the humorously relevant fact that I'm using a social media-like platform to allow you to read my self important rant about the cultural significance of a sunday night television program. Shut up.) You see most of us don't really use FB to communicate in a genuine way, we use it to tell a story: the story of what we want everyone to think our life is. You get to highlight the aspects of your personal narrative you want others to care about and completely ignore any of the stuff you'd rather they didn't know. Again, I'm hardly saying that everyone who uses FaceBook is a narcissistic self serving-ass, simply pointing out that if everyone, myself included, were to go back and look at their FB timelines it would present a very specific version of who you are; one particular aspect of your story. Maybe what's important for you is how many obstacle races you've run or letting everyone know how much you know about fitness or philosophy or popular culture. Maybe you just want to post photos of your vacations or your wedding. Your social media presence tells a story about you and perhaps most interestingly, it gives you a kind of control over what story is told.

The problem with this is that while we are absolutely in control of how our story is told, it shifts the focus of where the control lies. You decide how your story is told by deciding how it is written. Once written, you do not then get to decide, control and manage exactly how your story is retold. Culturally there are a whole slew of things that gave rise to this kind of thinking. Maybe it was the entitlement generation crap or the fact that we were all told that we're special and that we should all believe that we can not only do whatever we want but that every single one of us deserves to have all of our hopes and dreams fulfilled. Honestly I think you can attribute a lot of it to the things American culture is based on: individualism and capitalism. I'm a big fan of both of those things. I might even say I'm a rabid libertarian. Once again, my point is not to say that these things are bad. My point is that these days, we're getting their stories all wrong.

Individualism recognizes that we are all humans and as such we are invested with certain inalienable rights. Capitalism recognizes and systematizes the simple concept that incentives drive economics. Okay, that's cool stuff. I'm down. I just don't think that's the story we're telling these days. These days it's more like Individualism means if I'm born luckier than you genetically or socially then go f*ck yourself because I'm better than you and capitalism means that if I'm rich and in power then I'm entitled to do everything in my ability to keep myself rich and in power. The idea that we are so important that we can alter reality through sheer force of will has become so culturally pervasive that we can sell ourselves some really heady bullshit. You guys remember that "we are the 1%" letter that douche bag on wall street sent out during the whole Occupy Wall Street debacle? That guy was able to convince himself that the disparity in wealth in our country is entirely due to the fact that people like him in his industry are just better and more hard working than everyone else. Sure buddy, the only reason you have millions of dollars and three houses on three different beaches is because it's the natural order of things and that makes it okay. That's a really interesting story you've managed to sell yourself and unfortunately there seems to be a lot of people who want to agree with you. 

One aspect of Breaking Bad's brilliance is its relevance to our times. As I say, Breaking Bad is the story of a man pursuing the American Dream and carpe-ing the f*ck out of his diem. In doing so he also ruins the lives of everyone and everything he's ever cared about. Breaking Bad is the story of a man in denial, a man who's own personal narrative is in direct conflict with his reality. Walt keeps telling himself over and over that he's doing what he does for his family. It's actually one of the show's most popular soundbites. "Everything I do, I do for my family." Sure, Walt. Whatever you have to tell yourself. I think we all on some level recognize that denial can be destructive but Breaking Bad can be seen as an incredibly poignant cautionary tale. Walt is in such intense denial that he enables himself to ruin pretty much everything. He is brilliant and hard working and innovative (much as the aforementioned 1%er claimed himself and his compatriots to be) but he is also painfully selfish and self serving. His refusal to give up his pursuit of the american dream no matter how detrimental to everyone he cares about is worthy of reproach, not praise of any kind. Heisenberg? Heisenberg isn't some badass. He's just a petty old man in a stupid hat who doesn't know when to call it quits.

Walt may have seen the error in his ways but to a large degree it was too little too late. The damage was done. There was no way to fix everything he'd broken, but he could try to do something. He realized the story he'd told himself was bullshit and decided he was going to write a different ending, one where he could use his resources to do what little help he could, regardless of how it would affect him.

Breaking Bad is a story about awful people doing awful things all the while telling themselves some kind of story that makes their petty, self serving actions not just acceptable but entirely justified. Breaking Bad is at its heart the story of us, the story of Americans, who have so thoroughly and entirely deluded ourselves into believing the darker side of the negative dream that we're able to sell ourselves on the lies that have brought us to where we are.

Torn economy. Broken healthcare. Corrupt Politicians. Government shutdown. Right now we're the United States of Walter White and we're careening headlong into a really bad place. I guess the question now is what do we do? Do we step back and slow our roll? Do we try to fix the things that are so obviously and hideously broken by reining in the darker aspects of ourselves? Or do we just keep letting our selfishness run wild all the while selling ourselves on the narrative that it's simply truth, justice and the American Way?

What story do you want to tell?

Good Luck and Good Lifting.


Monday, August 26, 2013

On Programming - An Introduction

I want you guys to know something. It's one of the best kept secrets of strength training and fitness in general. Everyone's got the perfect program and the best training split and they've got mountains of reasons why you, too, should be taking advantage of what they're offering. Well, here's the truth.

Programming is BULLSHIT.

Why you ask? Well, it's really pretty simple. To explain, I'm going to hand the mic over to my boy Bruce for a minute. Tell em', Bruce. (We've even got subtitles for our spanish speaking friends!)

So you got that right? No need for further explanation? Ok. Good. See you guys next time.

All jokes aside I hope you see where I'm going with this. "I don't make a plan for fighting, thats a good way to lose your teeth." In our case it would be more like this: I don't make a plan for lifting, that would be a good way to lose your gains.

Before everyone starts losing their heads we need to consider what Mr. Lee is really saying. Bruce Lee is credited as being one of the best martial artists to ever have existed. He fathered a training philosophy that opened the eyes of people in the martial arts world and in my opinion can be applied to quite a bit more than just your kicking technique or your exercise routines. I'm going to use another of Bruce's quotes to elucidate.

"Use no form as form, use no way as way."

Or...something like that. Not sure that's the exact quote but it gets the point across. Eastern philosophy is rife with these kinds of phrases, zen koans that seem to be distinctly contradictory. They're meant to push us to examine them more deeply; to examine ourselves more deeply. Lucky for you, I'm just going to tell you what he meant. 

While these days the training methods employed in martial arts classes are quite diverse, for a long time the most prevalent training style involved having the student perform a series of choreographed motions meant to mimic a fight, called "forms." The problem with this is that the purpose of martial arts is to learn how to fight and fights are not static; they are alive. They move and change and transform. They do not stay the same. As such, repeating the same exact movement thousands of times is not terribly good practice.
Bruce's feeling was that forms "paralyze" the fighter. Examined through the lens of motor control and motor patterning you can see he's right on the money. If you condition yourself to move a certain, predictable way at the exact same speed when you go to utilize that motor program, that's the one you're gonna get. When you're in a fight you need to throw a quick jab that's lightning fast and hits with the force of a ball-peen hammer. Unfortunately, day in day out you've been training those pretty but slow and repetitive punches. When your central operating system (read: nervous system) goes to access the punching program for you, you don't get the fast jab you need; you get the slow one you've developed. This is bad. 

Bruce saw this and said hell to the nah. We're not doing that anymore. We're not going to train "forms," we're going to train different kinds of strikes, as many as we can learn. We're not going to train "styles," we're going to improve our general fitness and flexibility in all areas. We are not going to adhere to only one program or plan, because that stunts our development as a martial artist, as an athlete and as an individual. You can not decide what the solution is before you even have personal knowledge of the problem. This is precisely what training forms is: telling your body you will only ever need to move in these specific patterns because the necessity will never arise for anything else. It shouldn't be too hard to see how silly this is. When Bruce said "use no form as form," he wasn't saying don't use any form, he was saying your form should be adaptable, transferrable and ever changing; just like water. 
The same principle applies to programming. How you feel and how well you can perform is subject to a long list of variables. The idea that you can sit down and write a program for several months that you are going to follow to the T, every weight, every rep, every set; is laughable at best. Eventually you're going to miss a lift. Eventually you're going to fail on a set. What then?

You need to be able to listen to your body. If you can't understand the signals your body's throwing at you then you're never going to Become Invincible. Real fitness is about maintaining a running internal dialogue with your physiology; being able to interpret the signals it's giving you and utilize them efficiently. Maybe today your program had you lifting heavy but your CNS just isn't up to it. You don't need a super strict program that forces you to grit and bear it every time something doesn't feel right. What you need is an adaptable plan that you can apply every day you go into the gym so that you're always going hard and always making progress. Being flexible is not about giving yourself an easy out, "oh well I'll just try again tomorrow." That's just being weak. 
Do you really think that when Bruce Lee said "use no form as form," he meant don't bother with training, forego all discipline and forget about ever mastering martial arts? No. He was saying learn enough that your knowledge and your practice transcends easy categorization. Don't plan for a specific situation and only prepare for that. Plan for every situation and learn to recognize when to do what. Be the cup. Be the glass. Flow. Crash. Be still. Be water, my friends.

So, how do you do that with strength training? It's actually pretty simple once you understand the basics. Coming up in the next entry. Stay tuned.

Until then, good luck and good lifting.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Listen to Your Physical Therapist

Physical therapy is a great field and ever-evolving. It's filled with practitioners who are intelligent, highly educated and frequently just want to help people. These are all good things. Unfortunately physical therapy in it's current form has some severe limitations. As with most things, the issue is not the field itself. The field is moving in the right direction. The problem is the individual clinicians.

The main issue with the average therapist is not one of capability or education. You can't be what they are or do what they do if you lack either. No, the problem actually happens to be the place from where they precede; in other words, the motivation that drives their practice. My initial foray into human physiology came through the window of human performance. Most of my education and research was driven by the pursuit of lifting massive amounts of weight, running absurdly fast and being able to hit things with the force of a sun-drunk Superman. As such, the paradigms that I developed in my mind on how to deal with and improve human movement dysfunctions all had their basis in performance enhancement. On the flip side, most therapists' educations begins deeply embedded in the hippocratic oath: the desire to do no harm.

This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It's situational. If you are elderly and your body is all jacked up from years and years of misuse, you have a low pain tolerance and all you really want to be able to do is go up and down your stairs then the therapist who's main goal is not to hurt you may be entirely capable. This is a fairly hyperbolic example but there are plenty of cases where the desire to fix as much as you can while never hurting your patient is entirely useful. Not everyone is trying to become a monster athlete. Physical therapists are incredibly effective at getting you back to baseline because it is exactly what they are taught to do.

The system breaks down when you're dealing with people like me, or, chances are if you're reading this blog, someone like you. If you are always trying to push yourself to be bigger, faster and stronger then taking "do no harm," approach is like driving with the parking brake on. No matter how much you floor the pedal it's still going to hold you back.

As long as we have therapists telling athletes not to lift heavy and to keep their arms below overhead if it hurts their shoulder we're going to have a damaged field. These are simply not acceptable responses. Yes, of course there are going to be situations where the damage to the patient is so severe that there are activities they will no be capable of, but if you are willing to clear a patient to go play college football yet you still advise them to not lift heavy weights then, simply put, you're a f*cking idiot. So, you think this person's body is capable of performing dynamic, multi-planar movements at explosive speeds and possesses the physical integrity to take hits that are thousands of pounds of force and they're going to be okay... but performing repetitive exercises in a controlled environment is dangerous because the load is too high? Seriously guys?

The problem, once again, comes from the initiation of the advice. Most physical therapists don't care how much you can squat or bench press. All they care about is that you are pain free and you don't have inflammation. Therefore all of their recommendations and modifications have this goal in mind: don't go past parallel on a squat, don't deadlift heavy weight, don't do overhead presses and for the love of god don't ever lift more than your bodyweight because all of that stuff might hurt you. If that's all I ever cared about I would never get out of bed in the morning and as a clinician if these are the goals for your patients you're f*ckin' up.

That being said both Grey Cook and Kelly Starrett are DPTs and not only are they brilliant clinicians but they are spearheading the movement in the field to integrate strength and conditioning into clinical practice. I am a huge fan of their philosophies and practices because they believe what I believe: whether you're rehabbing a post surgical joint or improving the efficiency of a power clean it's all the same thing. Healthy is healthy, disordered is disordered and no matter how you slice it movement is movement.

So that's my rant for today but it raises an important question I think. You all know how I feel about the average personal trainer and now I'm telling you you can't trust DPTs either? But then whoever shall I trust for all of my exercise science needs?!?! Who?!?!

RELEVANT. Really. Batman is always relevant. 
My goal was not tell you that PTs are bad. They're not. Nor was it to tell you that they don't know what they're doing. They do. This post, like a few others, was more aimed at broadening your horizons and helping you guys see the big picture a little bit better. If you are an athlete you need a PT who understands and respects that. You need a PT who can show you how to do what you want to do better and prevent you from re-injuring yourself, not a PT who tries to prevent re-injury through avoidance. Becoming Invincible is about confronting your weaknesses head on and beating the sh*t out of them until they become strengths. Next time your PT tells you not to do something ask them why. If their response is anything other than "your joint is so compromised that doing this movement in any way will absolutely lead to injury," then it might be time to start looking for a new clinician. 

Do me a favor though? Don't use this post as an excuse to talk to them like they're dumb. They may not be perfect for athletes yet, but that same therapist who told you not to break parallel with your knees might have just helped a little boy walk for his first time. It's all relative, kids. 

Good luck and good lifting.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Self Soft-tissue Mobilization (How to Use a Foam Roller)

So you've probably seen these things. They're all over the place nowadays, in gyms and sporting goods stores. You might even see them at a chiropractor or  a physical therapy clinic. Many of us are familiar with the bitter sweet combination of pain and relief they bring to sore, battered muscles. Others of us are probably asking themselves a very simple and totally reasonable question:

"What the hell are these weird looking foam tubes?"

Well, my post-workout recovery challenged friends, this weird looking foam tube might just be your new best friend. I covered this subject briefly in a previous post but I only really addressed what it's good for, not how to use it. The foam roller is one of the cheapest and most versatile tools for self soft-tissue mobilization (SSTM). Sounds fancy and science-y (and frankly I'm not sure it's a real term) but what it means is that this simple foam cylinder can help unglue immobile tissue, increase joint mobility and range of motion and ultimately help make you bigger, more bad-ass and a bit closer to becoming invincible.

So, how does it work and how do you use one? First, a quick anatomy lesson.
Our muscles and our musculoskeletal system is not one single, contiguous unit. Just like an engine in a car it is a large, functioning system made up of a number of smaller pieces. First and foremost (because this is a Strength blog, damn it) are your muscles:

As you can see your muscles are made up of several smaller units that are all wrapped into bundle and each bundle is made up of similarly smaller units wrapped in similar bundles. Uhm, right. I think that made sense. Anyway, each one of these "bundles" is surrounded by fascia, a type of woven connective tissue that holds everything together. At any point in any of these units a number of things can happen. 

You know how when you go to get a massage they work out all those nasty "knots" in your muscles? This is one of the ways that tissue gets glued down. A "knot" is a group of fibers that at some point contracted and then failed to relax all of the way. In addition to this, all of your tissues need to be be able to slide over one another well enough to allow motion. If some of your muscle tissue is tied down because of some type of scar tissue (frequently referred to as an "adhesion") then the tissues can't move properly which means you can't move properly.

In addition to our muscles we also have tendons and ligaments. Our tendons attach muscles to bone and our ligaments attach bones to each other. Similar to muscles, ligaments and tendons can also become victim to some type of adhesion or get locked down and become immobile due to local inflammation or muscle stiffness. What I mean is this, your tendons attach your muscles to your bones so if the muscle being attached is tonic (partially contracted) the tendon may be pulled tighter than it should at all times which will reduce the motion of the antagonist muscles (the muscles that move the joint in the opposite direction i.e. bicep-tricep, quad-hamstring etc.) and may lead to joint stiffness, pain and lost range of motion. Honestly, you're probably not going to be doing a whole lot of tendon or ligament mobilization with a foam roller. This is usually pretty specific soft tissue work that a trained clinician performs with their hands but I figured it was worth mentioning. 

Ligaments! (That's a foot, in case you weren't sure.)
Tendons! (And this is an elbow. Really. Swear.)

Finally, we can't forget about our big beautiful epidermis. That's a fancy word for skin. Get your mind out of the gutter. While skin isn't a contractile tissue nor is it truly structural, it can still get tacked down the way your muscles, ligaments and tendons do to an extent which can ultimately lead to the same problems. If you're movement's not good then you can't Right. 
Skin! Totally how it looks in your body. Same colors and everything. Come on, would I lie to you?
So we've got a few different types of tissue that love to get all up in each others business and cause more physiological drama than a Mean Girl with a Facebook app. So what do we do? Enter your White Knight: Sir Foam Roller of Mobilization.

Sigh. Sometimes even I realize how bad my jokes are. Anyway, these things come in all sorts of shapes and sizes some as simple as a round piece of foam like those pictured above and then theres some crazier ones. Like these. 

If you're new to foam rolling I would recommend starting with the simple, basic foam roller. The more complex variations like the two pictured above tend to be made of a harder material (PVC pipe or something similar on the inside as opposed to foam) and are therefore more painful. They are also ridged or pointed so that you can apply more direct, focused pressure to certain tissues; something that you'll need a little experience with SSTM before you can realistically or effectively approach.

Now that you understand the anatomy and you've acquired your weapon of choice, let's talk about how to use it. It would be wonderful if simple laying down and rolling back and forth on it was effective and I think a lot of personal trainers and fitness publications out there would have you believe this. Hell, I've seen DPTs prescribe this kind of activity to patients. It might feel better for a little while but if you're just fumbling around you're hardly going to effect any kind of significant or long lasting change. In order to do that, you need to have a purpose and a plan. 

Foam Rolling Techniques

1. Intermittent Pressure - This is basically rolling back and forth on a knot. I know, I know. I just told you absently rolling around is pointless and I'm not retracting that statement. The purpose of intermittent pressure is to locate a knot or a location of tied down tissue (these are indicated by a sharp increase in pain when you pass over them. Trust me, you'll know.) Now, using the foam roller as your divining rod and the sensation of pain as your indicator, locate the limits of the knot. Once you've found them, stay inside them and roll back and forth while deliberately attempting to relax your muscles. Continue doing this until you feel a change in the tissue. You can keep doing it for as long as you can stand it but once you've gone a minute or two and feel like nothing's changed, you're probably done with that location for the moment. There's only so much you can fix in a single application.

2. Constant Pressure with Contraction/Relaxation - This is the method that I personally think sucks the most in terms of pain. You begin initially with a similar technique as Intermittent Pressure to locate immobile tissue.  Now, instead of finding the outer limits of the pain, find the central, most painful location. Apply constant pressure and then contract your muscle fully and hold for a few seconds. Once you start to relax do it slowly and consciously, don't just let your muscle go slack in a second. You should be able to relax further than you did when you initially placed the pressure over the muscle. Once again, repeat the technique until you feel that you've effected enough of a change or you feel like nothing significant is happening anymore.

3. Constant pressure with joint motion - Again, begin by locating what feels like tacked down tissue. Now, while maintaining pressure on the tissue, begin moving the joint that muscle controls through it's range of motion. Attempt to move it as much as possible in as many directions without significantly hurting yourself. This type of mobilization is great for breaking up adhesions or scar tissue. You know how sometimes when you have a loose thread on a shirt, if you try to pull it off it just pulls out more thread and keeps unraveling? Well, what do you do in that situation? You hold down the end of it and try to pull off the thread without unraveling more. This functions under the same principle. You pin down one end of the adhesion and try to remove it by moving the adhered tissue underneath it. As above, continue the technique until you feel you're no longer getting anything out of it.

Now that you understand the techniques, a few precautions to pay attention to:
-These mobilizations can take anywhere from 1-10 minutes, in some severe cases maybe even more. If you're spending 30 seconds on the foam roller you're not trying hard enough.
-while a simple foam-core roller may be effective initially, eventually you'll probably need something harder to get deep into your tissues particularly if you're muscular. More muscle is great, but it means more tissue that can get knotted and tacked down and the denser the muscle the harder it becomes to create deep enough pressure to effect change. 
-these mobilizations are uncomfortable. They should not be painful. While some people would claim semantics the truth is that there is a significant difference. In the words of Dr. Kelly Starrett, "don't go into the pain cave." His point is that we are capable of doing some terrible things to ourselves if we go hide in our mental caves and we can shut out an immense amount of pain. Do not do this. If you need to go into the pain cave to deal with your mobilization you are most likely doing it too hard and damaging something.

Or you might be a wimp. But it's probably the first thing. Probably. 

So there you have it, go grab a foam roller and get rolling. You can apply these techniques to just about any muscle in your body. Don't let the floor restrict you, you can put a foam roller up against the wall or on top of a table and lean on it if you have to. Be creative but reasonable. You can also use a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball or even a rolling pin. Anything that will give you consistent, constant pressure. I used a barbell to roll out my quads the other day. It was fan-frigging-tastic. Really.

You can find foam rollers pretty much anywhere these days but my favorite equipment company is Rogue. You can also find a pretty wide selection at Perform Better (which is where the therapy company I worked for purchased theirs) but they can be a little overpriced at times. 

Well, I'm off to go watch my friends boyfriend do something absurdly badass and a little insane. Maybe if you guys are lucky I'll even tell you about it when I get back. Have a nice weekend kids. Good luck and good lifting.