Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sleep Your Way to Superhuman (Post Workout Recovery 2.0)

Eat. Move. Sleep. Those are the requirements for becoming a physically functional human. We spend hours on our workout plans and maybe even more on our diets, but how often to we worry about how much we're sleeping? I've always known that sleep is incredibly important but, like most things, It wasn't until I had a recent reminder placed firmly in front of my face that I started to acknowledge it again.

For the last couple of weeks the air conditioning in my house has been shot. It started around the time of the epic heat wave in early July and our AC unit isn't that big so I figured it was probably just overcome by the temperature outside. Then there was that day the power company lowered the electrical output to prevent a blackout...yet another reason why my AC might not be doing so hot. I can be a fairly patient person with some things so I figured I would wait out the heatwave and then everything would get back to normal. Unfortunately I was wrong.

A few nights ago I slept for maybe two hours. The night after that it was the same followed by a third night where I almost didn't sleep at all. F*ckin' sucked, frankly. I'm usually a pretty sound sleeper regardless of noise or stress or whatever else but the one thing that kills me is heat. I can't sleep well in a hot room. Can't do it. The day after that I was so thoroughly sore and exhausted for no good reason that I got in touch with my landlord. Luckily he's a family friend so as soon as he learned of the problem it was handled rather quickly.

So my landlord shows up and figures out that apparently my room mate had been running the heat (brilliant!!) which had overtaxed the AC unit. As a result, the cooling coil had frozen over and no air could get around it... or something like that. I don't know anything about HVAC so when I was told this my brain starts showing me images of little cartoon wisps of air decked out in everest gear trying to climb a huge block of ice and falling repeatedly all while making sound effects from that video game Lemmings. Occasionally it would swap them for the Ice Climbers from Super Smash Brothers but mostly it was Lemmings. I would love to tell you this internal image was the product of sleep deprivation and hallucinogens. I would really love to tell you that and not be lying.

Long story long, my AC came back on last night and I slept like a baby coddled in cold air. I think I I slept for ten hours and I felt f*cking fantastic when I woke up this morning. My back feels great, my hips feel better (my hips are kind of messed up from kicking things; another story for another day) and my shoulders feel like there was never anything wrong to begin with. Considering the sad state my right shoulder is frequently in these days, it was a pretty amazing shift.

Then I realized that was the first time I'd slept for more than six hours in weeks, maybe months. The only other times I'd slept longer than that were substance induced and, chemically speaking, the rest you get from that type of sleep is hardly comparable to real, GH-drenched REM-full sleep.

I wrote a post a while back about how to recover following a workout. You can find it here. I wrote all this stuff about different substances and therapeutic modalities you could use to help cope with post workout soreness and performance decreases and I included sleep as an afterthought. Seriously. I went back and added sleep in after initially publishing the post which is kind of hilarious. You want to know the keys to post workout recovery?

Listed by hierarchy of importance

1) Sleep (8-10 hours minimum. This is NOT F*CKING DEBATABLE)

2) Nutrition - adequate protein intake (.7-1g/lb of body weight/day) and enough healthy fat and carbohydrates to replenish depleted fuel stores (+ a little more if you're trying to bulk up)

3) Appropriate training volume/incorporate rest days (If you workout 2x a day 7 days a week your issue is not recovery it is complete lack thereof. Training volume should be appropriate and beneficial and should never be high enough to contribute to significant tendon and ligament damage)

4) Active Recovery - MOVE. Moving incorporates temperature therapy by warming up your muscles through activity and increased circulation which increases pliability and range of motion. It incorporates the benefits of compression by flexing and contracting your muscles which has a pumping effect on your lymphatic system and it helps to recover last range of motion by UTILIZING the range of motion.

5) Daily movement and mobility drills - joint mobilizations and exercises specifically designed to increase range of motion. Too expansive of a topic to cover in a couple sentences but is free and can help set you up with a personalized, daily mobility program.

And....yeah. That's pretty much it. I went through all of the other stuff like stretching and icing and NSAIDS in my other post and to a degree they still have their place but they are more for dealing with acute problems or trauma and generally shouldn't be a part of your regular recovery routine. If you need ice and ibuprofen to recover from every workout then you're going way too hard (and you're kind of an idiot for not realizing it already. I mean c'mon.) So now that I've highlighted the importance of sleep I want to talk about something that happened while I was sleep deprived.

I was still going through my routines and my normal workouts regardless of my zombie-like energy levels and they were fine. Not spectacularly good nor spectacularly awful, just fine. Two days ago, however, I decided I was going to go for a short run. I'd been outside mowing the lawn and I was already kinda warmed up (read:profusely sweaty) and after I finished the yard work my body was like, "nah dawg, don't be a b*tch. We good. Let's go do some sh*t," because apparently my body speaks like a stereotypical inner city youth in a cliche 90's flick about life in the ghetto.

So I went for a run. It was awful. Really awful. Poison ivy on a sunburn awful.

About seven minutes in my entire body was like, "yo dawg what the f*ck? This ain't what we signed up for yo! This is bullsh*t, we're out." Luckily by that point I was only about a minute away from my house so I hoofed it back. I was dizzy, out of breath, my head hurt and I had trouble seeing straight. Honestly my first reaction was, "I'm in terrible shape," and I got pretty f*ckin' angry at myself. I'm supposed to be some paragon of fitness hollering at other people to work harder and go faster and here I'm borderline hugging a bucket after running less than a mile? Pathetic. Truly Pathetic. Then I checked my mileage. For reference, I stopped my running clock at 8:27.

I ran a mile and a half.

Somehow in my sleep deprived stupor I ran a mile and a half at a 5:40/mile pace. I am not a runner. Never have been. I enjoy running and go through spats of heavy mileage for a few months at a time but I'm hardly one of those people who laces up their running shoes even if theres a hurricane/tornado/baby-eating alien invasion conspiring to prevent your workout. If I couldn't find my Ipod before a run I'd be like well, I guess I should just jump rope and hit the bag. At least I've got a round timer here. Right, good excuse Bob. You godd*mned pansy.

Point being I've never run a mile that fast in my entire life. To be quite honest a 5:40 mile isn't extraordinarily fast for people who RUN but I'm not one of them. Hence my overwhelming desire to deposit my breakfast in a toilet following my little jaunt. That being said, despite my somewhat impressive performance I felt like I was going to die for the remainder of the day. My back hurt, my hips ached, even my shoulders were sore. I went from fitness paragon to elderly war veteran and all it took was eight minutes of physical activity. Honestly sleeping for ten hours and waking up with all of those sensations gone was what drove me to write this post as it personally re-acquainted me with the truly restorative powers of good sleep.

It is true that we all need different amounts of sleep: everyone's biology is different. This fact is not an excuse to sleep four hours a night and claim that's all your body needs. I think we unfortunately pride ourselves on doing too much. We look up to the people who run a business and a family while still maintaining their health and fitness along with several intense and impressive hobbies. We always say there aren't enough hours in the day and the easiest way to change that is by reducing how much we sleep. We then intellectualize it and explain it away by saying well I don't ever feel tired so I must not need the sleep. You're wrong. The reality is that you've adapted and your body is making do. Our bodies are capable of making some extreme adaptations for the sake of survival. That is not an excuse to force them to do so unnecessarily. Don't believe me? How about another list. People like lists.

Why Sleep Deprivation is BAD:
1) Sleep Debt - Sleeping only an hour or two less than your body requires per night over the course of a week puts your body in the same biochemical state as if you had not slept for 24 hours and it can not be remedied with a single night of sleep.
2) Insulin sensitivity - Again, if you sleep only 1-2 hours less per night than you're supposed to you have significantly increased blood sugar levels. lack of sleep interferes with your bodies ability to recognize and metabolize sugar which significantly impairs athletic performance and may lead to insulin resistance.
3) Decreased GH - Our GH production peaks during our REM cycles. Fewer REM Cycles --> less GH --> less recovery, more fat, less muscle mass and less of the numerous benefits that growth hormone provides.
4) Decreased alertness/awareness, decreased mental acuity and cognitive performance.
5) Weight gain - lack of GH hormone release and insulin sensitivity combined with decreased energy levels and mental focus can lead to secondary weight gain - I'm not sure of whether or not lack of sleep can cause weight gain in and of itself.

So the important thing to note is that while these things will all occur from a single night of missed sleep, it is unlikely you will feel the effects from just a one or two hour deficit. It's chronic sleep deprivation that's really bad and also something that most of us, especially the really driven career focused individuals among us are both susceptible too and likely suffering from. Remember, just because you can do it doesn't mean it's optimal and Becoming Invincible isn't about surviving, it's about maximizing our human potential. What's the point of giving your body the appropriate stimulus for beneficial physical remodeling (exercise), all of the best materials for the remodeling (nutrition) and then giving yourself less than ample time to actually PERFORM the remodeling? Muscle grows in your bed, not while you're in the gym. Don't shortchange your progress by overlooking a simple and often easily remedied issue. I mean, come on, who doesn't like a little extra sleep?

Oh, one last thing. On the topic of my increased performance during a period of exhaustion I read a paper recently that somewhat addressed this issue. The paper investigated performance differences in cyclists who were exposed to extreme temperature (100+ degrees) and extreme fatigue (24 hours without sleep). Interestingly enough the findings were that the heat exposed group's performance was significantly worse than both the control and the sleep deprived group. The sleep deprived group, on the other hand, actually exhibited slightly improved performance over the control with an interesting alteration: despite their ACTUAL performance they all BELIEVED they were doing terribly. In other words while a single bout of exhaustion may not significantly affect your individual performance, it will likely significantly inhibit your ability to judge how well you're doing. 

All I would say is this - while it is clearly obvious that losing sleep for a single night may not affect your performance in a single competition, prolonged sleep deprivation and exhaustion will slowly shut down your ability to progress. Remember, working out is not about a single performance; it's about steady, measurable progress over time and progress requires adequate rest. Now go get your sleep on. (Or if you're one of those weirdos with a 9-5 do it tonight...just...not too late, all right?)

Good luck and good lifting.


Friday, July 26, 2013

How to Be a Badass

One of my longest standing clients is an incredibly nice guy. He's wildly successful, wealthy, intelligent and frankly parties harder than I do these days. He also happens to be something of a lady when it comes to training.

I know. It's harsh. He's a great guy and I'm very fond of him but there's no other way to put it. It's an unfortunate truth. I sure as hell didn't make him that way and I've been doing everything in my power to break the habit. Some days are better than others. The truth is that he's come a long way since we first started working together but in his mind he still looks the same as he did when we started and therein lies the problem: in his own mind he is eternally frail and weak. He's always apologizing to me about not being stronger or being tired which drives me crazy. When was the last time you apologized to your financial planner for not making enough money? I don't give a fuck where you're at. You called me and you signed up. You decided to take the steps to make the change. In my book you're already moving in the right direction so stop feeling sorry for yourself. I tell him all the time that I don't understand why he talks about himself like he does and that he needs to stop. As I said, some days are better than others.

The thing is this highlights a central issue to fitness and many would say a central issue of life as a whole. The place from which you precede mentally colors and informs your entire experience; the place from which you precede defines who you are. If you believe you're a frail, whiny little bitch then guess what boss? You're a frail whiny little bitch. How many times have we been told this by how many different people? Call it whatever you want. Positive thinking, visualization, realization, positive self image, whatever. Here at Becoming Invincible we have a different way of looking at it. Here, we call it bringing out the badass.

Being a badass isn't about your muscles or your body fat percentage. It's not about your facility with violence or your hatred of others. James Dean made it famous in Rebel Without a Cause: being a badass is an attitude; a perspective. Dean did his own thing and didn't care how he was perceived. Rich Froning, the current two-time CrossFit Games champion, has been quoted saying he'd rather pass out than quit. That's the attitude I'm talking about. That's what it means to be a Badass.

It's about not quitting or slowing down. It's about going as hard and as fast as you can until your body simply will not let you anymore. It's about attacking your workout; attacking the weights like your life depended on it every time you head into the gym not because your life actually depends on it but for no other reason than that's how you do it. That's all you know and that's the only way it can be done.

When I was younger I used to program these crazy workouts. They were intense and inventive, the kind of stuff you see in late night infomercials and 80's training montages. They were immaculately designed, incorporating every different kind of exercise and modality and leading to me spending hours in the gym. I thought I was doing pretty well because if you were looking at my programs, I mean, how could I not be succeeding? Of course the ugly f*cking reality is that no one judges your fitness by what you wrote in a notebook. They judge it by what you can do: how hard you can hit, how fast you can run and how high you can jump. The complex, intellectually realized physique contained with in the pages of my little black notebook was just that: complex and intellectual. My actual physical self was kind of lame.

I was missing the key ingredient. I had the knowledge and the means but I didn't have the x-factor. I hadn't figured it out yet. My foray into MMA changed that for me real quick. I was going up against guys who'd never opened a book on strength and conditioning or perused a single website for nutrition facts and they were bigger and stronger than me. Physically speaking they were better in every aspect even though they had next to no clue what they were doing in the weight room, I actually remember thinking their conditioning programs were laughable and on paper they were. Again, however, fitness doesn't happen on paper.

How could it be? How was it that these guys who knew absolutely nothing were walking all over me in a field I was supposed to be an expert in? Simple, really. Turns out getting punched in the face and kicked in the leg helps you turn on your inner badass real fast. These guys didn't have the know-how but they had attitude to spare. No matter what the task or the exercise you gave them they would charge into it pedal to the floor and redline their engines for the duration. They would go and go and go until they were finished or unconscious because in the ring those are your only options. You finish the fight or your opponent finishes you. There's no room for anything in between.

There's two central tenets to what makes your inner badass so essential to your training and the first one is heart. There is a pretty extensive cultural mythos surrounding this concept. We have movies like Rocky and Rudy, underdog sports stories where an individual lacking in talent makes up for it with hard work and determination. You see it in actual sports coverage and even news stories. Every American loves the scrappy little f*cker who isn't the biggest or the best but will never stay down and never stop fighting and why? Oh, come on. You know why. Because that guy, the one who never stops, is an incredible f*cking badass. We want them to win and some part of us wants to be them. The easiest way to start is by never letting your workout beat you. Don't stop because you're tired, don't change your program because it's too hard. Finish the work you set out to do and don't leave until the job is done. Period.

Rocky loses the fight and we all loved him anyway for one simple reason: he never gave up. I can tell you something about coaches and most people in my field. We are infinitely more impressed by those who struggle and almost fail than we are by the super-athletes who crush everything. Watching a lion take down a gazelle is impressive, sure. Witnessing the sheer physical beauty of their movement, the perfection of their muscles and their nervous systems so perfectly attuned to this specific task can be enrapturing. Watching a house cat do it, however, is something else entirely because no one would've believed it if they hadn't seen it with their own eyes. That lion is something of a badass because it was gifted with physical badass-ery when it was born. That house cat on the other hand? That house cat is a badass because it just did something it should never have been able to do and who knows, maybe if you keep watching you'll get to see it happen again.

There's a pretty common stigma in fight gyms that embodies this idea. Obviously trainers love working with gifted fighters, but they also love working with the guys who can't fight for shit but won't ever stay down. Too often newbies are scared away from grungy, sweaty, authentic fight gyms because they're intimidated; they think everyone's judging their lack of skill. The simplest way to earn their respect is also one of the best ways to start tapping into your inner badass.  Stand up. Keep moving. Becoming invincible isn't about never failing. It's about never staying down. 

The second supremely positive aspect of the inner badass is intensity. Those MMA guys I was training with brought a fire to their workouts that you don't see everywhere. It didn't matter if they were hitting the heavy bag or doing sidelying leg raises. No matter what the task was they attacked it with all they had until it was done. I've said it before many times and I'll keep saying it until everyone starts paying attention. Intensity is the most important variable when it comes to training, bar none. You can increase volume, duration, load and frequency but if you're at 25% intensity nothing else is ever going to matter. Sorry kids.
Because this pig is a badass. Duh. 
I have a friend who's boyfriend is something of a nutcase. He doesn't have any kind of background in fitness nor is he particularly educated on the subject outside of his own experience. That being said he is easily one of the most aggressively fit humans I've ever personally met and when I say aggressive I mean f*cking AGGRESSIVE. Everything he does is about harder, faster, longer. He tries to make every task as hard as he thinks he can handle and then does his damnedest to beat the sh*t out of the task anyway. He may not have had the best programming when he started but it didn't matter. Would he have done better if the programming was more scientific? Sure, it's possible but no amount of programming can make up for the intensity that he brings to his workouts. He's also never participated in a combat sport to my knowledge but I'd take him in a fight over almost any jerkoff in a Tapout or Affliction t-shirt anytime because I can tell you right now who's going to give up first. If I had to choose between two athletes, one who knows everything inside and out but doesn't have the fire in his stomach and another one who doesn't know very much but jumps right in and assaults every task he's given, you can probably guess which one I'm going to pick every time. It's an easy choice.

So what does this mean for you? Well, it depends on where you're at, frankly. If motivation isn't your issue then I apologize for not being useful to you today, my b. If you are, however, like the multitudes of people out there who get too embarrassed or give up too quickly when you workout, we need to talk. Why are you stopping? Who gives a shit what that guy behind you on the treadmill thinks? Who the f*ck is he? Do you know him? Does he matter? Oh, you don't want anyone to see you struggling? You're in a gym. You're supposed to struggle. Don't ever be embarrassed because you're doing stuff that's difficult for you when it seems like everyone else around you is having an easy go of it. You're doing it right. They're doing it wrong. It's that simple. You're using the gym as it's meant to be used, as a crucible on which you can try your physical limits by fire. The third and final aspect of the badass is the attitude of untouchability. You're not there to impress strangers. You're there for you and you've got work to do so get to it. Do your thing. Be a badass. There's always going to be haters and naysayers but in the words of 311, "fuck the naysayers 'cuz they don't mean a thing."

We weren't all born physically gifted and mentally tough. A lot of us weren't born with either but you know what? There were a few professional athletes that weren't either. They became invincible all on their own by pushing and fighting until they could tap into their inner badass at will. Impressive, yes, but they aren't special. With a little hard work and a lot of determination you, too, can be a badass. After all, in the words of Bruce Lee, "it is not the larger man who wins in a fight. The victor is he, who in his head, has already won."

Good luck and good lifting. Happy Friday.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You're Better Than You Think

An unfortunate truth I've come to accept is that I'm a hater. Have been for a long time. I don't think it's entirely accurate in my mind, but my friends would probably disagree. It's not so much that I'm an angry or resentful person I just have an incredibly low tolerance for bullshit and niceties for the sake of being pleasant and not hurting peoples feelings. If you've spent any amount of time reading my blog, you've seen examples of this. Most people probably wouldn't choose Embrace The Suck as the title for their first post.

But I'm special.

Like I said I've never seen myself as a hater other than for a few years back in high school and early college and I blame that on angst. Yeah. Angst. Whatever-the-f*ck that might be. I'm a strength and conditioning professional. My job is to take people and make them better. You can't sharpen a blade with a feather and you don't build machines with pillows. Being nice and pleasant for the sake of being nice and pleasant serves me no purpose in helping people acknowledge their flaws and beat them into submission with cold, hard iron (and occasionally ropes and rubber bands). Doesn't mean I'm not a nice guy nor does it mean I'm not a positive person. You can't do what I do well if you aren't a positive person at heart and I genuinely believe you can't do what I do if you don't care about people.

So, yes, in between all the cursing and ranting and veiled insults the reality is that if you're here and you're taking the time to read my thoughts I care about you. Really. Tough love is still love at it's foundation.
My sister posted this on my FB timeline literally as I was writing this post. She's so sweet.
So what's the point of me telling you all of this, you may ask. Well, I felt I needed a lenghty preamble to justify the unabashedly, wholeheartedly positive thing I'm about to tell you. What I want you to know is this. If you go to the gym and you work hard, hell, if you work hard at any aspect of your life, really truly, there's a good chance you're doing better than you think. Too often we get caught up in what we or society decide is a definite indicator of something when it may only be a partial indicator or in some cases may be completely irrelevant.

Story time. I have a friend who goes through spats of fitness and then binges of unhealthy life. Whatever direction he goes in he goes freakin' hard. When he works out and diets he does his research and intelligently programs his workouts; sh*t he even CHARTS his diet plan dude (something I don't necessarily encourage or find healthy but another story for another day). He loses weight like it's his job but then gets discouraged and throws all his progress out the window for months long binges of Dominos and McDonalds. You know why he got discouraged last time? Because despite all of his effort he did not yet look like a Men's Health cover model.
Three cheers for steroids, airbrushes and photoshop. Hip hip, hooray!
I spent hours trying to convince him that wasn't a realistic standard when he was in the throes of his workout heavy lifestyle. He would just get mad and dismissive; tell me that I wasn't being productive and one time he even accused me of jealousy. You're right. Me telling you that you shouldn't compare yourself to someone who makes a living by looking pretty is due to my own personal jealousy about....what...exactly? I wasn't trying to cut him down I've just seen this road traveled thousands of times. It's well worn and even though it looks like it's going to the top of the mountain when you're half way up it dead ends at a painfully high cliff. That's where you need to change your game plan. You can either go off the obvious and easily traveled beaten path to forge your own trail to the top or you can do what an unfortunately high number of people do: you can fall right back down.

This whole series of thoughts occurred to me this morning. I have a client who I just started working with about a month ago. Her initial goal was to drop thirty pounds. In a month. Because that's super realistic. I was totally honest with her about what she could expect in thirty days, but lo and behold 26 days later she's feeling incredibly discouraged because she thinks she's maybe a little skinnier but still looks the same as she did 4 weeks ago. As my client I empathize with her but a huge part of me is always incredibly frustrated by this response.

I'm not going to tell you that working out, for me, has nothing to do with aesthetics. Of course I like the way it makes my body look. Hell, that's why I got into it in the first place. There's no pedestal for me to stand on there. What I would say is that as my journey progressed I became much more interested in what fitness allowed me to do. I was a fat kid who used to get my ass kicked when I was younger. Now I can outrun and out play most of my friends and I'm the guy everyone calls when they need some heavy stuff moved around their house. Yea, I know, being everyone's go to guy for manual labor may not sound exciting but coming form the kid who used to get picked last for dodgeball I gotta tell you, being picked first for anything physical is pretty fantastic. 

Another one of my clients, my longest standing client actually, totally gets this. It's a huge part of what makes him so amazing to work with. He's gotten stronger and built a lot of muscle. He's even lost some weight. Without fail, however, the thing he always brings up to me is how easy it is for him to do everything now. Now, my client is 53, so it may be a little difficult for some of us youngsters to understand just how important basic day to day functionality is but at least once a week he tells me a story about something he did easily that all of his friends were having trouble with while sporting a huge smile on his face. He's made some of the best progress of any of my clients for three simple reasons: he's consistent, he works hard and he never gets discouraged.

Getting frustrated you don't have a six pack or the shoulders of a professional gymnast after a month of working out is like being angry you don't have a ferrari after being employed for four weeks. Yea, you know what, some of us are just lucky. Some people have the genes or the connections to end up with a six pack and a ferrari and not have to work much for either. Chances are you're probably not one of these people. It's no big deal, you just need to re-align your priorities. 

The reason my client this morning frustrates me is because she moves immensely better today than she did a month ago. I know she had lofty girls of looking like a beauty queen in her bridesmaids dress (which, cmon, we all know it doesn't pan out that way. It ain't yo wedding, ladies) but this is a girl who never played sports or did anything physical her whole life. She has no foundation to work off of. She can't hold her body with proper posture or maintain the correct position of her joints for a huge number of exercises. I know some of you guys want to just jump in and start hammering away but it doesn't work like that. You have to walk before you can run. You need to learn arithmetic before algebra and algebra before calculus.

 Now I understand that it may take a trained eye to see the significant improvement in her movement capacity, but even she can see that a month ago she was struggling with fifteen lbs. for certain lifts and now she's using twenty fives with significantly better form. These are the benchmarks I wish people would focus on. I mentioned this briefly in my post about setting goals. You need to choose something concrete and measurable and I think it bears repeating here. All she's doing is looking in the mirror and watching the scale. She didn't notice she went from a 30 sec plank to a minute plank until I told her. She didn't realize she can get through a series of tabata intervals now without taking a break when a month ago she was struggling with half of that load. I point these things out to her and they make her happy for a bit, but then she notices something else about her physique she doesn't like and we're back at square one.

We all have insecurities that plague and torment us; pushing us to think we're too fat or too ugly, too slow or too stupid. This internal struggle is one of the defining aspects of human experience. We are our own worst enemies and overcoming that obstacle is one of the greatest accomplishments on the road to Becoming Invincible. We must all become masters of ourselves in order to achieve our greatest potential. I'm hard on people because I'm hard on myself and it has been incredibly productive in pushing me to do more and be better. I'm hard on you guys because I care and because I believe you can be better, otherwise I'd just be wasting my time. Society puts absurd pressures on us to embody unrealistic ideals of beauty and I'm here to remind you guys it's bullshit. I'm sorry if I do it in an abrasive manner. The reality is that we've all got too much on our plates to allow an imaginary societal hive mind guilt trip us for not looking like dolls. F*ck that noise.

We've all got goals and we've all got hurdles. Life isn't easy and we all know that.  All I would ask is for you to stop kicking yourself for not being at the finish line already. Becoming Invincible is a journey and a long one at that. Sit back and enjoy the ride. You're doing better than you think you are.

Good luck and good lifting.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Do Less - Get Stronger

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, frankly. It's one of those things that seems to be a facet of every question I answer or at least somehow related. I touched on it a little bit in my post about recovery and I've mentioned it elsewhere but I think it's entirely deserving of it's own here it is.

Hey...hey you. All that stuff you're doing...all those plans..all those workouts all those hours.

Staaahp. Stop it.

I have a friend who likes to do all sorts of crazy sh*t all the time. She works out like four hours a day six or seven days a week. Honestly there is an enormous part of me that is impressed by her and totally digs her drive to beat the ever-lovin' shit out of herself on a regular basis. The thing is then she comes to me and asks me questions like, "how do I recover faster? Why am I always sore?" Questions I answer by way of making this face:

Or at least I do in my head. She's fucking scary when she's angry. And she totally lifts, bro. Like...a lot...haven't you been paying attention?

Anyway I think a lot of people have unfortunately fostered a "more-is-better" attitude when it comes to working out, particularly when their main focus is trying to change the shape of their body. Well, I'm trying to get skinnier so I should just try to burn as many fuggin' calories as I possible can in any way possible right? No, dummy, not right. Not completely wrong, but not right either. 

The most common mistake I see with people who don't have a lot of experience with programming workouts is the almost hilarious amount of volume they're doing. Some people show me their workouts and they're in the gym for like an hour and a half, running four miles and then lifting for almost an hour; doing twenty or thirty sets and hundreds of reps all under the paradigm of "more is better." There are a handful of cases where this is the case and we'll get to those later. For right now we need to focus on a simple truth when it comes to strength training: less is more.

Professional bodybuilders train each body part once, maybe twice a week. Professional powerlifters train the main movements 1-2 times a week as well. These are the athletes that occupy the upper echelon of strength sports. If they only train each body part once or twice a week, why are you doing more than that?

I recently finished reading a book, Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. I've mentioned Rippetoe before a couple of times, most notably in my post "Superhuman Strength."  He's the author of Starting Strength (what is generally regarded as one of the best introductions to barbell training) and a bit of a pariah in the fitness field because, well, he's f*ckin' EXTREME. He had widely publicized falling outs with both the NSCA and the CrossFit organization. Still, from everything of his I've read, he definitely knows what's up when it comes to lifting a lot of heavy sh*t. I don't want to do Rippetoe and Kilgore a disservice by giving out any of the information in their book for free, but one of the overarching themes in all of their programs was simplicity. Every workout plan was 3-4 workouts a week, 3-5 movements per workout. In certain cases they recommend a fair amount of accessory work (athletes with sport specific needs, for example) but even so the workouts are straight forward. Squat, press, deadlift, pull, push run. 

That's pretty much it.

It's hard for some of us to swallow the less is more pill. I was definitely one of them. When I was in college I would workout six days a week for about two hours a day, sometimes going back to the gym two or more times per day. That sh*t was crazy and stupid and I wish I hadn't done it. While I was in very good shape, I'm also pretty sure all of that overuse is why I have a torn labrum in my hip and likely a torn labrum in my shoulder as well. This is the primary reason why working out too much is no bueno. I've said it before and I'll say it again, overuse injuries got their name for a reason. You don't want one, don't overuse your sh*t.

The second reason and perhaps more important to some is that the beneficial adaptations that occur in your body from working out happen while you're resting, not while you're in the gym cranking out your fourteenth set of burpees or running your twenty third mile. Think about it like this: your body is a construction site with your cells being the work crew. Each workout gives your crew a new biological blueprint of how it needs to improve your body. You need to let the crew finish the alterations from the last blueprint before you interrupt it with new instructions of something else to change. If you are never adequately rested you're turning your body into a poorly maintained construction site full of a bunch of pissed off (read: inflamed) workers who're tired, annoyed and less efficient at following any of the repair plans you give them. 

The great thing about recovery and workload tolerance is that it can be trained. There are some people out there who can work out for four hours a day and get some kind of benefit out of it. If you've been a regular exerciser for two to three years or more then you probably need a longer, more complex program than a newbie could get away with.  For the record when I say longer I' talking the difference between working out for a little more than an hour versus forty five minutes, not justifying your psychotic four hour a day, seven day a week exercise binges. That sh*t, if it's happening, has got to stop. Like, now. 

Thing is you can build a lot of complexity in by lengthening your work periods and altering your schedule; you don't have to build unnecessary complexity into each individual workout that will lead to it taking an eternity. Let me explain. A brand-spankin'-new, just off the couch from lazyland exerciser may be able to see progress by using the same workout three days a week. Someone who's been working out out for a month or two on the other hand might benefit from using two workouts and alternating them: workout A-Mon, B-Wed, A, Fri and so on. As your training requirements increase in complexity you can use three or four different workouts over the course of a week, or widen the particular interval to two weeks and use 5-6 different workouts. For example:

Workout A (Monday)
Back Squat
Overhead Press
Pull Up

Workout B(Wed)
Power Clean
Bench Press 
Front Squat
Chin Up

Workout C (Friday)
Back Squat
Overhead Press
Power Clean
Chin Up

Workout D (M Week 2)
Bench Press
Front Squat
Pull Up

Workout E (W Week 2)
Front Squat
Overhead Press
Power Clean
Chin Up

Workout F (F Week 2)
Bench Press
Back Squat
Pull Up

So right there we've got a two week workout schedule that only uses eight movements in six workouts and doesn't repeat a single identical workout...and that's doing a full body workout each day. If we split it into two days, either upper body/lower body or push/pull and do four days a week (day 1/push-day 2/pull, repeat) then making a multiple-week cycle becomes even more simpler=. 

For most people interested in general fitness you probably wont need a perfectly periodized six week at at a time strength training program. My point was more to highlight that you can keep your workouts fresh and varied enough to stimulate progress fairly easily. This actually brings me to my next point. Since we're on the subject of factors that contribute to progress you guys need to know something. You absolutely can not make up for lack of training intensity with increased duration. Quality wins over quantity every single time. If you didn't leave it all out their on the gym floor you can't make up for it by doing an extra set or running another semi-slow mile. If you half assed it your first time out, do you really think half ass-ing it some more is going to make a significant difference?

At the risk of repeating myself I'm not saying everyone needs to go balls out meth-monkey style, running wind sprints and doing power snatches until they paint the wall with the semi digested remains of last nights lasagna. I'm just saying that if you're not putting in a real effort during your workout then putting in extra time with the same level of effort isn't going to change anything. On the flip side, if you are putting in a serious effort then you don't need to be in the gym for hours. Not to mention the fact that your muscles and joints probably can't handle the repetitive, high-intensity loads that you're subjecting them to if you do that.

There are cases where this kind of training has its purpose. The military, for one. Soldiers need to be strong, fast and capable of enduring the extreme. On top of the physical demands of their profession there is an enormous mental aspect to this type of brutally repetitive physical punishment. Building mental toughness in soldiers is just as important as fostering physical integrity. To that end, if you are preparing for any type of competition or event that involves hours upon hours of physically demanding activity then you're probably going to need to train for hours and hours. One of the oldest and most accurate fitness aphorisms is that the best way to prepare your body for something is to do it.

Which brings us full circle. If your main goal is to get bigger and stronger or to create some type of physical change in the way you look, frequently a higher intensity, well designed program is significantly more effective than a lower intensity program of higher volume or even a program of similar intensity with higher volume. In terms of your body serious change means growth (muscle growth, specifically) and your body needs rest to grow (and food. Preferably meat. Muscles love meat.) Every type of exercise is a different tool for the toolkit and there are situations where extreme duration programs may have a valid use. Shit, if you f*cking love working out and as far as you can tell you're happy and healthy because you spend most of your time in the gym, running or at yoga then I'm not gonna be the guy to tell you to spend more time on your couch. 

Becoming Invincible is all about setting goals and working hard to accomplish them. Self improvement takes time, effort, and a well designed plan. My point is not to dissuade people from engaging in a surplus of physical activity. There are few things that drive me crazier than the couch jockeys that talk down to fitness enthusiasts about how their bodies are going to fall apart and they're going to get hurt if they keep doing so much. Shaddap. That's not what I'm saying. All I'm saying is that if your specific goal is to get bigger or stronger, your programming should stay simple, intense and err on the side of rest. 

Take home message? If you're training mainly for strength: 3-4 large compound movements per workout/ 3-5 sets per movement/3-5 repetitions for set. Rest should be 1-5 minutes between sets depending on the overall workload. If you are looking for some hypertrophy you can go up to 8-12 reps per set, but I would stay at 4 sets or fewer. As always, the weight should be high enough that you can complete each set with perfect form but could not do any additional reps per set. Failure on the final set is not necessary but acceptable. 

Now get out there and go kick some ass. Good luck and good lifting.


Friday, July 12, 2013

A Bit of the Old Ultra Violence: Why We Aren't the Cavemen We Claim to Be

Eat like a cave man. Lift like a neanderthal. It seems like every fucking morning I wake up and see some new, stupid fitness platitude about getting in touch with our inner, primal selves. Well, ladies and jerks, I got news for you. You're not the cave man you think you are.

Not even close.

You want to know why? Simple, really. Cavemen hunted and killed. They bled things with their hands, felt the dying breaths of a bested prey as the light left its eyes. Violence was a part of their routine; violence was a defining and necessary characteristic of their lives. If you had a talent for violence, you stayed fed and defended. If you didn't? Well then you, my friend, became paleo-flavored prehistoric kibble.

Yea, I know. I'm coming off a little harsh but it's the f*cking truth people. I don't mean to deride you or rob you of your newfound confidence gained through your paleo-crossfit-spartan-toughmudder lifestyle. You should be proud of what you've done. You deserve credit for doing what many can't or simply won't. That is not the subject of this post, it's something quite simple.

I want to talk about violence.

I've always found our relationship with violence as humans to be intriguing. We are clearly enraptured by it. There's boxing, the UFC, even hockey and the NFL. Sure, they're sports, but we all know that if you took the violence out of them they would hardly hold our attention the way they currently do. Beyond that we have the american obsession with action films; shelling out millions of dollars a year to watch artificially muscled hollywood heroes kicking the f*ck out of whatever supremely contrived villain that particular film has to offer. There's also slasher flicks and the horror/ gore porn genre that demonstrates what many would consider a troubling fascination with extreme, in-your-face bloody drenched brutality; and that's just scraping the surface. It does not even approach the subject of Spartan Race, Warrior Dash or any other number of adventure races and events that cast us in the role of warrior hero in our very own personal narrative.

Last time I checked obstacles don't hit back and there's no combat component to an endurance event. What confuses me about all of this is the lack of the essential substance of what it means to be a f*cking warrior: the necessary mastery of violence. That's where it all starts to come apart.

What's your relationship with violence? If you are like the majority of other members of modern society the simple answer is: well, you don't have one. Violence is something that happens in movies and on television, it's something reported about by video journalists that occurs on the other side of the planet. If you are like most people, violence in it's purest and most primal form, terrifies you.

It's not your fault. Violence is no longer a necessary part of our society; of our day to day lives. A talent for violence does not serve much of a purpose unless you're a professional fighter or professional miscreant. Soldiers have a very personal relationship with violence but the majority of them are not proud of it. It is not a badge of honor they wear around their necks, boasting to all those they know of their martial prowess and the facility with which they can physically damage another human being.

So, what exactly is our fascination with warrior culture? Well, I have something of a theory.

You guys remember when the 300 came out a few years back, right? The movie (based on a Frank Miller comic book) showcases the ferocious physical superiority and aesthetic perfection of a particular city in ancient greece. The film casts them as tragic heroes, a society to be celebrated based on their strength and the inspirational gravitas of their king, Leonidas.

Well, that's all well and good, but apparently no one checked the history books.

The Battle of Thermopylae was not fought between 300 Spartans and a million Persians. It was fought by a combined force of roughly 7,000 Greeks and an estimated 100,000-150,000 Persians. Also, Spartans may have been respected for their martial prowess, but a lot of their military superiority was due to the fact that they had better weapons (bronze spears and shields) and used a tactic no one else was using (the phalanx). Oh, and let's not even mention the fact that they were generally considered arrogant and barbaric and that they were a eugenic society (you know, eugenics, the idea made most famous by fuggin' Hitler). Granted, citing the historical inaccuracies of a movie containing monsters and magic is a dubious proposal at best, it highlights the main point of this post: we are in love with the IMAGE and apparently could not care less about the substance. Weird, right?

Enter the era of the hero workout.

They come in different forms. There's CrossFit, which is a hero workout and then some. There's the Spartan WODs and Bootcamps every gym seems to offer these days. There's MMA conditioning classes where you do the exercises without fear of getting kicked in the head and cardio kickboxing where you get to throw punches to the snappy tune of Rihanna's latest techno infused heartbreak anthem.

Now, to be fair, the American odyssey into the fitness world and the drive to look like an action hero can be drawn as far back as Schwarzenegger or Stallone but fitness was a fringe culture those days. It mostly revolved around either bodybuilding or aerobics. It wasn't like it is today. Now fitness is cool; it's trendy. These classes are literally everywhere and popping up with greater frequency every day. People FLOCK to them and oftentimes for good reason. I'm all for working hard and getting out of your comfort zone. If you need someone yelling in your face to get you to do it then have at it, by all means.

Just don't think it makes you a warrior. The reality is quite the opposite. You know why we are all so fascinated by these workouts? Because we're soft. We've lost our edge. It's not your fault you were born into a world that doesn't require you to fight for your life or your honor. There's nothing you could do to change the fact that your food is bought rather than killed. The truth is that compared to our paleolithic ancestors us first-worlders live in a veritable paradise where everything is within our grasp. The hard part of us, the warrior spirit that lives within every person was put under wraps and placed in a closet. It was allowed to rust and dull. Eventually it became nothing more than a trinket, a vestigial aspect of something we used to be.

We're a soft society. We don't teach children to stand up for themselves, we teach them to seek protection from an adult, to seek strength elsewhere. Children aren't allowed to have schoolyard tussles anymore. They're not even allowed to play dodgeball for f*cks sake. My heart genuinely goes out to every child who's ever been the target of bullying because it is painful and lonely and scary as hell. Your school, the place that is meant to be a safe haven, somewhere you go to become better and stronger becomes an ever looming threat. Sometimes the threat becomes so big theres no way to escape it other than to make everything just...go away. I feel for these kids and bullying makes my blood boil, but teaching children to run the f*ck away is not the answer.

I was bullied as a child. Severely. I was abused both physically and verbally for the majority of my upbringing. My mother still tells me that there were days where I would come home from school crying. I don't remember them because my mind decided I'm better off without those memories. There is something I do remember, though. The bullies, some of them who claimed to be my "friends." You know how they were allowed to do what they did? Why they were capable of their four foot nothing reigns of terror? Simple, really. They understood the power of violence and everyone's fear of it. The answer to bullying is not simply to teach children to beat the sh*t out of their nemeses. It is to foster the attitude and the atmosphere that that behavior is not acceptable amongst the entire peer group. A single person can not end the bullying epidemic but a majority paradigm shift from being afraid of the violence and abuse bullies represent to a willingness to confront it head on would be a good place to start; yet even this simple concept is incredibly difficult because we engender a strong fear of violence in our children almost from the moment they're born. As they grow we repeatedly reinforce the ideal that violence is bad and should be avoided at all costs.

Tell me something, why? Why is that positive?

I've noticed an interesting cultural reaction to several major news pieces lately, particularly one concerning the Zimmerman/Martin trial. My understanding is that Martin was shot basically because he may have physically attacked Zimmerman. It is not my understanding that any genuine threat to Zimmerman's life was presented, yet a vast number of people are claiming that Zimmerman acted "in self defense."

Really? Is that what it was? Because to me it looks like a grown ass man pulling the trigger out of some combination of fear and wounded pride. The reality is that I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. Maybe Zimmerman genuinely believed a threat to his life existed. Maybe his response was reasonable. Seems to me the evidence hardly substantiates that version of the story.

Self defense is meant to be just that. You defend yourself in a reasonable manner without escalating the situation. Self defense in a bar room brawl means preventing harm to yourself and those you care about without escalating the conflict to something larger. I don't think anyone would disagree that if you get into a drunken argument and punch someone and their response is to shoot you, they probably over reacted. Does that justify your throwing the punch in the first place? No, but simply starting a fight should never give someone legal justification to end your life.

We're so far away from our understanding and experience of violence that we convince ourselves this is a justifiable course of action. We're all so afraid that when we witness someone doing something out of fear we empathize. We're willing to give the guilty party a pass because an admission of their faults would be an admission of our own as well.

Fear and insecurity are the roots of most evils in this world. We fear what we don't know and we're made insecure over our lack of knowledge. Is it positive that we live in a society where it's not acceptable to simply deck someone because you don't like the way they looked at you? Absolutely. Is it also positive that we live in a society where we're protected by simple straightforward threats of violence but have apparently no recourse against corporate greed and the complexities of the banking industry? I realize this is a tenuous connection and a bit of a reach but my point is this: We tell ourselves violence is "uncivilized," and "barbaric," yet from where I stand violence is simple and honest. You know who your attacker is, you can see their face. What's more barbaric, being punched in the face by a drunk or having your entire life savings spirited away by a clever banker with a sly tongue and and a quick smile? I know what most of us would say because violence arouses within us a primal fear that bankruptcy does not. Short term intense pain seems worse than a slow, emotionally painful withering away of our livelihood.

It's all part of the same lie we tell ourselves. We run races and believe it makes us tough. We eat flesh and roughage and claim it makes us primal. Let me ask you something. Do you think a Spartan would give a flying f*ck about how quickly you can do 100 burpees? Do you think they would be impressed by your ability to climb an obstacle course or crawl under barbed wire so that you can finally cross that finish line and drink your victory beer?

Do you?

My very first love of fitness came through martial arts when I was still a kid, Kung-fu, actually. I had to beg my mother for a year before she would let me take any martial arts class. She was scared it was going to make me violent. I guess I don't blame her. I wanted to take the class because I was getting my ass kicked at school. To be honest, the nerdy part of me wanted it too because all of the comics I was reading shared a simple similarity in addition to the brightly colored spandex: all super heroes are incredibly talented at violence. Sure, they are doing it in the name of the good and the innocent but Batman spent most of his formative years learning how to be a ninja; very simply mastering the art of ending a life. Obviously I don't recommend murder as a training methodology but this highlights a central tenet of Becoming Invincible. You can't be invincible if you can't even fight back.

Human beings are obligate movers and obligate eaters. My intention is not to undercut the current trend towards re-mastering our primal selves as I genuinely believe it to be a phenomenal shift in our society's values. I would simply remind everyone that in addition to moving and eating, human beings are most definitely obligatorily violent as well. It is not only my belief that we should all be capable of performing basic maintenance on the beautiful and complex machine that is our body; but that we should also be capable of putting it to use in times of disaster or strife. Some day something bad may happen. It might be a zombie apocalypse or it might simply be someone who wants to hurt you and your loved ones because they can. Now ask yourself, really ask yourself, what would you do in this situation? Could you fight back? Could you defend yourself and the people you care about?

There's a warrior within all of us, an indomitable spirit that provides a bottomless pit of strength, courage and ferocity. Perhaps it's time we all become better acquainted with it, even if it takes slightly more than running an obstacle course.

Good luck and good lifting. Cheers.

Afterword: Look, guys, I want to be very clear about something. I realize that a large part of why people do adventure races is for the sake of personal accomplishment, achieving a goal they never thought possible or just simply for fun. That's all great stuff, really. There is no part of what I am saying that is intended to take away from your accomplishments if you're one of these people. As I said before you should be proud of the strides you've made in your personal journey. This article was meant to be a meditation on violence and modern society's relationship with it. Nothing more, nothing less. Please try to see it for what it is.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Becoming Stretch Armstrong - Stretching: What is it Good For?

What is it good for?
Absolutely nothin'!

Okay, so that's not entirely true but it's also not technically false. The truth is the scientific community is still pretty much undecided on the exact benefits of stretching. I'm going to do my best to summarize the information we do know so that you can maybe but it to some kind of use. Maybe. Possibly. 

First, we should cover the meaning of tight jointed and loose jointed. These are genetic predispositions to joint mobility. In general males tend to be more tight jointed and females tend to be loose jointed based on the effects of the different sex hormones but this is a pretty broad generalization and any member of either gender could theoretically fall anywhere on the spectrum. There are benefits and negatives to both.

If you are tight jointed you are better at force production, generally speaking. The reason is pretty simple. Tight jointed individuals are "stiffer" than their loose jointed compatriots which means their musculo-skeletal system, when acting as a system of levers, has less give or bend to it and therefore less force is lost when transferred from one muscle to another. Think about it like this; what do you think would produce more force, a machine made with rubber gears or metal ones? The rubber gears would absorb more of the force due to their natural flexibility whereas the metal gears would absorb very little. In addition, the metal gears would be capable of producing a much higher level of force in general as their deformation threshold (read: amount of force they can take before they change shape) is substantially higher than that of the rubber gears. This is a fairly close approximation to why tight jointed individuals can produce more force. They also tend to be a bit sturdier and therefore may excel at contact sports where sheer durability is an asset. The unfortunate negatives of being tight jointed are that you are more prone to muscle tears as a result of your increased capability for force production. Additionally, being tight jointed may leave you immobile or with limited range in certain joints which can make performing all movements with full range and proper motor patterns somewhat difficult.

Loose jointed individuals are basically the opposite. They are much more flexible but as a result generally less capable of producing force. This is not to say that you can not be flexible and strong at the same time, it is only detailing the specifics of the predisposition. Loose jointed individuals tend to excel at sports such as gymnastics and dance where their increased flexibility is an asset. Unfortunately, loose jointed individuals are more prone to joint injuries due to an overall decrease in joint integrity.

So, generally speaking tight jointed individuals need to focus more on flexibility work due to their natural lack of flexibility and the loose jointed individuals need to focus more on developing strength but again, in certain cases even the loose jointed individual may benefit from flexibility training and vice versa. 

In terms of flexibility training or stretching, lets quickly cover what we know it can do, what we know it can't do, and what we're not really sure of.

Stretching: Purpose and Uses

Step 1: Stretch. Step 2: Scale fence. Step 3: Consume the humans.

1) Warming up - Technically speaking most stretching is not the best idea as a warm up. A specific type of stretching known as dynamic stretches may be beneficial to prime your nervous system and warm up your soft tissue, but any type of static stretching or long term stretching should be avoided. The main reason is that true stretching when done correctly causes your muscles to relax at a neurological level. You do not want to neurologically prep your muscles to relax right before you go workout. I really shouldn't have to tell you that.

2) Increasing Flexibility/Range of Motion - So this is another one that is mostly supported but some people dispute. There are those who claim the only way to increase range of movement is to move. Technically speaking stretching isn't really moving, it's holding, so that's kind of the basis of their argument. Even so, I saw stretching used effectively to restore range of motion in a vast number of orthopedic rehab patients. It is important to note, however, that the types of stretches used were more frequently active than static, although both have their place in a rehab program.

3) Speeding Recovery - Not a lot of evidence to support this. One of the largest fitness industry myths. A lot of people claim stretching after a workout will help you recover faster. To my knowledge there is no scientific literature that supports this specific claim. I've seen reports that've said stretching during your workout increases muscle growth (because you're turning your muscles off and therefore forcing them to work harder; it's kind of like added resistance in a really weird, backwards way) and I've seen papers that've shown more significant increases in range of motion with stretching prior to a workout. The specific topic of recovery is a difficult one because it's a fairly nebulous term.

4) Decreasing Pain - This was also frequently a reason stretching regimens were prescribed. Sometimes inflammation can be caused by an overly active or tight muscle. Causing the muscle to relax will then alleviate that pain. Also, the muscle itself may be inflamed so once again, relaxing the inflammation away will help to reduce some of the pain. The one thing that is important to note is that in most cases the stretching is not doing much more than relieving the pain. As I mentioned above there's no real evidence to suggest it aids in the recovery of damaged muscles so as far as pain management is concerned, it's similar to an aleve. It may help the inflammation and pain, but mostly it's just helping you not feel it for a while. 

So, now that your familiar with the different uses of stretching, lets cover the different types of stretches.

1) Static - These are your parent's stretches. Move into stretch position. Hold for 30-60 seconds. This type of stretching is best following a workout when your muscles are already warmed up if your goal is increased flexibility or range of motion. These stretches can also be done periodically throughout the course of the day to help reduce pain or discomfort. A humorously labeled but accurate chart of some basic static stretches can be found below.
2) Dynamic - These are the types of stretches that are useful as part of a warm up. They are called dynamic because they are always done moving and the actual stretch is a result of the movement rather than the result of holding a position. When choosing dynamic stretches you should try to choose stretches that in some way resemble a movement you are going to do or at the very least target the body parts your going to be working on. A short video with some great dynamic stretches can be found here.

3) Ballistic - These are "bouncing" stretches or stretches where you stretch into the position and then rapidly bounce, trying to push yourself further. Don't do this, they're freakin terrible for you. Bounce, bounce, bounce POP. Bad news. Stay away. Some people incorrectly use the term ballistic when they mean dynamic, which is okay I suppose, but true ballistic stretching should be avoided.

4) PNF Stretching - proprioceptive neural facilitation stretches. You need a partner to do this. Basically what you do is a static stretch for ~ 10 seconds, then you push against resistance (from your partner) for ~7 s. When you then relax following the contraction, your partner should be able to push the stretch further than they could initially. You can perform the contraction either isometrically (no motion at the joint) or dynamically (motion at the joint). For isometrics use the 7s hold as a guideline while for the dynamic contraction simply go through the full range of motion for that joint against resistance. When I do this with my clients I'll usually first do 1 static stretch for 30 s, followed by an isometric PNF stretch and then finally a dynamic PNF stretch.  This type of stretching does what it does by taking advantage of a specific reflex that causes relaxation of the muscle. It's a bit complicated but if you want to know more you can google Golgi Tendon Organs and the Golgi Tendon reflex, 'cuz that's what you're using and that's what you're doing.

5) Active/Isolated stretching - The first time someone told me about this type of stretching I was somewhat confused. It is also worth mentioning that there is little to no scientific data available on this type of stretching so there's no conclusive evidence it works. That being said, if you've been in the fitness world long enough you should know that "no conclusive evidence," means just that. We can't say for certain, but that doesn't mean it can't help. Basically what you do in active isolated stretching is stretch as far as you can go and then using an assistive device (a strap or rope) you push the stretch further and hold it for a few seconds before relaxing. The idea is that you are "getting your body used to being in a new position" which should theoretically lead to increases in range of motion. I've never had any success with it but I read an article by a contortionist who swears by it. Personally, I think he's being paid off.

Becoming invincible isn't always about being the biggest and the strongest. In order to train and train hard you have to keep your body in proper condition. Only doing strength and cardiovascular training with no flexibility work is like putting a huge engine in a car without modifying the suspension. You need to improve every aspect of your fitness. They're all connected and they all assist one another. Strength can help you push a stretch further, while increased range of motion can help you perform a movement more efficiently which then leads back to better strength gains. 

So there you have it. Who should stretch, when to stretch and what kind of stretches you should do. Hope you guys find it useful. Now get out there and go DO something.

Good luck and good lifting.