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.


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