Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Much Do You Trust Your Training?

"You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it? ...Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.
Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game 'or else people won't take it seriously.' Apparently it's like that. Your bid - for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity - will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less will shove a man - or at any rate a man like me - out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself."
From A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (pp. 22-23, 37-38)

You have to have some skin in the game. It's worth reviewing... often. In all areas of your life.
In training, reexamine your programming. Set goals and raise the stakes. Want to bench 300? Enter a contest. If you don't have a competition to prepare for, create a challenge. Set a date and make a potentially costly bet with a friend. No? Still not moved to action?  Use your imagination. Imagine that in three months, you will have no access to a gym or barbells for a year - would you just throw your hands in the air and give up on strength all together, or would you get busy? What would you prioritize in your training? Imagine that Zoltar the fortune teller says you will be in an accident a year from today potentially leaving you bed-ridden for months... how would you train? 
If you train others, the exercise is the same. Will "GPP", however you define that, be enough for their 'test'? Will that rope hold?
The test should be different from training, yes, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with teaching to the test if the test is valid. And here's the kicker that gym rats tend to forget - there will be a test! The test will come whether we prepare for it or not. Train with the knowledge that one day we will all hang by that rope over a precipice.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Just move more and eat less!"

Telling an obese person to move more and eat less is about as helpful 
as telling a poor person to make more money and spend less.

Which is to say that it is not helpful at all.

A patient walks into a doctor's office and says "It hurts when I do this." The doctor replies "Well, don't do that!"

Heard that one? I have. Repeatedly. Usually the conversation revolves around lifting weights...

But, what's wrong with that advice, really? The patient hasn't learned anything. The assumption can be logically made that the patient wants or needs to do 'that' (whatever 'that' is). So, unless the desire or need can be fulfilled or eliminated in some other way, and unless our doctor here can advise and assist with that, then the advice is absolutely worthless. It's a nonsolution.

Our job as teachers, coaches, and trainers is to help our students, athletes, and clients become better. We understand that, for example, getting stronger and getting out of pain can be complex challenges. So why then, do we grossly oversimplify the problem of obesity? Why do we repeatedly point to single, decontextualized causes? Why do we preach to the point of dogma about the wonder herb and diet of the season?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Practice Maps

Just put in the time. Put in your reps. Get that session in. Put together enough sessions, even if they are nothing special, and unless you're doing all the wrong things, you're going to make progress.

Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code, keeps a blog on his site. A while back, he posted about "practice maps" in the entry entitled "Steal This Idea, Please" The idea is to have a score card that you make a check on every time you train or practice. One session = one step closer to your goal.

"Practice maps" are common in Japan. I bought the practice maps below in Japan. They were meant for kids to affix a Dragonball "well done" sticker each time they did their chores, but it can work equally well for training.


I've tried this just to get sessions in and it works! 

Use it for the things that are tough to do, or for actions you want to make habitual. For example, windmills and bird-dog pose thingies are two exercises that I should do on a regular basis... but don't. Using a card like this and throwing on a sticker each time I get it done is actually motivating!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Your First Singlet


Sorry, but these aren't for sale folks.

HOWEVER, I still have T-shirts available. Let me know if you're interested. $25 each (shipping included). Shoot me an email at boris_york@yahoo.com to check size availability and we'll work out payment through PayPal.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reps. Just Reps.

A Training Plan Rediscovered

Let me tell you a secret... I don't like to do math when I lift. I don't like calculating poundages or percentages. Terms like 'volume' and 'intensity', unless I'm training for a competition, make my skin crawl. When I load up a barbell, I only want to be thinking about this rep, right now.

And here's another secret... Most people in the gym qualify as beginners to advanced beginners, and as such, they don't need to overly concern themselves with volume and intensity as training metrics. They simply need to perfect technical skills, occasionally add some weight to the bar, and get quality reps in. Like most things in life, time on task and consistent, intelligent effort are a lot better long-term than beating yourself into the ground.

A training "plan" that I've rediscovered lately is to simply count reps over the course of a week or month. Just count reps. That's it! I say "rediscover" because didn't we all start out just going to the gym and lifting, trying to add a rep here and a plate there?

Don't worry about intensity, or sets, or volume - just count reps. The simplicity of this frees us from unnecessary complication. I know that if I look at a given 30 days in my training log and I've done hundreds of squats, then I've done my due diligence in training. On the other hand, if I look at a few weeks of training and see that I've only done 25 reps of presses including warm-up reps, then that's a problem.


How It Works
Early this year, a Facebook friend achieved a rep goal of 1000 pull-ups in a month. She's a kettlebell athlete. I thought the goal was genius and, since I'm pretty good at pull-ups (or used to be), I decided to give it a go. 1000 reps in 30 days = 33 reps/day, so I figured it wouldn't be a big deal. 20 years and 50 pounds ago, it probably wouldn't have been, but the honeymoon period was about three days long. When you need to average 33 reps/day, you don't take days off because every day off means more reps you need to average on the remaining days. I made it, but it was NOT easy. If I were to do it again, I'd probably shoot for something a little less ambitious - I don't weigh 150 anymore...

After that experiment, I decided to apply the idea to other exercises as well. For example, in January, over the course of 30 days, I did:
Push-Ups: 1005
KB Press: 960
Pull-Ups/Chins: 1012
One-Arm DLs w. 2" Vertical Bar: 1050
KB Squat: 1000

It was a fun experiment, but I found that trying to maintain a thousand reps for every exercise was too much. I started dreading the thought of cranking out another 33 pull-ups...

Choosing Exercises and Appropriate Rep Targets
Include one exercise or more from the following categories (Dan John)
Push: Overhead Press, Bench Press,
Pull: Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Rows, etc.
Hinge: Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Swings, etc.
Squat: Back Squat, Front Squat, KB Front Squat, Overhead Squat, etc.
Loaded Carries: Farmers Walk, Suitcase Carry, Ruck, Sandbag Carry, Pulling Harness, etc. *
Rotational KB Exercise:  Turkish Get-Ups, Windmills, etc.

Be flexible about your exercise selection and keep the reps appropriate to the specific exercise variant you choose. Push-ups and light swings are one thing - you might be able to easily punch out a grand or more every month indefinitely. Deadlifts and back squats, on the other hand, depending on load, may only be a hundred reps or less (including warm-up reps). If you decide to do pull-ups or chins, choose a total number of reps that will require a daily average that is sustainable. For me, 33 chins/day was a bit much, but half that number would be something that I could maintain just about every day for months.

*A note about loaded carries: Unless tracking distance is easy for you, I'd recommend setting a training frequency goal here. Five solid sessions a month is a good goal for me. I know that if I average one or two sessions of loaded carries a week, I'm doing pretty well. To be completely honest, I hardly ever do loaded carries in the winter months, but as long as there isn't danger of slipping on ice, I should.

Set Rep Targets - Today Is Day One
There's no need to be overly ambitious when you set your rep goals. It's infinitely better to set a goal of 50 reps and achieve it, than to set a goal of 1000 and doing zero.

Of course, keep your regular training log, noting load, sets, reps, intervals, etc, but following this approach, while not preparing for a competition or any specific goal, you may find it easier to focus on "getting the work in"; focusing on reps. Just reps.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

T-Shirts: Summer 2014


I have an order of SKWAT! t-shirts coming in on Friday.

Sizes available are: MediumLarge, and X-Large. All shirts are royal blue 50/50 blend Jerzees brand tees.

If you are interested, I still have a few Small sized t-shirts as well - they are royal blue Gildan brand 100% cotton.

Shirts are $25 each (shipping included).

Please send me an email (boris_york@yahoo.com) to check availability and we'll make payment arrangements through PayPal.

Thanks everyone!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Self-Actualization and Movement

Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais (pp. 38-39)
9. Hinges of Habit 
Finally, and most important of all, there is one more reason why we should choose the action-system as the point of attack for the improvement of man. All behavior, as noted before, is a complex of mobilized muscles, sensing, feeling, and thought. Each of these components of action could, in theory, be used instead, but the part played by the muscles is so large in the alternatives that if it were omitted from the patterns in the motor cortex the rest of the components of the pattern would disintegrate.
The motor cortex of the brain, where patterns activating the muscles are established, lies only a few millimeters above the brain strata dealing with association processes. All the feeling and sensing that a man has experienced were at one time linked with the association processes.
The nervous system has a fundamental characteristic: We cannot carry out an action and its opposite at the same time. At any single moment the whole system achieves a kind of general integration that the body will express at that moment. Position, sensing, feeling, thought, as well as chemical and hormonal processes, combine to form a whole that cannot be separated out into its various parts. This whole may be highly complex and complicated but it is the integrated whole of the system at that given moment.
Within every such integration we become aware of only those elements that involve the muscles and the envelope. We have already seen that the muscles play the main role in awareness. It is not possible for change to take place in the muscle system without a prior corresponding change in the motor cortex. If we can succeed in some way in bringing about a change in the motor cortex, and through this a change in the coordination of or in the patterns themselves, the basis of awareness in each elementary integration will disintegrate.
Owing to the close proximity to the motor cortex of the brain structures dealing with thought and feeling, and the tendency of the processes in brain tissue to diffuse and spread to neighboring tissues, a drastic change in the motor cortex will have parallel effects on thinking and feeling. 
If we wait until we are feeling good to start moving, we might have failed before we've even begun. It is very often through movement that we can get the ball rolling, so to speak, on the road to greater self-actualization. I've seen this happen so often - the kid with zero self-esteem who turns things around just through the confidence that comes from increased competence in one area of his life, often in the weight room, or on the practice grounds and playing field.

Related Squat Rx Posts:
Commitment Follows Competence
If It's Worth Doing...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mission Elapsed Time

Mission Elapsed Time (MET) is the time that has elapsed since the beginning of a project or 'mission.' For example, if we tell you our MET is 5/22:09:17, you know it has been 5 days, 22 hours, 9 minutes, and 17 seconds since our project started. NASA uses MET on all its flights to minimize the confusion caused by flexible launch times... 
We live about a three-hour drive from our favorite bookstore, Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon. When we visit, we sometimes take our dogs along. If we were to plan an itinerary for a trip to Powell's, it might look like this:
   8:00 A.M. - Leave home.
   8:15 A.M. - Gas up the car and get a soda.
   10:00 A.M. - Stop at a rest area to stretch and walk the dogs.
   11:45 A.M. - Arrive at Powell's 
  However, we never know when we're going to leave, because we usually sleep late on weekends and there are frequently last-minute delays such as gathering up a few last books to sell or receiving an unexpected phone call. NASA would say we have a long launch window for our trip. Thus, an actual trip to Powell's might look more like this, in ordinary clock time:
   11:47 A.M. - Leave home.
   12:02 P.M. - Gas up the car and get a soda.
   1:47 P.M. - Stop at a rest area to stretch and walk the dogs.
   3:32 P.M. - Arrive at Powell's 
However, it might be easier to build an itinerary around MET, which is relative, rather than absolute, clock time:
   0:00 - Leave home.
   0:15 - Gas up the car and get a soda.
   2:00 - Stop at a rest area to stretch and walk the dogs.
   3:45 - Arrive at Powell's
 - From Mindhacker (pp 106-107) 

I do believe in the establishment of "SMART" (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals, however the "time-bound" thing has always been a bit problematic if we look at things long term. For example, if you set a goal to squat 500lbs at your next powerlifting meet three months from now, what happens if you fail to attain it? The mission isn't over. Do you just throw your hands up and say "Oh well, back to the drawing board"?
The beauty of using "Mission Elapsed Time" is that the clock doesn't have to stop at your next meet. The clock stops when the mission is complete.
Let me be clear - in my opinion, there is a difference between a mission and a goal. A mission is big. Totaling elite in a powerlifting meet is a mission. Losing 100 pounds is a mission. Most people aren' going to be able to sustain the effort needed for more than one or two missions at a time. Choose your mission thoughtfully.
Goals, on the other hand, can range from big to small. A goal may be a minor benchmark along the way to mission completion, or it may be the mission itself. You can have multiple goals, but they should all be assisting you in completing "the mission".

How would this look in your training log? I'm still experimenting with the idea, but after establishing a mission, the next workout you put in toward its accomplishment would start the MET as "Goal X - Day 1". Each successive calendar day (training or not) would count as Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, etc. The MET ends when the mission is complete and not before.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Judging Squat Depth is Not Difficult...

"How is my depth on this squat?"

There's nothing wrong with this question in a gym setting, especially if the squatter doesn't have a camera. But, I see this question on the internet a lot with an accompanying video. Yes, I understand that different powerlifting federations are stricter about judging, but no, there really is not any mystical know-how involved in judging squat depth. If the crease at the hip is parallel with the top of the knee, then it's "parallel" (also called a "half squat"). If you squat as deeply as your hips and knees allow, then it's a "full squat" (also known as an "ass to grass" or "ass to ankles" squat).

This fellow on the left is at parallel, and the gentleman on the right from Catalyst Athletics is full (front) squatting:



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Timed Squats for Cardio

Timed Squats
During the summer of 1967, Tommy Suggs and I decided to experiment on ourselves with a squat program designed to increase cardiovascular, respiratory fitness. This may seem to be a strange goal for a pair of aspiring competitive weightlifters, but actually cardiovascular, respiratory fitness is an important variable in our sport. Total conditioning counts for a great deal as some contests drag on for as long as twelve hours and the more fit athlete has a definate advantage over his opponents. Those who are in better shape can train harder and longer and, if they are practicing the right kinds of things, should improve more than those who do not do so. 
- Bill Starr, The Strongest Shall Survive
I've done my share of timed squat work in the past and always found it to be a fun change from the grind of straight reps. Recently, I've been doing higher rep work, and occasionally doing them in a timed format (such as a minute straight - repeat as tolerated, intervals, "20 seconds on, 10 seconds off x 8") can make it more palatable. As long as proper form is insisted upon and the load is appropriate, you could do much, much worse than squats when selecting an exercise to do for conditioning. It goes without saying that high technical competence and focus is a prerequisite to this kind of approach to cardio.

Yesterday, I did two sets of light front squats for one minute. I plan to add sets over time and vary the time on task and load. It will make for a fun experiment and I'll keep you posted over the next couple of months. This is the second set from yesterday:


Related Squat Rx Posts:
"Tabata" Squats
Sustained Heavy Breathing Training

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sassy Friday Post

Squat Rx - Putting The Squat in Sasquatch Since 2007

Friday, May 2, 2014

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

The happiest thing for me about this day's race was that I was able, on a personal level, to truly enjoy the event. The overall time I posted wasn't anything to brag about, and I made a lot of little mistakes along the way. But I did give it my best, and I felt a nice, tangible afterglow. I also think I've improved in a lot of areas since the previous race, which is an important point to consider. In a triathlon the transition from one event to the next is difficult, and the experience counts for everything. Through experience you learn how to compensate for your physical shortcomings. To put it another way, learning from experience is what makes the triathlon so much fun. 
Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren't involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It's precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive - or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.
 - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami, pp. 170-171