Monday, September 2, 2019

Squat Rx #27 - 20 Minutes of Squatting


As I age, the things I enjoy and am proficient enough at to do for an extended aerobic period of time are limited. I respect running and I think running would be great, but it's not a thing I do. I just never developed a taste for it. Swimming would work, but these days I'm about 25 pounds too heavy to find getting into the pool even close to enjoyable. Walking the dog is a possibility - I enjoy it, but if I allow the dog to sniff, pee, and poo at her leisure, there's no chance of raising my heart rate enough to approach "conditioning". I still do kettlebell snatches, but infrequently and I've lost a step over the past 5 years or so of little to no practice.
So, I'm left with squatting. I'm proficient and practiced at it. I enjoy it. It doesn't hurt me.
The other day, I squatted for 20 minutes with 135 pounds. The goal was not to get as many reps as possible in the time allotted. The goal was to keep my heart rate under control for the duration. It was harder than expected and an exercise in discomfort and patience, but I managed to keep my heart rate in the 70-80% range (with a few blips above) for the entire 20 minutes.



Sometimes I'll just squat without a timer or heart rate monitor and just squat for a certain number of reps, or I'll use only a clock, but for this, I used the following tools:

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Gresham's Law and The Modern Training Age


There is a monetary principle known as "Gresham's Law" which holds that bad money drives out good money. A common example of this principle is in a system with two currencies, such as pennies with copper and pennies with very little copper, people will hoard, melt down, or illegally sell/barter the pennies with copper, while using the cheaper pennies for day to day transactions. Eventually, there will be scarcity of copper pennies, and a preponderance of pennies without copper.

The principle can apply to many fields (perhaps in the modern era most notably 'news'). The fields of strength and conditioning and fitness are no different - the bad drives out the good. Not always and completely, of course, but certainly often and dramatically enough to warrant scrutiny.

In the health and fitness industries, 'bad money' is comprised of fluff articles, diatribe videos shot from the inside of a Tahoe, and books that are heavy on regurgitated platitudes and fun anecdotes, but light on meaningful content. "Bad Money" is poorly researched, poorly substantiated, and poorly written. Why do they gather attention? Because they are glossy eye-candy. Because it's 'edgy'. Because it's 'real'. The purveyors are attractive and charismatic, and they include just enough of the right jargon and pepper it with half-truths to make the product seem legitimate. Bad money, shared by the right people, very quickly drowns out legitimate valuable training information that may lack the polish, bells, and whistles necessary to survive in today's like-driven culture.

So, what is a training newbie to do? If they don't have enough knowledge and experience in the field, who can they trust? How can they know if they are dealing with 'good money'? Here are some suggestions:

* Look for legitimate experience.
Any professional, a true expert, would find it difficult to fit their relevant experiences onto a one-page curriculum vitae. A good coach with any degree of experience should be able to give names, dates, and places that give them credibility in the field.
Beware of statements like "XYZ has worked with many athletes from age-group to Olympians". "Worked with" can mean "had a conversation once at the gym water fountain". If a coach has actually coached an Olympian (even if being humble), they should be able to give you a name and a time frame.

* Look past the Instagram photos and number of Facebook 'likes'.
Is this coach delivering content, or just inspirational quips and hot-bod shots? Is every video a Rocky Balboa training video that would kill the average person, or are the training sessions reasonably attainable?
There are MANY legitimate coaches in sport, S&C, and fitness that have zero internet game. Most likely, they aren't rich because they don't know how to play 'the game', but virtuoso coaches (who truly care about their CRAFT) are often too busy actually bettering their athletes to worry about virtual 'likes'.

* Don't be afraid to shop around.
It is okay to withhold judgement on sources. Too often people get sold on 'bad money' and then are reluctant to follow 'good money' because they don't want to admit that they made a bad initial investment of time, energy, and (perhaps) money. Don't fall victim to the "too invested to quit syndrome".
By the same token, it is okay to return to a training method or coach after leaving them for a time. Just like relationships - sometimes you don't know what you got until it's gone or until you've experienced other contexts. It is perfectly okay to swallow your pride and say "You know what? That was good for me. I'm going to start doing that again."

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"Purpose Tremor"

 
Attempting to pour a liquid into the mouth of a very small-necked bottle often results in the same kind of behavior. You can hold your hand perfectly steady, until you try to accomplish your purpose, then for some strange reason you quiver and shake.
 In medical circles, we call this "purpose tremor".
 It occurs, as above, in normal people when they try too hard, or are "too careful" not to make an error in accomplishing some purpose.
...Excessive carefulness, or being too anxious not to make an error is a form of excessive negative feedback. As in the case of the stutterer, who attempts to anticipate possible errors and be overly-careful not to make them - the result is inhibition and deterioration of performance. 
From Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (pp. 173-174)

From time to time you see an athlete who is holding on so tight to their goals that it is counter-productive to generating the kind of performance needed to achieve them. In the immortal words of .38 Special, you need to "Hold on loosely, but don't let go. If you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control."

Related Squat Rx Blog Post: Glance at Negatives, But Focus On Positives

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Habit Tracker


An online friend suggested trying this habit tracker. I've been using it for the past month to prompt me to do some things that I otherwise might avoid or forget or, for whatever reason, just not do. It's a good way to establish new habits or replacement behaviors.

If you've followed Squat Rx for long, you know I'm a big believer in just putting in the work and doing the things that matter more often than not. A habit tracker like this is very similar to practice maps - a way to check a box and let the volume and frequency over time work its magic.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Vonnegut on Free Will


"Where am I?" said Billy Pilgrim. 
"Trapped in another blob of amber, Mr. Pilgrim. We are where we have to be just now - three hundred million miles from Earth, bound for a time warp which will get us to Tralfamadore in hours rather than centuries." 
"How - how did I get here?" 
"It would take another Earthling to explain it to you. Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanation. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber." 
"You sound to me as though you don't believe in free will," said Billy Pilgrim. 
"If I hadn't spent so much time studying Earthlings," said the Tralfamadorian, "I wouldn't have any idea what was meant by 'free will.' I've visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports of a hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaugtherhouse Five

Monday, April 15, 2019

Do You ALWAYS Train Plugged In?


...as time went on, I started to give up my headphones for training runs as well. I am typing this, obviously, staring at a screen. The computer is also playing music, which I enjoy as I write. When I finish writing in a little bit, I will go have myself some lunch, and of course I'll play some music or news, and maybe even look at another screen. After lunch, I'll go rake some leaves or do some other tasks, with headphones firmly in my ears; I'll enjoy music  over dinner, and then finish my day by watching another, larger screen with some content that, I hope, can command my entire attention.
If I don't leave my headphones behind when I run, I wouldn't spend a single minute of my waking life free from input. 
I have a friend who wears headphones on long solo runs because, he says, "I can't spend that much time alone in my head." I disagree. He can, and he should. Spending that much time inside one's head, alone with the voices and the bats hanging from the various dendrites and neurons, is one of the best things about running, or at least one of the most therapeutic. Your brain is like a duvet cover: every once in a while, it needs to be aired out.
From The Incomplete Book of Running (p. 65) by Peter Sagal 

 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Cookie Jar


Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins
  The engine in a rocket ship does not fire without a small spark first. We all need small sparks, small accomplishments in our lives to fuel the big ones. Think of your small accomplishments as kindling. When you want a bonfire, you don't start by lighting a big log. You collect some witch's hair - a small pile of hay or some dry, dead grass. You light that, and then add small sticks and bigger sticks before you feed your tree stump into the blaze. Because it's the small sparks, which start small fires, that eventually build enough heat to burn the whole fucking forest down.
  If you don't have any big accomplishments to draw on yet, so be it. Your small cookies are your cookies to savor... (p. 189)
Related Squat Rx Posts:
Commitment Follows Competence

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Last Squat Workout of 2018

Made an unsuccessful squat attempt at bodyweight on the bar x age a few days ago. Happy enough with the effort, but a little disappointed that I was a few reps short. Overall, 2018 was a decent year training wise - no huge gains, but managed to put in a lot of good work and stay healthy.

I hope your 2018 went well and wishing you all the best in 2019!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Deep Work by Cal Newport



"An often-overlooked observation about those who use their minds to create valuable things is that they're rarely haphazard in their work habits. Consider the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Robert Caro. As revealed in a 2009 magazine profile, "every inch of [Caro's] New York office is governed by rules." Where he places his books, how he stacks his notebooks, what he puts on his wall, even what he wears to the office: Everything is specified by a routine that has varied little over Caro's long career. "I trained myself to be organized," he explained.

'Charles Darwin had a similarly strict structure for his working life during the period when he was perfecting On the Origin of Species. As his son Francis later remembered, he would rise promptly at seven to take a short walk. He would then eat breakfast alone and retire to his study from eight to nine thirty. The next hour was dedicated to reading his letters from the day before, after which he would return to his study from ten thirty until noon. After this session, he would would mull over challenging ideas while walking on a proscribed route that started at his greenhouse and then circled a path on his property. He would walk until satisfied with his thinking then declare his workday done.

...'In a New York Times column on the topic, David Brooks summarizes this reality more bluntly: [Great creative minds] think like artists but work like accountants."

'This strategy suggests the following: To make the most out of your deep work sessions, build rituals of the same level of strictness and idiosyncrasy as the important thinkers mentioned previously. There's a good reason for this mimicry. Great minds like Caro and Darwin didn't deploy rituals to be weird; they did so because success in their work depended on their ability to go deep, again and again - they're no way to win a Pulitzer Prize or conceive a grand theory without pushing your brain to its limit. Their rituals minimized the friction in this transition to depth, allowing them to go deep more easily and stay in the state longer."

Deep Work by Cal Newport, pp. 117-119

Related Squat Rx Posts:
Rituals - Dan John
The Power of Habit

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Long Term Gains & Short Term Profits



A problem working with young people is that they often do not take the long view of athletic (academic, financial, etc...) development. They want it NOW. The sooner the better. While there is nothing to be gained by unnecessarily delaying gratification in and of itself, if the goal is long term development and retention of skills, technique, speed, strength, knowledge, etc., then "go hard or go home" methodologies and mindsets are often counterproductive. 

Many years ago, I was coaching a 9 year old boy who was a very competitive swimmer. Let's call him Mikey. Mikey was successful and won many of his freestyle races. In practice, he would do flip turns when coaxed, but in competition he would always do open turns. Why? Because Mikey was faster with open turns, of course! He was very reluctant to switch from open turns because he had had success ("If it ain't broke,...") and only after I had convinced his dad that the change was needed was he even open to direction. I worked with Mikey during private lessons and regular practices for weeks. Oodles of positive reinforcement and several meets (and some tears of frustration) later, Mikey was hitting personal best times again with flip turns and room for greater and greater future gains.

Interestingly, at around the same time period, I had a similar experience convincing my father to do flip turns. He believed that because his goal was ultimately to become a faster open water swimmer (lakes, ocean), flip turns were unnecessary. Simple logic (more time turning in the pool equals less time swimming vs. faster turns equal more actual swimming) made the argument a short one.

Every competitive swimmer and coach knows that flip turns (done well) are faster than open turns. Much MUCH faster. Can you break 30 seconds in the 50 yard freestyle with an open turn? Yes, but it's harder. Can you become an All-American freestyle swimmer with open turns? Maybe 60 years ago, but almost no one could today.

It sometimes requires sacrifice to make the changes needed for long term growth. In Mikey's case, he had to give up some potential victories, points for the team, and PRs in order to master flip turns. In my father's case, he had to sacrifice some training time and effort on turns that could have been spent grinding out more training miles.

For many young people (and often their parents) it is difficult to see the benefit of making short term sacrifices that lead to long term (and greater) development vs. choosing short term gains that come at the expense of long term development. Technical change can be difficult, especially if you've already been training for years. But, an athlete will relatively quickly reach the limit of their physical potential using less than optimal technique. As athletes (and their goals) mature, technical demands may change and this needs to be accounted for. You cannot cram mastery.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The "Workout I Do When I Don't Want To Work Out Workout"

A few years ago, I started implementing the more often than not philosophy into my 'training'. Generally speaking, I train almost every day, and even on weeks where I have zero motivation to train, I still manage to put in at least a few sessions. I try to do something more days than not. I wouldn't say I've made ridiculous progress as far as training weights go, but I have maintained fitness and strength at acceptable levels and stayed very healthy. After having some pretty significant issues for a lot of years, for me, that's huge.

So, what do I do when I don't want to do anything? I have about 5 "go-to's" based on what I enjoy, what I find (relatively) painless to add, and what I have readily available. I would suggest, if you are trying to come up with your own "go-to's", that you choose things that you enjoy and need, are easy to implement, and don't throw a huge wrench into your day energy or time-wise.

Here are my 5 nominees for the best "Workout I Do When I Don't Want To Work Out Workout":
  • Push-Ups (usually 4-5 sets of 20-40 reps) I'm convinced that for a lot of people, if the choice is between bench press or push-ups, push-ups are the better option. Why? Because a push-up is, more or less, equivalent to bench pressing half your body weight for higher reps + a plank. If you're like me, ab work is a neglected area, so any exercise that incidentally includes abs is a plus.
  • 45 Degree Hyperextensions (usually 3-5 sets of 20 reps) I bought a cheaper 45 degree hyperextension bench a few months ago because I knew it would be an exercise that would be both hard to overdo and improve glute and hammy strength.
  • Tricep Extensions w. Bands (usually 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps) I started doing these about 20 years ago after seeing a Louie Simmons interview where he recommended them as a bench press supplementary exercise. I can't honestly say they are always in my exercise rotation, but every time I remember to include them, I think "Wow, what a great exercise!". I anchor the band from a chin-up bar and use a mini or average strength band.
  • Twist Yo' Wrist and grip work (usually 1-3 sets of 2-5 completions of radial and ulnar extension) I find that unless I'm trying to PR something, some light grip work is pretty easy to commit to emotionally. When doing grip work, I often end with some finger extensor work. The extensor work takes, literally, only a few minutes to complete 3-5 sets of 20 reps.

  • YAT Pulls w. microbands (usually 3-5 giant sets of 20-30 reps each of Y-pulls, A-pulls, and T-pulls) I don't know exactly what other trainers and coaches call these shoulder exercises. I know that the last exercise (what I call 'T-pulls'), most people call "pull-aparts". I used to call them that too, but I found that it was just easier to call these Y, A, and T-pulls when I was prescribing them as a giant set for the swimmers I work with. I try to keep my head in a neutral position (don't let your chin go forward) and work through a good range of motion.