Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Specificity & Posture

The other day, I was reviewing a Squat Rx Video and was hit full-face with my own atrocious posture. I made the video above about three years ago and I'm guessing my posture is no better now. Thankfully, I don't believe it's to the point of being unfixable, but remedying it will require vigilance and work.

Posture, like just about anything, follows the "SAID principle" (specific adaptations to imposed demands). Many sports do not necessarily impose positive demands on posture (especially if you've developed bad habits), however, optimal sports performance demands proper posture. Let me rephrase that so it's clear: good posture will help your sport, but your sport might not be helping your posture.

Good posture = improved breathing, greater neck and shoulder girdle balance, stability and health. If your imposed demands on posture are this for hours everyday...

...then, given enough time/practice, you can reasonably expect:

* neck pain and stiffness
* kyphosis
* weak, overstretched thoracic and neck extensors
* compromised t-spine, rib cage, scapulae/shoulder mobility and stability
* poor breathing patterns
* shoulder impingement
* lower back/hip/hamstring issues

If your posture is not "aligned" (pun intended) with your training goals, you will be leaving a lot on the table when it's time to cash in your training chips come performance-time.

Reexamine your daily routines and be mindful of your posture. Until your have reset your postural proprioception, it is very likely that you will feel as if you are standing hyper-erect when, in fact, you are merely standing straight.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Things We Don't Want To Do (The 10 Minute Rule)

Recently, I was rereading a chapter in John Medina's book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, and was reminded of the "10 minute rule". Given "medium interest", the brain can only focus attention on a thing for about 10 minutes. The 10-minute rule can be a wonderful revelation and programming tool to help us get done the things we don't want to do...

Mornings tend to be hurried for me. I wake up, usually around 5:30, and shower, eat, brush my teeth, do a little work, and then rush out the door. When I'm trying to be a good family man, I'll do dishes, if I have time, for 10 minutes - no more, no less. I find that, with focus, 10 minutes is enough time to get a sinkful of dishes cleaned and put into the dishwasher or cabinets.

Finding training time can be tough sometimes, but finding ten minutes is NOT. What can you do in 10 minutes? How about a 10 minute EDT session? Yes, I know that "PR Zones" are supposed to be 15 minutes, but 10 minutes, or even 5 is plenty of time to get in some meaningful training time. Is it ideal? Probably not, but most training is far from ideal and can be classified in one of two categories; on track, or not on track - putting in some quality work qualifies as "on track". As I mentioned in A Quick & (Relatively) Painless Way To Add Training Volume, 5-minutes of work is infinitely better than getting dumped, as accessory work often is (for me).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Exercise & Weight Loss

Apparently it's news that you can't out-exercise a poor diet.

Folks, it's time we learned to appreciate food - really appreciate it. Stuffing your face is not appreciating it. Inhaling a box of Girl Scout cookies is not appreciation, it is addiction (and this is another one of those "reminder-to-self-blog-posts", as most are here at Squat Rx).

We need to learn to eat well and learn to stop when we are full. 

We need to learn how to cook, not just boil and microwave.

Let us eat with attention and mindfulness - not while driving, not while watching TV, not because we're bored.

Eating should not be a mindless habit.

Eating should be an experience.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Becoming Process-Centered (Part I)

Recently, in comments here, someone asked me about how to develop a more "process-centered" (and less "product-centered") view towards training. It's a great question. We should all have goals, because without them, we will wonder aimlessly, flitting about from program to program with no sense of direction. However, an unhealthy preoccupation with product and outcome will not fulfill you, because the journey will be largely unsavored and forgotten, and once the goal is reached, you'll need another to fill the void once the taste of the moment has faded. The journey is 99.99%...

I found this video on ted.com and it's pretty good. "Inwest in the process" is the message. Though I don't know if he himself is Buddhist, Srikumar's message is Buddhism's Second Noble Truth. I was happy to hear his child-learning-to-walk illustration - one I used in my Competence Follows Competence post.

Srikumar Rao: Plug Into Your Hard-Wired Happiness

So, why would I want my training to be more process-centered and what might my training look like if it was? Let me get back to you later this week on that!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


I've been having some neck and shoulder issues lately. It's nothing new - I'll do my best to remedy them, but time off would probably be the smartest thing. Anywho, today's snatches were all right. I'm trying to bring things up to an acceptable level by the end of the school year.

Any and all suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Widening Your Squat Stance

The Incomparable Tommy Fannon

I was working with a friend the other day and the question of the best way to widen someone's squat stance came up. If you are planning on powerlifting, especially equipped, there are very legitimate reasons for considering widening the stance. Hitting competition-legal squat depth becomes a concern for many so it must be trained appropriately. There are, of course, many ways to accomplish a deep AND wide squat, but the simplest way would be to do sets of wide stance squats as accessory work after completing your regular squat work sets. Care needs to be taken not to overdo this, as you will be stressing adductors/musculature in a different manner, not to mention the new range of motion you are demanding of the hips and hamstrings.

Alternatively, you might try as accessory work:

*(Ultra)Wide Stance Good Mornings - for me, these are essentially wide-stance RDLs with the barbell placed in a low-bar squat position.

*(Ultra) Wide Stance Manta-Ray Squats or Safety-Squat-Bar Squats - the very high-bar position encourages an upright upper body position. This may or may not be what you ultimately want with your squats, so that should be taken into account.

Outside of the gym, I would suggest the stretches listed in Daily Stretches For Strength & Health. Remember that stretches, just like any new training stimulus should be added slowly and progressively.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Words of Wisdom From Miyamoto Musashi

In the practice of every way of life and every kind of work, there is a state of mind called that of the deviant. Even if you strive diligently on your chosen path day after day, if your heart is not in accord with it, then even if you think you are on a good path, from the point of view of the straight and true, this is not a genuine path. If you do not pursue a genuine path to its consummation, then a little bit of crookedness in the mind will later turn into a major warp. Reflect on this.

- The Book of Five Rings

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nintendo Dharma

Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom

Nintendo Dharma

You may have noticed how easy it is to stay present when you engage in an activity you enjoy, like playing some sport, watching a movie, reading a book, or even playing Nintendo. Why can we be so concentrated in these activities, and yet find ourselves distracted and restless when we meditate? Surprisingly, this simple question can lead us to a profound understanding of suffering and freedom.

What we call mind is the naturally pure knowing faculty - invisible, clear, and lucid. In some Tibetan text it is called "the cognizing power of emptiness." But mind includes more than just knowing, because in each moment of experience different qualities, or mental factors arise with it and color the knowing in various ways. For example, greed, hatred, love, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom, among many others, are all mental factors arising and passing in different moments, each functioning in its own way.

When we engage in various activities, different mental factors are at work. In Nintendo, we need to be right there with the game or we lose. The mind needs to be steady and one-pointed, with the factor of concentration quite strong. In addition to concentration, another quality of mind plays a critical role - the mental factor of perception. Perception recognizes, names, and remembers appearances by picking out their distinguishing marks. Through the power of perception we recognize each appearing object of experience: woman, man, pine tree, Abraham Lincoln, computer, car, and innumerable others. Concentration and perception keep us present and absorbed in whatever life-game is happening.

Meditation practice is different. In order to develop insight and wisdom, we need to add the factor of mindfulness to the mental equation of concentration and perception. Mindfulness goes beyond the simple recognition of what is happening. It goes beyond keeping the mind steady. Through its strong power of observation, mindfulness uncovers the characteristic nature of experience itself.

Absorption in a movie or in Nintendo does not reveal the momentariness of phenomena. We do not see the impermanence and insubstantiality of all things and events, nor do we notice the empty nature of awareness itself. Perception and concentration arise in every moment; even when the gets lost in thought, we still recognize what it is that we are thinking. But only mindfulness reveals that we are thinking. This is a critical difference. Perception by itself does not lead to insight into impermanence and selflessness, because it engages us in the content and story of what appears. Mindfulness emerges from the story and notices the moment-to-moment arising and passing of sense impressions, thoughts, and consciousness itself.

If we understand these three important factors of mind clearly - concentration, perception, and mindfulness - then their coming into balance becomes the field of freedom.

(Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom, pg. 37-38)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Doing Nothing

An Introduction To Meditation

If you can't be mindful while doing NOTHING, how can you expect to be mindful while doing ANYTHING?

Meditation is an opportunity to release ourselves from our habits and fixations, to clear away all the baggage and noise. Meditation is an opportunity to see things, not the way we want them to be, nor the way they were, nor the way we wish they weren't, but as they ARE right now. Meditation is an opportunity to breathe.

There are many ways to meditate, but the way I've always meditated since I was a pre-teen (which is probably Zen in origin) is to "catch and release" thoughts. Find a peaceful place and allow yourself 15 minutes to just sit. You may come in and out of your meditation as often as you'd like. There is no pressure. With practice, you will be able to lengthen your time in meditation and deepen your level of mindfulness, but striving for such things will make it harder to attain.

Begin by sitting in seiza, cross-legged, half-lotus, or full-lotus position, or in a chair. Establish good posture. Be grounded. Be comfortable.

Notice your position. Notice your muscles - many may be contracted unknowingly (like your traps and jaw). Notice the position of your shoulders (which are very likely shrugged). Notice the position of your tongue (which is very likely glued to the roof of your mouth). Relax them.

Notice your breathing. Are you "chest-breathing"? Allow the abdomen to relax and belly-breathe as you would naturally while unstressed or sleeping. Close the eyelids or leave them half-open and focus on nothing in particular.

If a thought or emotion arises, acknowledge it and let it go and focus on the breath. The point is NOT to ignore or repress or deny anything. The point is to NOT attach to anything. Don't fuel thoughts and emotions with further thought and emotional reaction. Allow thoughts and emotions to arise and dissipate naturally.

Reconnect with your breathing.

If you are bored or falling asleep, then you are not in the moment - you attached to a feeling of boredom or fatigue and marinating in it either by fighting it or by being carried away with it. Notice the fatique and acknowledge the boredom, but do not allow it to become more than that. Like all things, like thoughts and emotions, it will ebb and flow, rise and fall, acknowledge this without attaching to it.

Return to your breathing.

As sounds and outward stimuli reach you, do not try to ignore them. Do not be frustrated because you think they are an "intrusion" - they are not. Acknowledge them as you continue your breathing.

If you feel an itch arising, the knee-jerk Pavlonian reaction is to scratch it. We may scratch it if we choose to, but we do it mindfully.

Return to the breath.

If you notice frustration or impatience rising, acknowledge it. Be aware of it but do not dialogue with it.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Just So It's Clear...

It recently came to my attention that someone whom I respect no longer comes around here anymore. The reason? They perceived some of my blog entries to be veiled attacks on their training community.

Look, if you are happy with your training, then I'm happy with your training, and, unless a coach or program is hurting or robbing people, I'm pretty okay with them too.

While I generally do not out and out badmouth people, products, or programs, if I don't like something, I am usually straightforward about it. If you're wondering, ask.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Athlete That Sparked My Interest In Kettlebells

Anatoly Kharpati was amazing in the 1988 Olympic Games. His televised athlete profile sparked an interest in kettlebells and it wasn't until the better part of 20 years later that I finally owned one myself.

I didn't realize that he had passed. He's one athlete I'll never forget.

I believe this video was uploaded by liftup, a great Olympic Weightlifting website. Thank you to them for making it available for public viewing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Five Minutes of Meditation

Last night's training was a short warm-up followed by 5:00 of kettlebell snatches with the 1.5 pood. I did the RKC snatch test with one hand switch. I was pleased, but my left hand is starting to struggle quickly and I don't know if that's a symptom of general systemic fatigue, lack of grip strength, or technical issues (probably all of the above). Any input (GS or HS) would be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Three Is A Magic Number

When I was a young kid, there was no "Cartoon Channel". Your window of opportunity for cartoon viewing was limited to the 5 or so hours the networks dedicated to children - Saturday mornings. It was a mindless, but pleasurable way to burn up a half-day of your weekend. During commercial breaks and at the top of the hour, I'd switch channels to ABC to make sure I didn't miss any "Schoolhouse Rock!" episodes. One of the first segments ever (and one of my favorites) was "Three Is A Magic Number":

There's a lot of wisdom in that. Things, good or bad, often come in threes.

*Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift = 3

*Clean & Jerk, Snatch, Press = 3

*3 x 10 = a classic rep scheme

*5-3-1 = Jim Wendler's Program (three rep schemes)

*Three Weeks = about as long as you can really, really push it

*Six Weeks (three weeks x 2) = overtraining (if you insist on continuing to push it anyway)

*Nine Weeks (three weeks x 3) = injury (if you ignored everything until now)

*Twelve Weeks = three months, a pretty standard duration of a meso/peaking-cycle

The following graphic depicts the RKC system's basic exercises. Three outer circles surround swirling transitionary spaces and a core where we find the center of the RKC universe, the swing. Although the lines are solid, it is not meant to be a static model. If it were animated, the components would rotate, swell, and contract and, as they did, exercises would at times be more prominent and sometimes disappear as they become obscured by others.

RKC System Basic Exercises

At first we'd swim in crystal-clear water, and we'd think, Hey, this is deep water here - we're real divers. Then one day the instructor took us to the edge of the continental shelf, about a mile off Puerto Rico. As we approached it we could see light blue and then suddenly dark blue, a dramatic dividing line. We were in about sixty feet of water, and we swam to the edge, and looked over. It just dropped away, a slope of eighty degrees, and you could see that the slope was teeming with life, finally disappearing into darkness. The image stuck: life thriving at the edge, and I've thought about it many times since, kind of iconic for the creativity at the edge of chaos.'

Chris's image was indeed powerful. And it turns out to be more than mere iconography, because there is good evidence that evolution is particularly innovative in such waters, poised between the chaos of the near shore and the frigid stability of the deep ocean.
Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaosp. 187

I often wonder if the "what-the-heck" effect is nothing more than a curious resulting order that emerges from a seemingly chaotic concoction of solid exercises. In truth, there is probably little that is chaos, just unexamined, and I hope the visual above may perhaps shed some light on the topic.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Words of Wisdom From Steve McCroskey

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking."

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking."

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue."

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines."

- Steve McCroskey (Tower Supervisor from the movie "Airplane!")

I'll probably be quoting this movie for the rest of my life, and not just for comic relief. We can learn a lesson in discipline from Steve McCroskey's poor example; take the time and thought necessary to choose a proper path and then stick with it. Don't be rigid and fall into the Too-Invested-To-Quit-Syndrome but, on the other hand, you need to stick with something long enough to know that, should you decide to quit, you're quitting for the right reasons, not just because it's difficult or inconvenient to continue.