Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Tabata" Squats

A couple years ago, I was coming back from a lower back issue and using "Tabata" protocol to do some higher rep squat work. No, it's not "Tabata" really, it's just a way of doing intervals (:20 on, :10 off x 8), but it was certainly not a bad way to get some training volume in without taking all day. Nothing particularly impressive numbers-wise, but the effort wasn't bad.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lessons From The Matrix: Causality & Choice

Merovingian: You see, there is only one constant, one universal. It is the only real truth; causality. Action, reaction, cause, and effect.

Morpheus: Everything begins with choice.

Merovingian: No. Wrong. Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without. ....this is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it. We fight to deny it, but it is, of course, pretense. It is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control. Causality, there is no escape from it. We are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the 'why'. 'Why' is what separates us from them, you from me. 'Why' is the only real source of power.

The Merovingian understands the very basics of karma, cause and effect, but he cannot see beyond his own circumstances and calculations. He is missing a big piece of the interconnected karmic world. Knowledge is what the Merovingian has, but wisdom is lacking. As Morpheus tells Neo, "There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path". By denying the existence of choice, he fails to recognize the influence, the butterfly effect, that individual choices may exert on his world, even though those choices may be made by people who seem to have little "power".

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning

"Why, oh, why didn't I take the blue pill?"

It has been said that "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" - a very Zen thing to say, if ever there was one. Pain and pleasure exist, and they are transitory, as are all things. We can choose not to attach to them, and choice, rather than perpetual reaction to circumstances, association, habit, and emotion is what separates us from the monkey mind.

In our lives and in our training, we react to circumstances and emotions by procrastinating, by coasting, by overworking, by stressing, by following blindly, the list goes on and on. We continue to eat when we are full. We stop training before we have done enough, or we continue when we should stop. We put off things until the circumstances are "just right". We follow the decisions and routines of others and then blame them when things don't go well. Understanding and accepting choice, not the 'why', is essential to ownership of our self and our circumstances.

Other "Lessons From The Matrix":
Me, Me, Me
There Is No Spoon

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More Thoughts On "Me"

More thoughts on "me" from Brian Regan:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lessons From The Matrix: ME, ME, ME

"We are not here because we are free, we are here because we are NOT free. There is no escaping reason, no denying purpose, because without purpose, we do not exist. It is purpose that created us. Purpose that connects us. Purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us. It is purpose that defines, purpose that binds us."

- Agent Smith

Do ME a favor.

Not MY problem.

Give ME a break.

Why does this always happen to ME?

What about ME?

It's MY life!

I need more time for ME.

Agent Smith, after being 'killed' by Neo, is unplugged from The Matrix. Instead of using that opportunity as a chance to reset his sights on a new higher sense of purpose, he redoubles his efforts in a bezerker quest that can only end in isolation and doom. Smith has wrapped himself in his own psychopathic personal fable and is unable to see any way out of it.

Often in our lives and in our training, we become like Agent Smith. We get so wrapped up in the drama of our routines, thoughts, and emotions that we can't give them up, no matter how, addictive, hopeless, and self-defeating they become. We become victims to the "too-much-invested-to-quit-syndrome".

Attachment can be craving or pushing away; either way, it causes suffering. When we learn to stop attaching , we can be with life as it is in the moment and let it go when the time comes to do that. Clear seeing is a form of intelligence. It is unintelligent to try to hold on to things, to freeze them, when we can't.
The truth is that we don't own anything, not our bodies, not even the content of our minds. That's actually good news (though not for the ego: it immediately compensates by resolving to be a great practitioner, really to see through itself and become a famous meditator). Wisdom has helped us let go of the burden of attaching to things as me or mine. We are able to lay that burden down.
I remember an image I saw about this truth in Japan. It was a cartoon of a Zen monk walking along the beach carrying a huge sack. It was so heavy that his footsteps were like craters. On the sack it said ME. That's the burden we need to lay down. It will make our life incomparably lighter.

- Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation (p. 127)

"Me & Mine" are heavy burdens to bear. Obsession with ME destroyed Agent Smith. Through closer observation of our thoughts, emotions, circumstances, and 'purpose', while identifying with them less, perhaps we can lighten that burden a bit.

Me, me, me.

Other "Lessons From The Matrix":
There Is No Spoon
Causality & Choice

Monday, January 25, 2010

Teaching To The Test

The principle of specificity applies not only to training, but just about any domain, field, or assessment.

"Teaching to the test" used to be considered a bad thing thing in education. People (correctly) thought that there was no value in, for example, memorizing a list of arbitrary facts simply to regurgitate them for a multiple choice test or quiz. If the test has no 'real-life' application whatsoever, then there will be no value in teaching to it. HOWEVER, if the measuring stick is a valid one, that demonstrates, develops, and tests student knowledge, skills, and motivation, then teaching to the it may have great value.

This does NOT mean, however, that training or education should consist of endless assessments and tests. Without proper preparation, reflection, and development of skills, even the most authentic and valid test will be worthless - for example, although a squat one-rep max is a good measure of overall body strength, it would be silly to have a trainee do it frequently when something less intense may serve the purpose just as well. In fact, over-testing, especially when the test is particularly demanding mentally and/or physically, is a quick road to burn-out and stagnation.

Segmentation and scaffolding allow the trainee to take on a challenging task by breaking it down into its requisite parts and providing the support necessary to provide training stimulus, feedback, support, and motivation to try, try again.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lessons From The Matrix: There Is No Spoon

There is no spoon.

Spoon Boy: Do not try to bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon Boy: Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends. It is only yourself.

The spoon is a metaphor for our fixed views of 'reality'. Our preconceptions and fixed ideas are like the spoon - we rarely see them for what they are; we build them up and add weight and baggage to them to the point that they are heavy, hard and unbendable. Reality, like the spoon, is not permanent and it is not immoveable. Often we only see black and white, but when that happens, we fail to see the million unique and brilliant shades of gray.

A while back now, I had the flu about a month prior to a powerlifting meet. I felt okay going in and decided to play my three squat attempts conservatively. The first two went fine. For my final attempt I called for, I think, 480lbs. I was confident, but as I stepped out of the racks, I was shocked at how crushing the weight felt. I stood there gathering myself and preparing to descend into the hole as a part of my mind thought "Damn, that flu must have really wiped me out. 480 should NOT feel this heavy!". After standing there, for what must have been at least 20 painful seconds, the crowd screaming encouragement, I decided to rerack it. I walked back to the warm-up area, a little discouraged at the prospect of every weight feeling like that when the people on the platform began yelling for me to return. When I got there, they told me the bar was misloaded to 600+lbs - over a hundred pounds more than my requested weight. I was given 10 minutes to recoup and then I got my 'fourth attempt' (three whites, by the way). At that point, if I had known the actual weight on the bar, I doubt I would have budged it, let alone walked it out of the racks, let alone even contemplated squatting it. My 'ignorance' allowed me to feel the weight for what it truly was.

Doubt and negative self-talk will end your efforts long before you even begin to scratch the surface of your potential if you let them. Many of us have developed an inner dialogue to protect our egos from potential harm. The trick is being able to recognize it when it starts to rear its ugly head and see it for what it is - not the truth, but an extended response we have assigned to a given stimulus and now habitually and unthinkingly follow. The itch does not require the scratch.

This inner, and largely unconscious inner dialogue can manifest itself as a training rut. It can also manifest itself as routine and addiction. Breaking free of the well worn paths of blame, shame, guilt, entitlement, and doubt, requires a separation of stimulus and reaction, performance and process.

You have to let it all go, Neo - fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.

Other "Lessons From The Matrix":
Causality & Choice

Lessons From "The Matrix"

The Matrix trilogy is one of my favorites. I've always been of the opinion that the message being given by the story of Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and Agent Smith, was a Buddhist one, however, I've had many conversations with others who've (very thoroughly) interpreted it from a Christian perspective. I'm sure much has been written about it, but I've enjoyed coming to my own understanding. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share my thoughts and interpretations on The Matrix as they apply to life and training.

If you have movies or literature that you've enjoyed and applied to your life and training, I'd like to hear about it.

Lessons From The Matrix:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Discipline provides a constancy which is independent of what kind of day you had yesterday and what kind of day you anticipate today.

- Jon Kabat-Zinn

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kamisama No Ijiwaru

The manuscript above was written by a second grader. Living in Kobe, Japan, and lacking the money to raise her son, the author's mother had to place him in an orphanage. They were later briefly reunited, but he had to return to the orphanage after their home was lost in Kobe earthquake of 1995. The poem is entitled "God Is Mean". I'm no poet, but I'll do my best to translate it:

God Is Mean

God is mean.
Why did you crush our house in Eiji?
Rebuild our house.
If you're not going to rebuild it, give us money.
If you won't even give us money, don't send such a horrible earthquake.
Hey God,
Find us a new house.
If you won't find us a new house, I'll crush yours too.
Remember that.

15 years ago, I was living in Japan and on January 17, a little before 6am, I was rudely awakened by an earthquake that shook the room violently enough that dishes in my kitchen fell from shelves and the light above my head jerked back and forth hitting the ceiling 6 inches above it. Not knowing that hundreds of miles away over 6000 people had lost their lives, I went back to sleep until I was awakened later by frantic phone calls from friends and relatives making sure I was all right. I found out much later that the foundation of my apartment was ruined on that day and it was torn down soon after I moved back to the U.S..

I was lucky. I have, in my short lifetime, been lucky more times that I know. I am always humbled by the fact that I would not be here if not for the goodwill of others, and try to remember that daily.

The people of Haiti weren't so lucky. If you can find a way to help, please give to a charitable organization that is doing good for the people of Haiti in their time of need.
Red Cross
Habitat For Humanity

The Fierce Urgency Of Now

Goosebumps... every time.

Haiti is certainly experiencing 'the fierce urgency of now'. Donate if you can:
Red Cross

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Training Points To Ponder: Exercise Order

Recently, a forum member had questions concerning exercise order within his training sessions. The short answer is that, typically, high skill exercises are performed early and conditioning work is done later.

The following are general recommendations for sequencing training within a microcycle (adapted from Siff, Supertraining, 2000):

Warm-Up/Skill Introduction & Development)
Perfection of Technical & Tactical Skills
Speed & Agility Training
Strength Training
Endurance Training

There will be some redundancy, but here is another set of general sequence guidelines for training within a single session:

*speed ---> strength ---> endurance
*technical work ---> heavy work
*heavier exercises ---> lighter exercises
*compound ---> isolation
*exercises that stress lower back/core ---> limb dominant exercises

Understand that you can always vary sequence according to needs and goals. There are no 'laws' in this area, but it should be clear that shaking up exercise order can have consequences (good or bad) on training effect. The 'commutative law' of mathematics does not readily apply to strength and athletics.

A + B + C ≠ C + B + A.

For example, a training session consisting of pull-ups, rows, and deadlifts is NOT the same as deadlifts, pull-ups, and rows. A meso-cycle consisting of strength work, mobility work, speed work, and endurance work, will not yield the same training effect as mobility work, speed work, strength work, and endurance work.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not Funny

If I was a teenager, I might find the video below funny, but now I just find it scary. Yes, the guy should have been breathing after finishing his set instead of screaming, but I can certainly empathize with being excited about making a PR.
There was a PL USA Video segment probably a decade or more ago with Ed Coan doing the same thing (minus the triumphant scream) in training, so it isn't just noobs who can pass out in the gym...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

World's Strongest Librarian

I've written a guest blog post for RKC Josh Hanagarne's website "World's Strongest Librarian".

The post is called Digging Out Of A Blizzard: 5 Lessons For Training & Life. Check it out and let me know what you think.

A Quick & (Relatively) Painless Way To Add Training Volume

Recently, I've been doing a five-minute EDT session at the end of my regular training sessions. It's important not to allow it to escalate into a "rush-reps-and-run-from-exercise-to-exercise-constant-attention-to-time-remaining-metcon-workout". Assuming a decent work capacity and done in a less intense manner, I feel it can be a good way to add some training volume and/or work weaknesses WITHOUT significantly impacting recovery .

The other day, I did the following after a session of kettlebell snatches:

KB Jerks: x10,10,8,12
(alternated with)
Pull-Ups: x5,5,4,8

Total Time: 4:53
Total Sets: 8 sets
Total Reps: 62 reps

Five minutes. Only five, not more.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

- William Hutchinson Murray (quoting Goethe)

Friday, January 8, 2010

2010 Goals?

If you're not gunning for a competition, or if you aren't surrounded by an ambitious training community, it's easy to fall into a rut, thinking that we are pushing things when we're really not.

In 2009, I conducted a kettlebell workshop in Tokyo with RKC Taikei Matsushita, had two month-long introductory classes locally, and assisted at the September RKC instructor certification. So, on the kettlebell business-side of things, it was sufficiently busy. Training, on the other hand, was not where I wanted it to be. I stayed healthy, but what kind of goal is that for an competitive athlete (or athlete wannabe/wish-they-were-still)?

"Discretion is the better part of valor" are great words to live by, but eliminate valor from the equation and what are you left with but fear and avoidance? There's playing it smart, and then there's leaving too much on the table. As far as my own personal S&C goals, in 2009, I left way too much on the table.

For 2010, I've chosen three very straightforward training goals. I think they will require real training commitment, but are not excessive.

KB Jerks: 32kg bells x 40
KB Snatch: 32kg x 80
Pull-Ups: x 30

Right now, I am far away from my personal bests on all of these, let alone from the numbers above. But, I've already started working towards them and look forward to the next 12 months of training.

What are your goals for 2010?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Women & Pull-Ups

This was linked at a forum I frequent (thank you gentlemen who shall remain unnamed).

As I watched this, my ego protected itself by saying "Well, she's shaving some range of motion off of those!" ...until she banged out each of the last half dozen or so from a dead hang.

The other night, I did 17 reps. My best ever was 29 reps (20 years and 40 pounds ago mind you), all from a dead hang. 2010's goal will be to get 30 "moderately clean" reps.

How many can YOU do?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Stretching Is Dead?

Here we go again. I don't do well with hard opinions on complex issues. If there's a child in the S&C community that's been unfairly bullied over the past few years, then static stretching is the one.

"Static stretching makes you weak and slow."

Really? Gymnasts and martial artists are weak and slow? Look, I get the research, and if you do a lot of static stretching immediately prior to an athletic endeavor that requires high muscle tension, then you are an idiot. But, that does NOT mean it has no value in the world of strength and athletics. Sometimes I wonder if the coaches who are so quick to throw out static stretching are the ones who have trouble clipping their own toenails because their hamstrings (and lower backs) are too cranked up... it's too bad, because maybe, with diligence, they could wear shoes with laces again.

Stretching, just like everything else, is a training tool. If a little is good, it doesn't mean that a lot is necessarily better. Context and need dictate which tools, when, and to what extent.

I'd go on, but I'd just sound like some doofus pseudo-intellectual wannabe. Thankfully, Lyle McDonald (an actual intellectual) has written about this recently in this article entitled Static Stretching and Refined Grain Intake By Paleo Man - Research Review

Friday, January 1, 2010

Advances In Functional Training - Review

Coach Michael Boyle seems like a really nice person who rubs some muscleheads the wrong way. The herd was livid when he suggested that competitive workouts could drive athletes and soldiers to carry 'training' a little too far... People attacked his manhood when he had the audacity to suggest that maybe, just maybe, athletes don't need to back squat... He makes you think and question... and that pisses off people who can't think for themselves. "Advances In Functional Training" will be no different. There are many gems in it to be mined, cut, and polished for coaches and athletes, but someone won't like the term "functional", or that Coach Boyle doesn't look like Vin Diesel. If you can't get past these things, then read no further - my review will not be useful to you.

Michael Boyle's new book "Advances In Functional Training", without a doubt, is a must-read on the subject of current strength and conditioning practices. The influences of Shirley Sahrmann, Stuart McGill, Mark Verstegen, Dan John, Paul Chek, and Gray Cook are readily apparent, and if you don't know these people well, then you're behind because they, as a group (along with Michael Boyle and other notable 'revolutionaries' such as Louie Simmons and Pavel Tsatsouline) have shaped the face of strength and conditioning over the past 15 years. Having this book would be a great place to start if your knowledge needs shoring up. Unlike other books that require you have a copy of your Anatomy Coloring Book handy, or enjoy Mel Siff as light bedtime reading, "Advances In Functional Training" is not written for the research aficionado - it is written for coaches and athletes. It assumes basic exercise literacy - there are not a lot of detailed exercise descriptions, and it does not cover the finer nuances of the Bulgarian split squat. There is great discussion about a variety of topics pertinent to coaches, such as development for football combines, injury prevention, and basic physiology as it applies to common strength deficits in the gym and on the field. "Advances" is a MUST-HAVE for the budding strength and conditioning coach or trainer who is looking for readily applicable information concerning assessments, exercise selection, methodology, and programming.