Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ray Bradbury On Training

I'm sure it was never Ray Bradbury's intention to talk about strength training, but much of his message could just as easily apply to an aspiring strength athlete as it does to budding writers. The following passage is from the preface of Ray Bradbury's "Zen In The Art Of Writing". I have changed the words "write" and "writing to "train" and "training" respectively. 

Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You

So, with no further ado - Ray Bradbury on why training is important:
First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded to us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

Second, training is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.

Not to train, for many of us, is to die.

We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember the pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

A variation of this is true for strength trainees. Not that your style, whatever it is, would melt out of shape in those few days. But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not train every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.

You must stay drunk on training so reality cannot destroy you.

For training allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.

I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without training, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour's training is tonic. I'm on my feet, running circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.

- From Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This I Believe

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

Good book. If I wrote a chapter for it, it might go something like this...

I believe that the key to long term commitment is having lofty goals and no expectations. People will shake their heads at the notion of "no expectations" and confuse it with "low expectations" - this is not what I'm saying. What I am saying is that expectations, good or bad, are bad, and the inability to untangle expectations from goals in training, often leads to disappointment, overtraining, and injury.

Goals Are Good...

Goals are absolutely necessary for most people to reach their fullest potential. Goals help us plan. Goals keep us disciplined. Goals keep us focused, and goals keep us on the path. Goals keep us from adding the superfluous or injurious "extra". Goals keep us open to options. Goals are all the "why" you need.

... and Expectations Are Bad

Expectations make us greedy. Expectations leave us disappointed. Expectations get us into trouble. Expectations tempt us to leave the path. Expectations get us into trouble. Expectations lead to entitlement. Expectations give us tunnel vision and make us "bend the map". Expectations make us add weight when we shouldn't. Expectations say to us "why not this too?".

Goals, plans, discipline, and routine are all positives when it comes to training on the path to mastery. However, when clouded by expectation, those goals become cruel masters that spur you onward (and downward) and fit you with blinders called "perserverance" that could more aptly be called, at best, rigidity, and, at its worst, addiction or resignation.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Really? I mean, REALLY?

I'm not exactly sure what to say here...

I guess I'll just say it's bad enough for adults to smoke. It's even worse for children...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Standards Of Performance

"What are you doing with that rake?... No, that is not raking.... What? Different styles of raking? No, there's one style, and then there's bullshit. Guess which one you're doing." - Justin Halpern's Dad
Burpee Gone Bad

I don't know how you can screw up some exercises, but it happens. Deadlifts become one-inch health lifts, military presses start from eyebrow level, burpees become the lazy-man's version of a clapping push-up, and squats become Kegel exercises with a slightly greater range of motion.

If you choose to do a limited range of motion squat, fine - by all means, go for it. But, don't call it a squat, it's a squat variant (maybe even a "quarter-squat"). In your training log, there should be at least some reference to quality of movement if wide variation exists among your sets and repetitions. Documentation becomes important as we walk down the road to mastery because if, for example, you take 5 minutes to do 50 push-ups, downward dogging every fifth repetition, it's fundamentally different than if you bang them out without rest and solid plank position the whole way through - without any note of this in your log, even if your training density and movement quality improve, it's still just "Push-Ups: 50 reps".

I feel compelled to insist that I AM NOT A "FORM NAZI", but there needs to be some kind of standard when it comes to exercise performance, or we all start down that slippery slope toward partner-assisted trampoline-chest presses that many gym goers know as simply "the bench press". 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The "Value" Meal

Even though we don't want the fries, we get the meal because adding them is only a dime with the "value meal". Where, exactly, is the "value" in that?

There is no value in "more than you need". Just because the 30 oz drink is only a dime more than the 20 ouncer, do you really even want that extra 10 ounces? Are we just getting the larger size because somehow it seems more economical? Are we worried that while we are eating our value meal that disaster might strike and the only thing between us and dying of dehydration is that extra 10 ounces?

No, I don't think I'd like to make the fries a King-size. I'm not quite man enough for that. How about an "Earl" size - do you have that? No? Well, how about a "Duke"? Yes, a "Duke"-size would be nice.

No, I won't take the King-sized drink. I'll stick w. the wussy size and make an extra trip to the fountain for a free refill if I feel that I need another 2 or 300 calories to wash down the thousand I'll be getting with my two cheeseburgers and medium fries...

Monday, September 13, 2010

If It's Worth Doing....

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

Commonsense perhaps. But, over the years, I've approached many gyms and organizations about working with their trainers and coaches so that they can better serve their clientele in the weight room with kettlebells and in the power racks. Not-so-uncommon responses are "Well, we're not training our kids to be weightlifters", or "Our [fitness] clients don't need that level of detail, they just want to get in shape". Sure, they might be just saying that to make me go away (and it works), but when I see what they are doing in their classes and training sessions, it makes me think that they have no desire to learn nor teach skills.

For example, just the other day, I drove by a new area fitness-cardio-boot-camp-body-shaping-transformation-studio-gym. I like seeing them sprout up. I hate seeing them go under (and most do). This particular one is situated in a strip mall with lots of windows, highly visible from the slow passing traffic. Within, a group of at least a dozen participants, each wearing bright red boxing gloves, and each with their own brand-new, free-standing, bright red punching bag, jabbed away while circling in a fast high-stepping jog... Now, I'm no boxing coach, but you don't have to be Cus D'Amato to know that one foot in the air and the other on your tippy-toes is not the best way to ground and deliver a solid punch. I'm not Charile Francis, but jogging around a bag and jabbing can't be positive for speed development either.

But, I suppose technique is secondary if your goal is fitness... or is it?

Cleans before learning the rack? Not a good idea.

Well, what about thrusters? I'm not a fan. Learn the rack.

Let's just assume that our budding Sugar Ray can't hit the bag hard enough to hurt himself with one leg in the air and gloves. What happens when he puts one leg down and takes off the gloves? Will he injure his hand or shoulder? If he has to defend himself and throw a "real punch", will he be able to deliver any power at all?

I don't think that potential injury is the most critical issue, however. Sadly, the client probably knows he can't punch his way out of a paper bag. He's probably hoping that after boot-camp is over, he might be able to. If he makes it through a 10-week program (or two), he's going to realize that while what he's been doing might be good for burning calories, it's good for very little else. And, when the weight comes back (and it does for most), what is he left with but no skills to better himself and fading memories of a more in-shape self?

I mention this from time to time, but it's always worth reviewing:

Competence begets Confidence begets Commitment

Competence precedes confidence. Commitment follows confidence. We can decide that mastery is not for us, but as coaches and trainers, we cannot make that choice for others. It is our duty to foster competence in skills that matter and, ultimately, training self-sufficiency. Does that mean they will not need our coaching? No, because we ALL need coaching and instruction. But, we need the RIGHT coaching and instruction. The right coaching is teaching transferable skills, sport specific skills, life skills, and proper progressions. The right coaching is more than holding a stopwatch and rolling out the dodge-balls...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Justin Halpern's Dad

It's been a while since I've read a book that made me laugh as hard as this one. In fact, I'd say I laughed as hard reading this as my son did the first time I read him "Captain Underpants".
Sh*t My Dad Says

On Yard Work
"What are you doing with that rake?... No, that is not raking.... What? Different styles of raking? No, there's one style, and then there's bullshit. Guess which one you're doing."

On My Bloody Nose
"What happened? Did somebody punch you in the face?!... The what? The air is dry? Do me a favor and tell people you got punched in the face."

On Choosing One's Occupation
"You have to do something you love.... Bullshit, you clearly have not heard this speech before, because you're working at Mervyn's."

On the Baseball Steroids Scandal
"People are surprised Mark McGwire did steroids? Look at him! He looks like they should have him in a stall on display at the fair with some poor son of a bitch cleaning up his shit."

On How to Tell When a Workout Is Complete
"I just did an hour on the gym machine. I'm sweaty, and I have to shit. Where's my fanny pack? This workout is over."

- From Sh*t My Dad Says

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

":20 on, :10 off x 8 (x2)" - Some People Might Call it "Tabata"...

The other night, I had a pretty good session of kettlebell snatches (video) and topped it off with some wrist work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 - 1995 publication

One of my favorite books is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. For those who don't know the story, it is set in the not-so-distant-future; books have been banned and "firemen" are employed to seek out and burn books and the people who keep them. The story's protagonist, the fireman Montag, has lost faith in the righteousness of his profession and has begun saving books that he finds instead of incinerating them - a crime punishable by death.

In this scene, the suspicious fire chief, Beatty, pays an unexpected visit to Montag and his wife, Mildred, who is oblivious to her husband's illegal book collection. Montag is hiding a contraband book beneath a sofa pillow while Beatty recounts to them the history behind their profession of book burning:
Beatty peered at the smoke pattern he had put out on the air. "Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending."

"Snap ending," Mildred nodded.

"Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumor of a title to you Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest  in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors. Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more."

Mildred rose and began to move around the room, picking things up and putting them down. Beatty ignored her and continued.

"Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary time-wasting thought!"

Mildred smoothed the bedclothes. Montag felt his heart jump and jump again as she patted his pillow. Right now she was pulling at his shoulder to try to get him to move so she could take the pillow out and fix it nicely and put it back. And perhaps cry out and stare or simply reach down her hand and say, "What's this?" and hold up the hidden book with touching innocence.

"School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?"

"Let me fix your pillow," said Mildred.

"No!" whispered Montag.

"The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour."

Mildred said, "Here."

"Get away," said Montag.

"Life becomes one big pratfall, Montag; everything bang, boff, and wow!"

"Wow," said Mildred, yanking at the pillow.

"For God's sake, let me be!" cried Montag passionately.

Beatty opened his eyes wide.

Mildred's hand had frozen behind the pillow. Her fingers were tracing the book's outline and as the shape became familiar her face looked surprised and then stunned. Her mouth opened to ask a question...

- Fahrenheit 451 - 1995 publication

Sometimes, does it feel like everything is hurried; that everything is "abbreviated"; that there is no enjoyment of the process, but only a mad rush to "get-r-done"? In the fitness and strength and conditioning fields too, it seems that there is no quest for "mastery", only tangible, quantifiable, and hasty results.

"Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted." - Albert Einstein

 Check-out aisles at the local grocery store sell magazines with the latest "Lose 10 Pounds In A Week!" article about a b-list celebrity; wildly popular S&C writers peddle ads disguised as information titled "Gain 50lbs On Your Bench In 4 Weeks!" repeatedly... for the same websites... and the same readers...; everything is reduced to a sound-byte, a Tweet, an abstract, a fast paced "Tabata" session...

I'm not really sure where I'm going with all this to be honest... Maybe what I want to say is that discipline and consistency without mindfulness and patience will run you into an injury-overtraining-laden wall sooner than you'd like. Abbreviated programs are great, but the path to mastery is a long one and abbreviated programs are no short cut.

Maybe I'm just trying to say that Ray Bradbury is a genius.