Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Dose of Reality

People seem to have the impression that I'm against video games. I'm not. I love video games. Although I have never played World of Warcraft, I'm sure that if I wasn't married, had no children, or a job, I'd probably spend half of my waking life trying to gain "experience points".
You see, I spent a lot of time from age 11-13 playing Atari and Dungeons & Dragons. About the time I hit high school, athletics began taking so much time and energy that there was none left for fighting orcs. To top it off, I found that, contrary to popular belief, high school girls don't show much interest in paladins or magic-users, even if your role-playing-game character sheet has a charisma score of 18. "Reality" became much more important than "role-playing".

I always loved weights, and after I started reading the muscle magazines in the mid-80s, it was tough to ignore the advertisements and I fell hard for (as Jim Wendler called it) the "Weider tax". It was another kind of escape from reality. If it were possible, I'd like to calculate how much money I dropped in arcades one quarter at a time playing everything from Space Invaders to Karate Champ and compare that to allowances, scholarship money, and wages squandered on Dynamic Weight Gain, free-form aminos, and Dibencozide. Thankfully, 20+ years later, I've managed to get a handle on most reality "distractions", except for certain internet sites.

Nearly 30 years later, I find "Warrior Nerds" galore in dozens of high-traffic bodybuilding forums. Visit many of them and you'll see a lot of people pretending to be something they are not, dispensing cookie-cutter advice and hackneyed replies as effortlessly as they would roll a 20-sided die. Unfortunately, after endless hours boosting their post count (note the eerie similarity to experience points) into the hundreds, even thousands, many of them are no closer to bench pressing their bodyweight than they were six months before.

There is a cure and it's a lifting secret that all elite strength athletes know. It's called "experiential weightlifting".

Experiential Weightlifting (ĭk-spîr'ē-ĕn'shəl wātlĭftĭng) n. Weightlifting knowledge and strength derived from experience actually lifting heavy things

The thing is that, in modern society, we've grown comfortable with distraction; we love complexity and, in fact, find it impossible to function without them. Without our 100+ channels, cell phones, iPods, instant messaging, forums, video games, supplements, machines, implements, and gadgets, we'd be lost in the relative silence and simplicity of it all. The solution to distraction is NOT more distraction - not another supplement, research abstract, or "routine". The solution is less exercises, less time and energy spent on the minutiae and more time in the gym engaging in experiential weightlifting.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

10:00 with the 2 Pood

Yesterday, I did 10:00 of snatches with the 2 pood (70lb) kettlebell. There were plenty of hand switches and I put the bell down frequently, but I was happy to get 100 repetitions in. Except for sucking wind very badly, it felt all right.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Words of Wisdom From Paul Dudley White, M.D.

"A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world."

- Paul Dudley White, M.D.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Words of Wisdom From George Leonard

"Goals and contingencies, as I've said, are important. But they exist in the future and the past, beyond the pale of the sensory realm. Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. You can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then serenity to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in your life."

- George Leonard ("Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment", 1991)

I had this book rush delivered and ended up receiving it the day after submitting the order. It is a very easy and delightful read. A lot of the material is very clearly Zen (and Buddhist) based - not surprising considering the author's aikiko background. I wish I had discovered this book when it was first published - it could have saved me a lot of frustration in a number of areas in my life. Unfortunately, I had to rediscover the path to mastery on my own and the acceptance, and even enjoyment, of plateaus was a very, very hard lesson to re-learn. Though not as eloquent or concise as the George Leonard quote above, learning to accept plateaus was a point of the post "Plateaued? So What?".

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Wonderful Blog Post (regrettably not my own...)

I found a great blog post at Chronicles From a Carribean Cubicle. It is entitled "Mastery and the Plateau" and it is worth the read. I will be ordering the book Mastery later today.

Monday, May 19, 2008

10 Years Experience vs. One Year's Experience 10 Times

10 Years Experience Vs. One Year's Experience 10 Times

Experience can be all-important, but there are exceptions. We've all met the co-worker, coach, trainee, or athlete that is on cruise-control - just going through the motions. They haven't done or learned anything new in years. They are just trying to get by, doing enough to collect their paycheck, enough to NOT get fired, enough to maintain their current, unimpressive performance levels. You see them in every field and every sport or hobby. Rather than redoubling or refocusing their efforts, they do what they know will keep them where they are - nothing impressive, mind you, but comfortable, predictable results.

Another co-worker or athlete we all know and love is the one who trains or works like gangbusters only to meet with miserable failure or injury... repeatedly. Cliche, I know, but sometimes it really isn't just about working harder, it's about working smarter. Athletes used to pushing the envelope in training are very susceptible to this - "It didn't work last time, but it HAS TO work this time!", "If only I can just do one thing right, the whole thing will fall into place." Recently, I had a young man correspond with me, asking for some training advice - the conversation went like this:

Young Man: "Everytime I've done Smolov in the past, I've gotten injured, but I'm stronger now. Do you think I should do Sheiko or Smolov?"
Me: "Well, if a program has injured you repeatedly, it's probably a good idea to avoid it."
Young Man: "So, Sheiko or Smolov?"
Me: ...

Don't allow yourself to fall into these blackholes of mediocrity. Take every training session as an opportunity to improve yourself in some way, no matter how small. Keep a training log and make every mesocycle a learning experience. Don't allow false delusions of "consistency" to excuse you from new (and needed) change.

Make your experience count for something besides 'X'es on a calendar. Make your journey worth more than a conservatively counted hill of beans.

Friday, May 16, 2008

In the Year 2020...

In the year 2020, what will the landscape of the strength and conditioning world look like?
Will we all be playing WiiFit?

Will bench presses and power cleans still hold their exalted positions in gridiron training programs, or will other exercises take their place?

kb snatch 1kb snatch 4kb snatch 6

Will eliptical trainers and treadmills still be the cardio weapons of choice in the local health club, or will something new like the ROM (pictured below) replace them?

Will sports, like powerlifting, take sporting equipment to extreme levels, or will "RAW" contests gain in popularity?

What new sports will the world be enjoying, athletes training for, and young children dreaming of achieving greatness at?

Finding Inspiration

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
- Jack London

I get asked time to time, by students and online acquaintances, where I get ideas for teaching, writing and training. How I answer depends on who's asking and although the list of influences is very long and varied, there are a few constants that I can draw literally hundreds of anecdotes from - Master Pak (my Tae Kwon Do teacher and long-time friend of the family), my competitive swimming experience (thousands of miles and over two decades of training and coaching), my son, my students, and my friends. These are personal connections and experiences that I can't really "share" in the sense that I can't tell someone to, for example, hang out with my students for inspiration. There ARE other sources of inspiration that I can share however, and here are a few of them:

*The "Classics"
When it comes to weightlifting, there are some books that I'd consider classics - some old, some new. Here are a few classics about strength training that you should consider adding to your library if you haven't already:

- The Strongest Shall Survive by Bill Starr
- The Weightlifting Encyclopedia by Arthur Dreschler
- Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
- Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline
- Supertraining by Mel Siff
- Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladmir Zatsiorsky
- Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook

These are books that you can read and then reread. Whenever I pick up one of these books after some time away from them, I can open to any page, start reading, and be drawn into the anecdote, training tip, or lesson being presented. ... and yes, I know I'm kind of a nerd like that...

*Try the "Kaizen" Approach
"Kaizen" is a Japanese word that means something that can be loosely interpreted as "improvement" or "reformation". It was a business buzzword for a while in the early 90s. It differs from the ideas of "renovation" or "restructuring" in that kaizen implies small, sometime incremental, improvements that, over time, can make a large difference in performance and climate.

A book I read years ago, ”ザッツ カイゼン!” ("That's Kaizen!") broke it down into a very simple list that was similar to what follows:
- make/do it smaller
- make/do it bigger
- make/do it faster
- make/do it slower
- make/do it safer
- make/do it cheaper
- make/do it easier
- make/do it harder
- make/do it easier to see
- make it prettier
- make it uglier
- make/do it backwards
- make/do it quieter
- make it louder

*Other Fields
It's pretty tough to think outside the box when you are constantly inside it. In Japanese, there's a saying: "A frog in a well doesn't know the ocean." The same could be said of people who surround themselves with like-minded individuals and similar input from the same fields day in and day out. If you want to bring a fresh approach or perspective, it will be easier to find that by looking at books, magazines and websites from other fields, and talking to people with different backgrounds and trying to apply them to your own. Very often inspiration doesn't strike the scientist as he is working in the lab, but rather when they are walking home, or playing with their children, or sitting under a tree...
If you constantly read Powerlifting USA, for example, pick up a copy of TIME magazine, or Scientific America, or People and see if there's anything that might be applied to your craft. Who knows, you might be the next trend-setting powerlifter in terms of fashion or training templates!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thoughts on Research

For some reason, people seem to think that I don't read research at all. The fact is that I do read abstracts from time to time if I find the topic interesting, but I don't spend a whole lot of time "researching" research.
Why not? The short explanation of it is that I don't have a lot of time for research that tells me that squats don't activate the hamstrings or that a five degree change in foot pronation yields a 10% greater activation of the vastus medialis, for example.
There is "knowledge" and there is "knowing" (see Knowledge vs. Knowing) and there are "facts" and then there is "truth". Rarely do all of these coincide with each other.

"If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?"
- Albert Einstein

"Just as the largest library, badly arranged, is not so useful as a very moderate one that is well arranged, so the greatest amount of knowledge, if not elaborated by our own thoughts, is worth much less than a far smaller volume that has been abundantly and repeatedly thought over."
- Arthur Schopenhauer

Useful Research Phrases (found here)

"It has long been known…"
I didn’t look up the original reference.

"A definite trend is evident…"
These data are are practically meaningless.

"Of great theoretical and practical importance…"
Interesting to me.

"While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to these questions…"
An unsuccessful experiment, but I still hope to get it published.

"Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study…"
The results of the others didn’t make any sense.

"Typical results are shown…"
The best results are shown.

"These results will be shown in a subsequent report…"
I might get around to this sometime if I’m pushed.

"The most reliable results are those obtained by Jones…"
He was my graduate assistant.

"It is believed that…"
I think.

"It is generally believed that…"
A couple of other people think so too.

"It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding of the phenomenon occurs…"
I don’t understand it.

"Correct within an order of magnitude…"

"It is hoped that this study will stimulate further investigation in this field…"
This is a lousy paper, but so are all the others on this miserable topic.

"Thanks are due to Joe Blotz for assistance with the experiment and to George Frink for valuable discussions…"
Blotz did the work and Frink explained to me what it meant.

"A careful analysis of obtainable data…"
Three pages of notes were obliterated when I knocked over a glass of beer.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Be a Hypocrite!

Years ago, I was talking with a student who reeked of cigarette smoke. I asked him point-blank, "Don't your parents know you smoke?", to which he replied:
"Yeah, my dad knows, but he doesn't tell me not to because he smokes and he doesn't want to be a hypocrite."
My jaw dropped at this and I had no idea what to say. Since then, I've had dozens of conversations with students and parents that ended similarly:

"I can't tell my son/daughter/athlete not to use drugs, because I did them when I was young..."

"It's tough to tell Johnny not to smoke, when I smoke too!"

Okay, here's the point - please print it out if necessary:
It doesn't matter what you did when you were young and dumb, you have a responsibility to the children in your charge to tell them "no" to the things destructive to their health and growth. If it bothers your conscience, GET OVER IT! ...and if you smoke or do drugs, isn't it time you stopped?

I already have this conversation planned for my son if it ever comes to that. It will go like this:

Son: Dad, did you do drugs when you were my age?

Father: If I say 'yes', you will use that against me and argue 'See Dad, you turned out okay and so will I.' and if I say 'no', you will say 'Well, times are different now', or 'But, you were a nerd.', or 'How could you understand if you've never done them!?'
So son, here's the deal - if you smoke or do drugs while living under my roof, I will kick your ass. If, after the initial ass-kicking, you do them again, I will hit you on the top of the head so hard that you will have to unbutton your shirt to do bong hits. I love you.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Plateaued? So what?

"Two weeks ago, I was benching 175 for five sets of 5 repetitions, but this week the best I've done is 175 for three sets of three! What's the deal? Am I hitting a.... PLATEAU?"

The word "plateau" has come to be a particularly nefarious term in strength training circles, but the reality of the matter is that most of us, at any given moment, are "plateaued". Unless you are relatively new to training, every exercise and every aspect of fitness is not going to improve linearly in direct proportion to training volume, frequency, and intensity.

Not that you want to get complacent, but it's definately not worth getting your boxer briefs in a wad everytime your bench, squat, or snatch numbers don't improve in a given training session or mesocycle. Remember that improvements can come without a immediate and/or noticeable rise in training numbers, and that numbers need to be supported with a rich context to have any real significance.

Here's an example of what I mean - it's not a strength example, but it illustrates my point:

Michael Jordan's NBA career with the Chicago Bulls started in 1984.
The 1986-1987 season was the highest scoring season of his career with 3041 points.
The 1988-89 season was his best rebounding season, totaling 652 rebounds and averaging 8/game.
His highest scoring game was in 1990, when he scored 69 points against the Cleveland.
None of Michael Jordan's NBA championships came in any of those years.

How did MJ look at his basketball career after 1990? Did he think "Damn, I can't improve on those numbers - I must be slipping!", or would he gauge his game in other ways? Somehow, I doubt he would view the years of his championship teams (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998) as plateaus...

So, what are the "intangibles" for people in the weight room? What are the things that most people are failing to notice in their own strength game that might point to progress when it appears there is none?

*Training Numbers Over The Long Term
The use of training log is indispensible if you train yourself and, if you have one, it's easy to see long term progress. If you were to examine your training poundages from a year ago, or five, or ten how would they compare? How does the average training poundage differ?
*Maintaining Numbers Despite Increased Training Frequency or Infrequent Training
Again, having a training log is important here - examining previous mesocycles to see if you have had adequate training or rest can reveal training performances that, at first glance, look unimpressive, but upon closer inspection, are really quite impressive.
*Improved Strength In Other Exercises
We all look for improvement in our core lifts, but the little tributaries and streams that feed them can be telling as well. Ab, grip, and glute strength are difficult to measure using compound lifts and if your training is largely focused on them (as they should be), components could be improving (or weakening) without you noticing.
*Improved Technique
Improvements in technique (form, activation, range of motion, tension, etc.) can be very tough to see to the untrained eye and will not be readily apparent in most hardcopied training logs. If you keep video records, these will be easier to notice.
*Training Pace
Training "density" is an area that more and more people are taking notice of and Charles Staley's Escalating Density Training certainly has a hand in that. If your training log doesn't note rest intervals or, at least, total training time, it might be worth adding.