Saturday, November 27, 2010

Words Of Wisdom - Vincent Van Gogh

"If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things."

- Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Your Stuff Done

Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has a time management matrix in which he breaks down a day's given activities into four categories: important & urgent (quadrant I), important & not urgent (quadrant II), not important & urgent (quadrant III), and not important & not urgent (quadrant IV).

In our daily lives, many of us are so overwhelmed with Quadrant I and III activities, that when we get any "down time" we fill it with mindless Quadrant IV activities. Quadrant II often represents the things most important in our lives and, paradoxically perhaps, the things we figure there will always be time for later, like friends, family, health, education, R&R. The key to effective time management, of course, is spending as much time as possible in Quadrant II. Plugging away at Quadrant II keeps Quadrant I from growing out of control.

Generally, training is a Quadrant II activity. It needs to be a priority, or it becomes one of those things you'll "get to later" but never do.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Holiday Gift Ideas For The Meathead In Your Life

Every year, I make a Christmas list for people looking for training goods for themselves or an ironhead in their life. I try to cover a range of prices and a variety of gifts. All of these get a big thumbs up from me and, for what it's worth, except for the shirts*, I don't get a dime.

* =  (maybe "Athletic Body In Balance" and the slow cooker - I'm supposedly an Amazon affiliate, but I haven't seen a single check yet...)

*$11.95 Expand Your Hands Bands : Ironmind
You could do the same thing by buying a lot of asparagus and using the thick rubber bands, but these are NICE! If you have any hand or wrist issues, or need to balance out your grip work, I highly recommend them.

*$19.95 Of Stones And Strength : Steve Jeck and Peter Martin (book)
This was one of the first books I bought when I became interested in strongman events. It is a fascinating look at "manhood stones" that have challenged warriors and strongmen throughout history. If you've ever watched World Strongest Man events and wanted to know more about the  McGlashen stones ("Atlas Stones"), or the Husafell Stone, or just like rocks, this book is for you.

*$20.00 SKWAT! T-Shirt
I just got an order of shirts in (sizes S, M, L, XL, XXL). If you're interested, send me an email ( to check availability and we'll arrange payment through PayPal.

*$24.95 Never Let Go : Dan John (book)
Dan John is one of a kind. Never Let Go is a collection of articles and essays filled with anecdotes, advice, plans, and reflections. It is a must have for the training veteran. You can find many of his articles at Dave Draper's site if you'd like a preview of his writing.

*$26.30 Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Slow cooker
If your diet needs improvement, then a slow cooker might be one way to get you eating better and eating out less. I make soups, chili, and pot roast more often than my family would probably like, but it has saved us a lot of time and money.

*$29.95 Lats: The Super Muscles : Mark Reifkind (DVD)
I reviewed this DVD in October here. Although many of the drills given in the DVD are kettlebell-centered, the application is far-reaching and, applied properly, will have you pressing, pulling, and swinging more powerfully than ever.

*$58 2" Diameter Vertical Bar from Fat Bastard Barbell Company
Adam "Unbreakable" Glass inspired and recommended this simple training tool to me and I've really enjoyed using it for one-arm deadlifts. I have no delusions of grip strength glory, but it's a fun challenge and maybe, just maybe, if I can get strong enough with it, I'll be able to give the Spear Of Benkei a run for its money.

*$69.95 Movement Gray Cook (book)
If you are a trainer or coach and you have no means of assessing mobility, then you need this book. It is a wonderful and in-depth text covering movement screens, assessments, and corrective exercises. If you are looking for a more basic introduction to movement screens, then Gray Cook's first book, Athletic Body In Balance (Paperback Book) ($19.95) may be better suited to your needs. Both books are excellent.

*$99 Grip & Rip 2.1 Adam T. Glass & Brad Nelson (DVD)
Last April, I reviewed the first version of Grip & Rip 2 here and added further commentary on "The Movement" here. I believe that there is simple genius in Adam and Brad's teachings. If you are an "endless seeker" of routines and training protocols, then this may finally end your search.

*$129.99 Plateau Buster Swing Handle
Another recommendation from Adam Glass - it's a sturdy version of a device that, I think, Dan John called a "Turkish Blaster". Dudes are loading up 300+ pounds on this thing and swinging it! That's absolutely nuts - I'll be getting one soon!

*$179 The Top Squat from
The Top Squat is a wonderful, sturdy device that affixes to a barbell to make squatting less demanding on shoulder girdle flexibility. It's an awesome tool to have if you're someone who can't back squat because of shoulder, elbow, or wrist issues. I reviewed this product in Squat Rx #19 - since reviewing it three years ago, I've had a lot more time to experiment with the Top Squat and I've grown to love it as a change of pace from barbell back and front squats.

Related Posts
Gift Ideas 2008
Gift Ideas 2009

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Do Your Heros Have To Be Heroic?

Back in the day, I was a huge Charles-"I Am NOT A Role Model"-Barkley fan. In a 21st Century context, aside from the occasional fight with some dude in a bar, Sir Charles was seemingly pretty well behaved.

A few years ago, while listening to sports radio program that was pooh-poohing the allegations of spousal abuse against NBA player Jason Kidd, I decided to call in. It will sound unbelievable, but the conversation went something like this:

Radio Host: Do you believe that the general manager should even have an opinion of Jason Kidd's off-the-court actions?

Me: Well, yes. I mean, in my opinion if a manager thinks a player is a bad person who represents his team in a negative light, then they should be able to fire them.

Radio Host: So, do you think Jason Kidd is a bad person?

Me: ... Huh? ...YES!

Radio Host: That's harsh man.

[line disconnects]

Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time watching a wife-beater play basketball. I just do.

I don't follow televised sports much. The last I heard, quarterback Michael Vick was a suspect in a dog-fighting ring - yeah, I know I'm out of the loop. Just in case you're as behind the times as I am, Vick was convicted and served time in prison. He is now back and dominating the competition in the NFL. The following article, in my opinion, is worth a read if you're a fan of football, or dogs: Dog Owner Can't Forgive Michael Vick

Fair or not, in the modern age, the public figure is under greater scrutiny than ever. And, if you think that scrutiny is too much now, wait 10 or 20 years - it will be even greater as future stars' every Facebook update and tweet on Twitter are searched, dissected, and archived.

What do you think? Do your heros and gurus need to be virtuous? Are the actions of coaches and athletes off of the field something fans should care about?

Saturday, November 13, 2010


So....without any plan or goal to lose weight, I get on the scale last week and realize that I've lost 20 pounds over the past 2-3 months. I'm not bragging about this - like I said, it was not a goal and, on some level, I've always wanted to be big and strong. Losing 20 pounds is not part of any plan that includes getting big or strong. On the other hand, going down a weight class for future competitions was something I've been thinking about doing, and now (assuming I don't gain it all back) it's a done deal without any conscious effort on my part.

How did I accomplish this "amazing feat of weight loss"? By being busy at work, eating inconsistently, and continuing to train regularly. Is this healthy? No. Would I recommend this method of weight-loss to anyone? NO!

BUT, there is something to be learned from my little accidental journey and it is this:

More time on task exercising and working = less time on task sitting on a couch eating.

For many overweight Americans, simply reducing time on task eating may be more than enough to create the caloric deficit necessary to lose weight.

It is absolutely true that you "cannot out-exercise a diet of pizza and donuts" but if, by exercising training volume or frequency, you spend less time eating and more time moving, then you might find yourself having to shop for a smaller size pair of pants...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Centrality Of Breath (Part IV)

To some extent, in our culture, we associate calm with a certain relaxed dullness, like lying in a hammock on a summer afternoon after a hard day's work. On the other hand, we are often alert but tense, as when we face danger or financial problems. We go back and forth between these two states, relaxed but dull, alert but tense. we associate alertness with a crisis mode.

- Breath by Breath

Science of Breath. A Practical Guide.

...another major breathing type, paradoxical breathing, involves a combination of expanding the chest while simultaneously contracting the abdominal muscles, which pushes the diaphragm up into the chest cavity. Although the chest wall expands, increasing lung volume, the diaphragm simultaneously rises and diminishes these gains. It is immediately obvious that this cannot be an efficient way to breathe, fighting against itself for air. Then why would anyone breathe this way?

Although breathing is partly under voluntary control, as mentioned earlier, it is also regulated by the autonomic nervous system, and any attempt to breathe consciously in a manner which threatens survival (for instance, holding the breath beyond one's capacity) is overrided by this regulatory system. Responses to many emotions are also involuntary. The symptoms of acute anxiety, the "blush" of embarrassment, and a trembling fit of rage are expressed directly by the autonomic nervous system, often bypassing conscious control. We can all identify how we characteristically respond to specific emotions time after time. That we have these reactions in common with the experiences of most other people indicates a common fundamental psychophysiological response.

Paradoxical breathing is seen in conjunction with a sudden shock or surprise. One reflexively gasps when startled, expanding the chest while tensing the abdomen. If a situation which elicits paradoxical breathing occurs frequently, either because of the presence of much stimulation from the environment, or because of an excessive sensitivity to environmental cues, the body will accommodate itself to this mode of functioning, gradually offering less and less resistance to it. Then, after being accustomed to this abnormal pattern, the body risks becoming less specific in its application of this pattern.

Science of Breath. A Practical Guide. (pp. 40-41)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Stigma Of Stretching

Someday, it will be okay to say "stretching" again without qualifying it as "mobility work"...

Stretching feels good. Stretching is a way to relieve tension and stress. Stretching is a way to safely explore new ranges of motion.

As with anything, you need to start where you can and slowly, progressively add resistance, weight, range of motion, and speed (if these are goals).

Last night's "Stretching WAD"

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Centrality Of Breath (Part III)

Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness

When I was in junior high school, I had a giant of a man for a PE teacher - his name was Mr. Geist and he was married to an English teacher whose name was... Mrs. Geist. He was in his late 50s at the time and he was the gentlest giant you could ever meet. One day, while instructing archery and after calling "bows down", an arrow flew out on the field and impaled his hand as he was walking toward the targets. Looking at us, a little irritated, he pointed at his skewered hand and said clearly and forcefully "Now, THIS is why when I tell you 'bows down", I mean BOWS DOWN!"
There are many other stories to tell, but one of the tidbits he passed on to us stuck with me. I don't remember the context, but in some discussion with students Mr. Geist casually mentioned that a key to relaxation and slowing the heart rate was controlled and prolonged exhalation.

Once when I was in the laboratory in Kyoto,... I observed a curious phenomenon. At the time, I was performing pharmacology exeriments on cats and was monitoring the field potentials of several larger groups of nerve cells throughout the brain. As I looked at all these discharges, I became puzzled. Every few seconds, the firing waxed, then waned. The resulting wave forms were a series of peaks and troughs. Why did they follow a regular rhythm? Why were the rhythmical firings at sites higher in the limbic system synchronous with those of other cell groups down in the brain stem? Further observation provided a simple explanation. Every time the cat breathed in, its nerve cells fired much more. Every time the cat breathed out, these discharges slacked off. Breathing out was quieting the brain. Lesser degrees of this same phenomenon have since been observed in the human amygdala and hippocampus.

...When an awake animal breathes in, many of its amygdala nerve cells discharge. In contrast, when exhaling, only half that number fire. Fewer still fire when the animal enters quiet sleep or REM sleep. Such findings reemphasize in important point cited back in chapter 22. Not only does meditation affect breathing; breathing can go on to influence meditative experience. More specifically, expiration quiets down the firing of the central amygdala.

- Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness