Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Parable Of The Arrow

The Buddha was sitting in the park when his disciple Malunkyaputta approached him. Malunkyaputta had recently retired from the world and he was concerned that so many things remained unexplained by the Buddha. Was the world eternal or not eternal? Was the soul different from the body? Did the enlightened exist after death or not? He thought, 'If the Buddha does not explain these things to me, I will give up this training and return to worldly life'.
He put these questions to the Buddha who replied, "Now did I ever say to you that if you led a religious life you would understand these things? It is as if a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends, companions relatives were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know who wounded me, of what caste he is, what his name is, whether he is tall, short or of medium height, what colour his skin is, where he comes from, what kind of bow I was wounded with, what it was made of, whether the arrow was feathered with a vulture's wing or a heron's or a hawk's…..' Surely the man would die before he knew all this."
"Whether the view is held that the world is eternal or not, Malunkyaputta, there is still re-birth, old age, death, grief, suffering, sorrow and despair - and these can be destroyed in this life! I have not explained these other things because they are not useful, they are not conducive to tranquillity and Nirvana. What I have explained is suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering. This is useful, leading to non-attachment, the absence of passion, perfect knowledge."
Thus spoke the Buddha, and with joy Malunkyaputta applauded his words.  
What does this have to do with training? Here's the message from the parable: When the path is clear, questions about research, methodology, rationale, and systems cease to have relevance. Sometimes, we get caught up in the 'why' this or that works. We read article after article, abstract after abstract, looking for "answers" when we already know what must be done. Reflection must be coupled with action (sometimes A LOT of action) to be useful.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Skwat! T-Shirts

I still have some t-shirts left. Send me an email if you're interested to check availability. Profits will go toward Miles For Mandy and Andew Read's efforts for the Jodi Lee Foundation. I'm out of Mediums and XXLs (actually, I have ONE). Shirts are $25 each, shipping included. Thanks everyone.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ponder This...

It is no use squatting for strength unless you have (the) strength for squatting.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Easy Strength

Easy Strength Training For Athletes: 10 Rules of Thumb

1. Use a limited number of "big bang" exercises - for example, the deadlift and the floor press from Power To The People!
2. Lift two to three times a week.
3. Keep the volume around 10 reps per lift or 6 when using only singles - for example, 5 x 2, 2 x 5, 532, 3 x 3, 343, 424, 1234, 4321, 12321, 6 x 1, and so on. You may stay with the same weight or vary the weights from set to set.
4. Keep the reps in the 1-5 range, emphasizing doubles and triples
5. Rest about 5 minutes between sets. Practice Fast & Loose relaxation drills in between.
6. Train in the 80% to 95% 1 RM intensity zone. Always leave a rep or two in the bank.
7. Go for a PR, single or rep, when you are feeling exceptionally strong, but stop short of an all-out max. Set a "sort of max." Always back off after a PR.
8. Vary the intensity every workout, either through Power To The People! cycling or through less structured advances and retreats.
9. Don't stop strength training in season, but reduce the volume by two-thirds to one-half. For example, do 3 x 2 instead of 5 x 2 or 3 x 2 instead of 3 x 3.
10. Finish your workout feeling stronger than when you started. Stop the workout if your performance is less than perfect, and come back another day.

Easy Strength (pg. 86)

In 2009, I was assisting at an RKC instructor certification and wandered into the lunch hall, looking for someone to sit and eat with, and the first person I see, all by himself at a table, is Pavel Tsatsouline. Time to chat with Pavel? Fuggedaboutit! Later, we were joined by Dan John. I know - who gets that lucky? Me. It went down as one of the best lunches I've ever had, and I don't remember what we were eating at all. Our lunch conversation focused on books and a little strength and conditioning research. Talking weights and training casually and unrushed with two people who are so experienced, well-read, and in demand in the field almost never happens to most of us, even when we seek them out. Trust me, I realize how fortuitous that lunch was.

Naturally later, when I found out that the two were working on a book, I was excited. And then later, when I was given the opportunity to read and offer suggestions on a manuscript, I was ecstatic and tremendously honored. It was dynamite and most of the 4 pages of notes I sent to Dan and Pavel after reading the manuscript read like:

"Muscle Joy" - Awesome!  
"...most guys who train to look good naked nearly have to be naked before you can tell they even train" - Awesome!

The book's layout is as if Dan John and Pavel are having a free-flowing conversation. The topic is started, and Pavel injects research and anecdotes, and then Dan adds his own thoughts and experiences. It is the closest most of us will get to being a "fly on the wall" during a conversation between two master trainers talking shop in a focused stream-of-consciousness fashion.

There are too many gems, "Of course!" moments, and "a-ha" passages in the book to mention. Way too many.

What does it cover? Well, it covers just about all the programming knowledge that most of us need to get strong without breaking ourselves. A random sampling of topics include GSP, SPP, the application (mis-application, really) of plyometrics, Dan John's 1979 squat workout, ladder rep schemes, "the quadrants", Strength and Speed-Strength Complexes by Verhkhoshansky, the genesis of the "goblet squat", defining an "elite" athlete, many training cycles, workout set-up, the hip displacement continuum, routines, cycles, examples, and plenty of "do-this" lists and bulleted points.
For the self-coached strength athlete it is a must read.

For the trainer or coach that is trying to improve their athletes' strength it is a must have. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Squat Rx Posts On Breathing

I've done a few posts here  about breathing over the years. Though the thoughts are sometimes a bit scattered, there are some real gems and wonderful references among them. If you haven't already, take some time to look them over.

The Centrality Of Breath
The Centrality Of Breath (Part II)
The Centrality Of Breath (Part III)
The Centrality Of Breath (Part IV)

Breathing (Squat Rx #10)
Breathing (The Essential Lessons)
Specificity & Posture
"Hypoxic" Training
Doing Nothing: An Introduction To Meditation
Relaxed But Alert

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Elite Fitness' Grenade Balls

I bought a pair of 3" grenade balls from I think they'll be a lot of fun as a grip tool and just to change things up a bit from time to time. I think they were on special for about $22 each + shipping when I ordered them, but they are a little more now. I've known people that have rigged up grip tools using baseballs and softballs, and that's essentially what these are (but made of metal).

What exercises will I be doing with them? Tonight, I did some light deadlifts with the grenade ball(s) connected by a small chain to kettlebells. I think they will also be perfect for light reverse and hammer curls, light rows, shoulder raises, and bent-over laterals. Pull-ups will be a challenge with these, but I'll give them a try soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Shadow Knows...

From What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes

     In 1968, while I was still in Vietnam, I recorded in my journal the first instance of a recurring nightmare that, along with similar dreams, took me over twenty years to lay to rest.
     Somehow the gook* and I were left isolated right next to the river. I had only my kabar and it looked as if he was unarmed. He saw me and we went at each other. My kabar was dull from chopping branches, so instead of slashing I tried to stab him in the throat. I hit him someplace but didn't stop him and then we were locked together and rolling into the muddy tepid water. I found out then that he wasn't unarmed. In his right hand were two razor blades. He got me right across the wrist in a slash, and in the warm water I could feel my blood draining, mixing with the warmth around it, robbing me of energy, of life. I stabbed him in the Adam's apple and felt the hard resistance like a carrot. The knife was too dull to tear his throat, so I pulled it out and stabbed again and again in a mad race against the blood mixing, mixing in the warm brown water. Finally I could see no longer. My mind whirled. My body twisted and spun after my blood, joining it in a dance of entropy, cooling and spinning to the universal semi-warmth of the river.
     The doc pulled me out and I awoke on the bank with an IV tube in my arm.
     This dream is not about Vietnam. It's about what got me to Vietnam. I've been fighting that "gook," the enemy inside me, in one form or another , for most of my life. It represents the parts of me I despise. Not only don't I want other people to see them; I also don't want to see them myself. These are my weak parts, my indecisive parts, my violent parts, and probably a few parts so deeply buried I can't name them. The enemy, however, pops up in various forms in dreams. Sometimes he's a shiftless vagrant. Sometimes he's a frightening murderer or a crazy person.
     Sometimes real people, not just dreams, catch this enemy within, acting like an unrecognized reflection in a mirror. Rather than realize it's my own reflection, I prefer to think that what I see is really them. This causes troubling encounters. For example, if I see fat people I immediately think badly of them. I myself was a bit fat as a child. I got over that through waging a fierce war against that fat little boy, training hard, running a lot, playing the toughest sports. But I still like to eat ice cream and lie around, so the fat little boy is still with me, stuffed inside where I don't have to think about him anymore. I can have a negative reaction to a fat person, but when I start to remember that fat little boy I used to be, my reaction becomes more neutral. Eventually it took certain painful war experiences, represented and played out in the repeating dream I just described, to finally make up a nightmare strong enough to get my attention and make me realize that something wasn't altogether sound at home. There was indeed an enemy within.
     Everyone has his or her equivalent of "the gook inside." It's what Carl Jung called the shadow. People who say they don't have one have an even bigger one.
     That NVA soldier and I were fighting by the Ben Hai River, the dividing line between North and South Vietnam. This is the dividing line between this world, the world where everyone, especially me, expects I'll be good at football and get a powerful high-paying job, and the other world, the world where I hide, and then forget, the parts of me I despise.
     Although we all have shadows, we all have different ones. My own shadow has many masks. I'm a strong man - my shadow is a weak effeminate whiner. I'm a hard worker - "Sarge" visits me in dreams, a lazy, marijuana-smoking deserter and lover. He's got two sensuous sleek women friends. I'm not afraid to take on a challenge - my shadow constantly fears failing. What better way to fight these shadows than to join the Marines and prove to myself that they don't exist? After I left the Marines, I found other similar things to do, over and over again. I made myself enough brilliant light to keep the shadows at bay and blind myself in the process.
     This dream soldier is slashing my wrists with a razor blade, an image of suicide. The more I try to kill him, the more my own blood drains out of me. When I returned from Vietnam I lost some old and dear friends and one woman I loved. I lost them because they said I had become cold. When asked how I was, I'd answer, "I'm cool." And I was. I was holding down a full colonel's billet at Headquarters Marine Corps* and had enough medals to excuse any wayward behavior, and I took full advantage of the situation. Everything looked fine. But I'd died inside.
     ...Shadow issues come around and around. There is no defeating the shadow. We have to live with it. It is part of us. But having this shadow is neither bad nor good, although it is very troublesome. If I have lazy Sarge in there, smoking marijuana every day, lying on a couch, this hurts nobody. It's when I start screaming at my kid because he is loafing on the couch, just the way I'd like to loaf myself, that someone gets hurt. Then what I'm doing, because of shadow, is bad. I'll never get rid of Sarge. Calling Sarge bad and trying to stuff him even further down in my psychic baggage will only mean it's more likely I'll scream at my kid or anyone else, people on welfare, for example, who "catch" my Sarge when he pops out.

Reading this passage, I think to my own shadows - the demons I'm trying to exorcise every time I get under the barbell. I think to the shadows of all those who point at others with weight and fitness issues and say "Well I did it! What's YOUR problem?" When I see TV celebrity trainers screaming at the people they are supposedly saving from a life of obesity, I wonder what shadows they are projecting on their charges...