Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gumption Traps

I first read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" over 20 years ago. Loved it then. Still love it now. A lot of things were lost on me the first time and I'm guessing many are still lost on me even today. The lessons about "gumption traps" could be very relevant to strength training practices and there's a lot to be gleaned from them. The following paragraphs are an introduction to external gumption traps (the things that erode self-efficacy) but Robert Pirsig goes on about the topic for another 15 pages - if you like it, you'll have to check out the book!
A few book-club questions to think about as/after you read:
*Does this passage apply to your training? Is so, how? If not, why not?
*What do you think of the author's thoughts on the "specialist"?
*Do you see parallels between the author's use of a notebook and a gym-rat's training log?
*Have you ever experienced "gumption desperation"?

Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven't got it there's no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there's absolutely no way in the whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It's bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.
This paramount importance of gumption solves a problem of format of this Chautauqua. The problem has been how to get off the generalities. If the Chautauqua gets into the actual details of fixing one individual machine the chances are overwhelming that it won't be your make and model and the information that fixes one model can sometimes wreck another. For detailed information of an objective sort, a separate shop manual for the specific make and model of machine must be used. In addition, a general shop manual such as Audel's Automotive Guide fills in the gaps.
But there's another kind of detail that no shop manual goes into but that is common to all machines and can be given here. This is the detail of the Quality relationship, the gumption relationship, between the machine and the mechanic, which is just as intricate as the machine itself. Throughout  the process of fixing the machine things always come up, low-quality things, from a dusted knuckle to an accidentally ruined "irreplaceable" assembly. These drain off gumption, destroy enthusiasm and leave you so discouraged you want to forget the whole business. I call these things "gumption traps."
There are hundreds of different kinds of gumption traps, maybe thousands, maybe millions...

In traditional maintenance gumption is considered something you're born with or have acquired as a result of good upbringing. It's a fixed commodity. From the lack of information about how one acquires this gumption one might assume that a person without any gumption is a hopeless case.
In nondualistic maintenance gumption isn't a fixed commodity. It's variable, a reservoir of good spirits that can be added to or subtracted from. Since it's a result of the perception of Quality, a gumption trap, consequently, can be defined as anything that causes one to lose sight of Quality, and thus lose one's enthusiasm from what one is doing. As one might guess from a definition as broad as this, the field is enormous and only a beginning sketch can be attempted here.
As far as I can see there are only two main types of gumption traps. The first type is those in which you're thrown off the Quality track by conditions that arise from external circumstances, and I call these "set-backs." The second type is traps in which you're thrown off the Quality track by conditions that are primarily within yourself. These I don't have any generic name for - "hang-ups," I suppose. I'll take up the externally caused setbacks first.
The first time you do any major job it seems as though the out-of-sequence-reassembly setback is your biggest worry. This occurs usually at a time when you think you're almost done. After days of work you finally have it all together except for: What's this? A connecting-rod bearing liner?! How could you have left that out? Oh Jesus, everything's got to come apart again! You can almost hear the gumption escaping. Psssssssssssssss.
There's nothing you can do but go back and take it apart again... after a rest period of up to a month that allows you to get used to the idea.
There are two techniques I use to prevent the out-of-sequence-reassembly setback. I use them mainly when I'm getting into a complex assembly I don't know anything about.
It should be inserted here parenthetically that there's a school of mechanical thought which says I shouldn't be getting into a complex assembly I don't know anything about. I should have training or leave the job to a specialist. That's a self-serving school of mechanical eliteness I'd like to see wiped out. That was a "specialist" who broke the fins on this machine. I've edited manuals written to train specialists for IBM, and what they know when they're done isn't that great. You're at a disadvantage the first time around and it may cost you a little more because of parts you accidentally damage, and it will undoubtedly take a lot more time, but the next time around you're way ahead of the specialist. You, with gumption, have learned the assembly the hard way and you've a whole set of good feelings about it that he's unlikely to have.
Anyway, the first technique for preventing the out-of-sequence-reassembly gumption trap is a notebook in which I write down the order of disassembly and note anything unusual that might give trouble in reassembly later on. This notebook gets plenty grease-smeared and ugly. But a number of times one or two words in it that didn't seem important when written down have prevented damage and saved hours of work. The notes should pay special attention to left-hand and right-hand and up-and-down orientations of parts, and color coding and positions of wires. If incidental parts look worn or damaged or loose this is the time to note it so that you can make all your parts purchases at the same time.
The second technique for preventing the out-of-sequence-reassembly gumption trap is newspapers opened out on the floor of the garage on which all the parts are laid left-to-right and top-to-bottom in the order in which you read a page. that when you put it back together in reverse   order, the little screws and washers and pins that can be easily overlooked are brought to your attention as you need them.
Even with all these precautions, however, out-of-sequence reassemblies sometimes occur and when they do you've got to watch the gumption. Watch out for gumption desperation, in which you hurry up wildly in an effort to restore gumption by making up for lost time. That just creates more mistakes. When you first see that you have to go back and take it apart all over again it's definitely time for that long break.
It's important to distinguish from these the reassemblies that were out of sequence because you lacked certain information. Frequently the whole reassembly process becomes a cut-and-dry technique in which you have to take it apart to make a change and then put it together again to see if the change works. If it doesn't work, that isn't a real setback because the information gained is a real progress.
But if you've made just a plain old dumb mistake in reassembly, some gumption can still be salvaged by the knowledge that the second disassembly and reassembly is likely to go much faster than the first one. You've unconsciously memorized all sorts of things you won't have to relearn.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blogs of Note VIII

Dan John
Dan John has been absolutely killing it lately on his blog. Dan John does NOT do short blurbs full of links, bullet points, and embedded pictures or videos (created by others). He writes full-blown entries, chock full of wisdom, most truly worthy of being called articles, or even "chapters". This article, entitled "Training for Middle Age and Beyond", is great advice for anyone of any age.

Adam "Unbreakable" Glass
I love this post from Adam. One thing you can always count on from Adam is that he will call it like he sees it. This post, "Who Do You Think You're Kidding?", is directed toward people who put their fitness goals on hold...

True story - I didn't know that Glenn Pendlay was keeping a blog until today. This post, "I'm still pissed (Part III)", is great. I agree completely.

Jim Wendler
I think the first piece I ever read from Jim Wendler was this article: Training High School Athletes on (which was at the time, I think). I've always been a fan of his writing. This piece, Ode and Origins by Paul Carter, is actually written by Paul Carter and it is great, great, great. It's one of those reminders that no matter how "scientific" or "advanced" your training methodology is, nothing can take the place of time and hard, hard work.

Related Squat Rx Posts:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Final Issue of PL USA

On the newsstands right now, the final issue of Powerlifting USA. It's a very solid magazine - always has been. I will miss all the lifters, competition results, top 100 lists, and writers that Mike Lambert and his crew introduced to us over the years. 

Does the loss of this publication mark a turning point in the strength publishing industry? I don't know but without PL USA on the stands, we are left with little more than dozens of Men's Health/Maxim hybrids. Perhaps someone else will be able to fill the "just-strength-and-numbers" void that is left with Powerlifting USA's passing, but those are some big shoes to fill. 

Thank you Powerlifting USA for 35 years of service to the sport and people of powerlifting. You will be missed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Clean and Orderly Training Space

I have the world's messiest desk, but I understand the importance of having a tidy workspace. A clean and orderly space gives you room to breathe. 

The Garage - not bad

When everything is accounted for and in its place, there's freedom to play and be creative. A mess limits options - you gravitate towards what is available, the things you don't have to find under the pile... A clean training area, on the other hand, makes many choices more easily accessible, makes it easier to downsize when you realize this or that piece of equipment is not a good use of space or time, and helps you focus on what matters. A mess is distracting and potentially dangerous - a misplaced plate or kettlebell can be easily tripped upon. The only time I've ever fainted in a gym was when I was 17 years old after a set of pull-ups - I should thank the gym gods (and management) that the floor was clean and free of loose equipment on that day.

Dan John said in this thread (a discussion of the book "Willpower") that "A clean weightroom is a strong weightroom." I absolutely agree. Understand that this does NOT mean you can't be strong in a messy weightroom, simply that a clean weightroom is conducive to clean (and strong) lifts.

Monday, May 14, 2012


When I was young, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. My mind got to racing about things - people that pissed me off, things I wish I would have said or done, things I wish I wouldn't have said or done, you name it. It was difficult to clear the mind. When I learned to "let go", and focus on breathing and catching and releasing thoughts, I was finally able to "catch my breath", so to speak, and this helped reestablish a neutral frame of mind that didn't get in the way of a good night's sleep.

It's interesting, because people talk a lot about their sleep "habits", but few people admit that often they really are just that; habits. I found a link to the following article at - it's a good one:

Save Yourself From Insomnia

Related Squat Rx Post:
Squat Rx: Sleep Debt

Saturday, May 12, 2012


A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop with the coaches of Ultimate Athlete Development. While there, I taught some kettlebell basics to area high school students and gave my two cents about lifting and getting strong in general. 

I work with young people everyday, but it's been a while since I've given a workshop or coached in a weight room.  The groups you get at workshops are, by and large, superior, motivated performers. This group was no different - quick studies, very coachable, strong young men. Lots of potential there!

It's interesting because there are perennial issues, like posture, hamstring flexibility, and hip extension. With teens especially, supplements always come up in the Q&A time.

The group made great progress in the three hours we had them. Hopefully they'll take that knowledge back with them and share it with their teammates. I look forward to seeing how they do come fall football season.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Willy Wonka Likes Squats

I find the "condescending Willy Wonka" memes hilarious. I made this one at quickmeme (Willy talks squatting)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sash Weights

My parents gave me five "sash weights"; something found in storage while preparing to move out of their house of the past 25 years. These are, of course, antiques - few windows use them as a counter-balance anymore. Sash weights can be found online with a simple search, and you can probably purchase sash weights cheaply on places like eBay.

These sash weights are more than a little rusty. I'm not worried - my tetanus booster is up to date (I think).

I haven't tried them with anything besides some levering and farmers walks, but I think they will be a fun addition to the gym.