Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Monkey Mind

Anxiety comes in a lot of flavors; guilt, anger, regret, and shame are common synonyms. It can manifest itself as dread, jealousy, rumination, detachment, self-flagellation and loathing, and rage. Cognitive therapy and meditation are, in my opinion, key to getting out of those negative feedback loops. I know this to be true for myself. But, if you're like me, you mostly build walls to hold them back. For whatever reason, you rarely aggressively pursue those triggers or seek out the root issues. Maybe you're afraid that letting down the walls will release an unstoppable flood. So, avoiding the walls and the things beyond them, you search for mortar and release valves to keep the walls from caving in. If you're like me, the weight room is a release valve - the momentary solace of a comfortably numb place to hide from the monkey mind.
Remember Captain and Tennille? This monkey gave me nightmares!
Dear Dan,
You are sitting now in the Duomo - a Tintoretto here, a Pisano there, Jesus everywhere - and you are feeling down. What it is is something you've felt before when it seems as if life has placed you in a position in which you do not want to be. No, let's clarify: You have put yourself in a position in which you do not want to be. You are feeling (we're going to have to use that tapioca word quite a bit, I'm afraid) what you have learned to call "anxious," a term it's a little hard to define but that can include a number of psychopathological elements: fear, dread, self-loathing, homesickness, a desire to retreat into some place where the self-reflection can be total and you can luxuriate in self-abasement for hours (bed, e.g.), a tendency toward questioning your decisions both on the micro and macro scales (this one maybe should be moved to the top of the list)... let's see, what else? Ah yes: physical symptoms. These may include loss of appetite (in Tuscany! Sweet Moses!), nausea, a lump in the throat, lack of short-/long-term memory, lethargy, the icicle of course. No decreased libido. After all, you're twenty-three yrs. old. 
There's got to be more... did I mention self-loathing? Yes? Did I really put enough emphasis on taking every big and little decision and scrutinizing it as if it were literally a matter of life or death? I did? Well, then, how about the insatiable (because who would do it?) urge to call your mother and cry? 
Now, if all this is a disease, as I've been told, what is the cure? Is there a cure? No, probably there isn't. But there is a course of action. On the tortured decisions and catastrophizing and dwelling, always remember the following: IT IS MORE THAN LIKELY THAT THIS WILL NOT KILL YOU. Also: DANIEL, YOU MUST GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. THIS IS NOT EASY. IT IS NOT FUN. BUT IT CAN BE IF YOU REPEAT AFTER ME: IT'S JUST LIFE. IT IS NOT PERFECT. THERE ARE NO ASSURANCES. NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE YOU. NOT EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO DO WILL BE ENJOYABLE.
Larger now:





This passage was written in the central cathedral in Lucca, in Northern Tuscany - the Cattedral di San Martino, named after Martin of Tours, the first saint to have the dubious honor of having to endure his biblically allotted threescore and ten rather than being burned, beheaded, stoned, crucified, or tortured to death in his prime. In the marble composition notebook in which it appears the passage bears the title, "Painfully Obvious Letter to Myself." It isn't dated, but I know it is written in April 2001, in the middle of a two-week trip to Rome, Florence, Lucca, Siena, and Venice that I took with my then live-in girlfriend, Joanna. That, it rattles the mind to realize, is the undesirable "position" to which the passage refers, the event of which it moans, "IT IS NOT FUN": a luxurious Italian tour with a lovely young woman, filled with food, wine, art, and lovemaking.
The trip took place two months after Joanna and I met, and was expected to further cement the relationship we had both believed was progressing steadily toward marriage. Instead it harnessed and distilled the years of mounting anxiety that preceded it and showed Joanna that the young man she'd fallen for was far too caught up in himself, too nervous, confused, and deluded - too selfish - to love anyone, and therefore to be loved in return.

(Monkey Mind, pp. 179-181)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction - Book Review

The hips and t-spine are hot topics in the fitness industry right now - and justifiably so; really, almost all of the issues I see in the gym, or even among friends and co-workers who don't go to the gym, come down to these two areas. 
In this wonderful textbook for the fitness professional looking to serve his/her clients better, Evan Osar has covered the common disfunctions and syndromes that will plague both their sedentary and athletic clientele. Evan begins by providing a framework for understanding movement function and development, then describes the issues and how they'll manifest themselves in common movements, postures, and compensations, and finally provides principles for (and possible contraindications of) the application of corrective exercises, movements, and patterns.
The following passage discusses functional anatomy - a subject that many coaches and trainers grossly oversimplify. It is not "light" reading (though the beautiful illustrations, pictures, and summary sections help), but it's extremely interesting for gym rats like myself that have been around long enough to see the pendulums swing from "weights will make you muscle-bound", to "getting strong is all that matters", back to the more reasonable "thought-less strength training could actually exacerbate or cause an issue..." 
Photo courtesy of this site
...adopted from the child development model, is the idea of using the upper extremities to drive trunk motion. During the crawling pattern, the child uses one arm to stabilize the upper extremity and spine as the opposite arm reaches forward. This patterning helps the child develop stability in the fixed arm and corresponding side of the thorax, while the free arm helps maintain thoracic mobility. There are two key points here to help in making sense of these actions.
1. The majority of scapular stabilizers - including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids major and minor, as well as all three divisions of the trapezius - have spinal attachments. While these muscles have never been assigned a spinal function, their attachment to the spine suggests they play a role in spine function. The rhomboids, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi collectively function to rotate the spine towards the fixed upper limb. With elbow support, as in crawling or plank position, the triceps and biceps brachia can draw the scapula toward the fixed elbow...[see picture above] This function can be seen in the developing child - the prone elbow, support position stabilizes the child's upper extremity. As they reach with the contralateral arm, the scapular stabilizers of the supported arm help to rotate the spine.
2. As the child stabilizes on his left upper extremity and reaches with his right arm, the left scapular stabilizers aid rotation of the spine. The child stabilizes his trunk with his left arm, while the motion of the free arm helps mobilize the right side of their spine and thorax. This is an important consideration in exercise, as traditional resistance exercise can often create rigidity of the thorax. The main reason for this is that bilateral patterns require the arms be moved over a fixed thorax. In the developing child this patter rarely occurs and when it does, it is usually not performed with significant resistance or in a repetitive fashion.
Bilateral patterns such as chest presses, upright rows, and curls require the thorax to be used as the stable point, as the loaded extremities are moved around the thorax. Additionally, patterns such as barbell squats, deadliest, and farmer's walks can also drive thoracic stiffness because  the thorax is used as a stable point for lifting. While the thorax should be fixed during these types of patterns, perpetual use of these patterns can drive rigidity and stiffness of the thorax. Although this type of rigidity may be useful for muscle hypertrophy and certain athletic activities, hypertrophy of the muscles of the thorax can lead to stiffness of these muscles, and the resultant hypo mobility is often responsible for the onset of several of the more common dysfunctions of the movement system. Two examples are:
i. Rigidity of the thorax results in decreased motion and compensatory hyper mobility of the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine. This is a common cause of spinal instability in these regions and resultant pathologies of the disc and tissue structures of the spine.
ii. Rigidity of the thorax decreases the client's ability to achieve three-dimensional expansion of the thorax during respiration. This leads to increased activity of the accessory muscles of respiration - mainly the scaliness, sternocleidomastoid, and pectorals minor - to assist elevation of the thorax during breathing. This causes global reactions in the body, including driving the forward head and shoulder positions, contributing to headaches and anxiety, poor overall levels of oxygenation, and rises in blood pressure.
If bilateral patterns will be performed or have to be performed as part of an athletic training program, they should be followed with patterns that help mobilize the thorax. Unilateral and alternating patterns can help restore thoracic mobility by using the free arm to drive rotation of the thorax while the free arm stabilizes the shoulder complex and ipsilateral of the thorax.
Is Corrective Exercise Solutions to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction a "must-read"? If you are trainer or coach with athletes and clients who have shoulder and hip issues, then the answer is YES! 
Is it a "must-have"? If you are a head-trainer or strength coach, then the answer is YES.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Race Vs. Journey

...if that extra practice, coaching, and money spent on equipment, camps, and lessons comes at the expense of other activities (such as family vacations, riding a bike for fun, playing other sports, or doing something really crazy like playing "kick the can" in the backyard for a few hours), then our kids lives are worse for it. And, more important, the message to our eight-year-olds is that the key to life is running faster than the next guy, without thinking about why they are running or where they are trying to go.

..Here is all I am asking you to do: look around every once in a while and ask yourself; Have I created a race out of something that ought to be a journey?

A journey involves following a passion. You identify a worthwhile goal and then work relentlessly in that direction. There are often tremendous external rewards, but the direction and motivation come from within.

A race involves running faster than everyone else, regardless of where they happen to be going. This, too, involves a lot of hard work and the potential for large rewards - but not much introspection. In a race, success is defined by how you finish relative to others. If you flounder, even briefly, then someone will pass you by.

I see the Little League mentality bleeding into higher education, which is what I know best. I see it when students become more obsessed with grades than with learning, or when credentials mean more than the accomplishments they represent. Let me describe two recent incidents that left me vaguely trouble, for reasons that I could not quite put my finger on until recently.

The first involved a student who walked into my office after a midterm exam. She was despondent that she was going to get an A- in the class. You read that correctly; her midterm grade was an A-; not a B-, not a D. An A-. And when I describe her as despondent, I am not using that word lightly. I spent at least half an hour trying to assuage her anxiety, to no avail. Finally, I asked, "What is it that you want to do in life that you're not going to be able to do because you got an A- in this class instead of an A?" She didn't have an answer.

The second incident was a conversation with an extremely successful entrepreneur who was reflecting on his experiences at one of the world's most selective business schools, which I will not name here. [Harvard] He was describing the ethos of competition at the school, which at times seemed more important than the material being taught.

I asked him the following question: Did he think that most of his classmates would prefer to have this prestigious business school education without the credential, or the credential without the education? In other words, would those accepted to the MBA program prefer to 1) attend all of the classes, learn from their impressive classmates, and immerse themselves in one of the greatest universities - but no one would know they had done so; or 2) get the diploma, and therefore the credential from this esteemed institution, but none of the learning.

He said number two, with no hesitation at all.

Both of these incidents struck me as wrong, though for reasons that I could not articulate - until I read an obituary for Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs, at which point it all became crystal clear. As a young man, Steve Jobs, one of the most creative and transformational business leaders ever, dropped out of Reed College, but he continued to audit classes. He got the education without the credential! Jobs later said that one of the classes he audited on calligraphy helped to inspire the fonts supported by the Macintosh computer.

The "life as a race" mentality sends a powerful signal to kids that they can't take risk, because that may lead to a C, which will doom their chances of getting into a good college, or a good law school, or some other competitive endeavor. And then life will suck, just like not making the traveling soccer team.

Yet we know that success is not about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. It is about finding a passion, taking risks, running in new directions, and dealing with the future.

If you think of life as a race, then every setback means that you have fallen behind. Every risk has a potential failure lurking nearby.

But if you think of life as a journey, then every setback helps direct you to a place where you will be more likely to succeed. Every risk has a potential adventure behind it, or at least a learning experience. You are not necessarily in competition with everyone around you.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lessons from DUNE (Part I)

"Dune" is one of those science fiction novels that the nerdy kid next to you in 8th grade English class was reading for fun, while you considered yourself a literary genius for slogging through "The Outsiders". Years later, you finally decide to pick up a copy and it blows your mind. The religious, political, and ecological messages, flowing through a fantastic world of adventure and science fiction, overwhelm the senses, and you wonder how that nerdy kid, at 13, could have possibly appreciated this masterpiece. What he realized (10 years ago) is that "Dune" is a novel to be examined, and re-examined and, like any masterpiece, literary or otherwise, is composed of many layers. It's not something that can be digested in just one sitting.
There are so many quotable lines within Dune - many "lessons" that could be applied to life. Leadership, community, religion, cross-cultural communication, agriculture, economics - you'l find them all here. Frank Herbert did his homework and it is evident on almost every page. I've chosen a few poignant passages to apply to our little strength-and-conditioning-happy niche.

Lesson #1 - The Law of the Minimum
Kynes looked at Jessica, said: "The newcomer to Arrakis frequently underestimates the importance of water here. You are dealing, you see, with the Law of the Minimum."
She heard the testing quality in his voice, said, "Growth is limited by that necessity which is present in the least amount. And, naturally, the least favorable condition controls the growth rate."
"It's rare to find members of a Great House aware of planetological problems," Kynes said. "Water is the least favorable condition for life on Arrakis. And remember that growth itself can produce unfavorable conditions unless treated with extreme care."
The Law of the Minimum isn't original to Dune - it is also known as Liebig's Law of the Minimum. It's easy to see how this would apply in a strength and conditioning setting; if mobility is your weakest link, it WILL hinder your progress until it is addressed. Likewise, if your strength and mobility is solid, but you get winded going up a short flight of stairs, your lack of conditioning will place an artificial ceiling on your strength and mobility gains. Simply ignoring the issue will not make it disappear and, if you continue to pound away, eventually, the system will crack under the imposed pressure.

"I guess I'm not in the mood for it today," Paul said.
"Mood?" Halleck's voice betrayed his outrage even though the shield's filtering. "What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises - no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting."
"I'm sorry, Gurney."
"You're not sorry enough!"
Halleck activated his own shield, crouched with kindjal outthrust in left hand, the rapier poised high in his right. "Now I say guard yourself for true!" He leaped high to one side, then forward, pressing a furious attack.
Paul fell back, parrying. He felt the field crackling as shield edges touched and repelled each other, sensed the electric tingling of the contact along his skin. What's gotten into Gurney? he asked himself. He's not faking this! Paul moved his left hand, dropped his bodkin into his palm from its wrist sheath.
"You see a need for an extra blade, eh?" Halleck grunted.
Is this betrayal? Paul wondered. Surely not Gurney!
Around the room they fought - thrust and parry, feint and counter-feint. The air within their shield bubbles grew stale from the demands on it that the slow interchange along the barrier edges could not replenish. With each new shield contact, the smell of ozone grew stronger.
Paul continued to back, but now he directed his retreat toward the exercise table. If I can turn him beside the table, I'll show him a trick, Paul thought. One more step, Gurney.
Halleck took the step.
Paul directed a parry downward, turne, saw Halleck's rapier catch against the table's edge. Paul flung himself aside, thrust high with rapier and came in across Halleck's neckline with the bodkin. He stopped the blade an inch from the jugular.
"Is this what you seek?" Paul whispered.
"Look down lad," Gurney panted.
Paul obeyed, saw Halleck's kindjal thrust under the table's edge, the tip almost touching Paul's groin.
We'd have joined each other in death," Halleck said. "But I'll admit you fought some better when pressed to it. You seemed to get the mood." And he grinned wolfishly, the inkvine scar rippling along his jaw.
I seem to write this in just about every other post here at Squat Rx - there's really no "trick" to discipline and consistency. Friends who are hard-workers but do no exercise often ask me how I can train so often and my response never varies. Do you find it difficult to shower everyday? Do you find it a drag to brush your teeth? It's a serious question! But, training, as I see it, is like that. It is just something that I do. Sometimes it is A LOT of fun. Sometimes it is no fun at all. Sometimes it's easy; other times it's gut-bustingly hard. The act of discipline is simply the act of doing - again and again and again. We all might need a nudge here and there and until momentum is established, it will be doubly hard but, creating the habit is paramount. Waiting for the mood to strike will get you nowhere.
Don't judge a book by its movie. Please.
Lesson #3 Sustainable Growth
Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true of humans in the finite space of a planetary ecosystem as it is of gas molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive.
- Pardot Kynes, First Planetologist of Arrakis
Our health, strength, and fitness industry is, for the most part, populated by people with good intentions. There are hucksters to be sure and people who rush to put out an inferior product because being first is a key to cornering a market, but many grassroots organizations are established to fill a genuine need with a good product. However, when an organization achieves a measure of success; once it has met the needs of its constituents, does it then refine what it already does well, or does it expand its offerings? In some cases, expansion has created monsters whose primary objective is to make money and feed itself - adding features, tiers, levels of exclusivity, manufactured scarcity; all in an effort to keep on biggering and BIGGERING, so to speak. 
Right now, our fitness-strength-conditioning niche is flooded with certifications, gurus, systems, movements, approaches, methods, tools, and templates. Flooded. Quality control and customer service is suffering. As Kynes said to Jessica "...remember that growth itself can produce unfavorable conditions unless treated with extreme care." We are at a critical point within a finite space and, without wise people at the helm who can exercise leadership and say enough is enough, we risk losing the trust of an increasingly physically-unfit public that needs our help.

Related Post:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gray Cook, The Squat, and Golf

It's strange to me that people still don't get that strength, range of motion, stability, and mobility are important to all, regardless of goal and task.

"Well, I only need the mobility required for XYZ (and no more than that)." Well, maybe, but maybe not. Your immobilities and weaknesses may be inhibiting your performance in ways that are not readily apparent simply by performing your regular activities. Trust me, it's no fun to only become aware of weaknesses after you've suffered numerous losses and injuries because of them.

This is Gray Cook talking about the need for hip and ankle mobility and stability in golfers who do not demonstrate the deep squat pattern in their regular training or competition. It's worth a look:

Related Squat Rx Post:
It's In The Hips (That's Where It Is!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Squat Rx #23: A Modification for Shoulder Pain

I've mentioned shoulder and pain and squatting here on the blog numerous times but, for whatever reason, I've neglected this nice little modification that makes holding onto the bar a little less challenging for those with mobility issues. Using a combination of the Manta Ray and lifting straps will take some stress off of the shoulder girdle and allow the lifter to focus on squatting.

For those lifters who are trying to work their way back to barbell back squatting, a combination of grips with and without the straps and with and without the Manta Ray, can be experimented with.

Related Squat Rx Posts:
Wrist Pain When Squatting

Getting Under The Bar: Help For Stiff-Shouldered Squatters

Elbow Positioning When Squatting

Head Position and Squatting

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blogs of Note IX

Trans-Evolutionary Fitness - Ken O'Neill's blog. Really wonderful posts - he doesn't take writing lightly! Great content. Great writer. I've followed him for over a decade at various sites on the internet. In this post, entitled Body By Play - Physical Culture 2.0 in Practice, Ken talks about his thoughts on training and play and joy, and the dangers of making it all work and no play.

Pretty Strong Blog - Jessica Gallagher and Sarah Robles' blog. Insightful and nice to hear from people who train very hard without attitude or entitlement and who also happen to be very, very strong women. In this post, Olympic Games Outfitting, Sarah talks about the difficulties of being a larger female athlete when it comes to finding the right size clothing.

NOT the most powerful supplement of all time...

adamtglass.com - The website of Adam Glass. I link to his posts often. This post,  The Most Powerful Supplement OF ALL TIME!, is classic. I was writing a post on time commitment when I ran across it and then thought, "Well, I guess I can scrap it now because this says everything I wanted to say and it's a lot funner to read than anything I'd write anyway!".

Related Squat Rx Posts: