Friday, December 28, 2012

The Horror of the Same Old Thing

The Screwtape Letters is an amazing short book of fiction by C.S. Lewis, consisting of letters of advice from a devil, the "affectionate uncle Screwtape", to his devil-in-training nephew who is struggling to corrupt a young Christian man. The letters are intended to be a Christian cautionary tale, but they can be interpreted as life lessons applicable to all faiths and fields.
Understand that, in these letters, the devil Screwtape is using the words "Enemy" and "He" to refer to God.
The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart - an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence...
Image of Uncle Screwtape from website of illustrator David M Cornish
The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Bryonic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of mere 'understanding'. Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.
But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption of the will... The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking 'Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going? they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make.
...Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective 'unchanged' we have substituted the emotional adjective 'stagnant'. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain - not as a something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is,
                                                                                                    Your affectionate uncle
- From The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

This passage raises questions that we in the strength and fitness industry should take seriously...
 In training and the strength and fitness industries, what are the "real dangers"? 
What are the fashionable outcries against the vices of which we are in the least danger? 
What are the "relevant questions" we are ignoring? What unanswerable questions do we ask instead? 
Are we too quick to rule something 'unchanged' as 'stagnant'?
We need both meaningful consistency and thoughtful change to thrive. Many popular programs fail at one or both of these. Consistent effort is important, but consistently pounding oneself into a wall is not. Thoughtful change (often subtle) can propel us to new heights, but random, prolonged chaos can turn us into a shivering mess.

Is the consistency of your training driven by "Fashion"? Is the change in your training driven by the "Horror of the Same Old Thing"?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Woodcutter

Mastery by Robert Greene

It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. … But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way. 
Zen Master Hakuin (From "Mastery" by Robert Green, p. 91)
How much progress would the woodcutter make if, after every chop, ...

  - the woodcutter decided that his axe was the problem and what he needed was a new axe?
  - the woodcutter decided that this tree was too hard and what he needed was a new tree?
  - the woodcutter decided that his technique was off and what he needed were chopping lessons?
  - the woodcutter decided that his chop volume, intensity, or density needed adjustment?
  - the woodcutter decided that he needed to tweet about his chop quality?

Does this not remind you of the well-intentioned, but overly-distracted and under-performing wannabe fitness model? Sometimes you gotta just keep plugging away.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Intervention - The Book

The Five Principles (from Intervention by Dan John) 
1. Strength training for lean body mass and joint mobility work trumps everything else.
2. Fundamental human movements are fundamental.
3. Standards and gaps must be constantly assessed.
4. The notion of park bench and bus bench workouts must be applied together throughout the training lifetime.
5. Constantly strive for mastery and grace.
In 2011, I did a review of Dan John's Intervention DVD - it is my all-time favorite strength and conditioning DVD. When I found out that Dan John and Laree Draper were coming out with a book version, I was very excited and it does NOT disappoint. The book covers the content of the DVD and then some.
Many of the topics and concepts are things you might have read or heard from Dan John before, such as "free will", the quadrants, loaded carries, Litvinov, segments from Mass Made Simple, etc., but he's synthesized it all into a very dense, very readable, and very enjoyable book. AND, there is plenty of new material to mull over again and again.
At $25, it is a steal. Is it for you? YES! Sooner or later, you'll realize you need a training intervention. Trust me, sooner is better!

Friday, December 21, 2012

First and Second Things

First and Second Things
The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and pleasurable) levels of intoxication. It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman – glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens? Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. 
Apparently the world is made that way… You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, “What things are first?” is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone. 
- C.S. Lewis (from "Readings for Meditation and Reflection")

C.S. Lewis, in this excerpt, is talking about putting your spiritual life first, but it applies to all things. Without a solid foundation, elaborate trellises will be precarious at best. Without an adequate reserve of strength and fitness qualities, overly specialized training will only go so far.

If you find yourself lost, begin by re-tackling the question "What things are first?" and proceed from there.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Last Chance For a Skwat! T-Shirt in 2012

There's still time! I still have some Skwat! t-shirts in sizes Youth-Medium, Adult-Small, Adult-Large, Adult-XLarge. The shirts will be $25 each, shipping included. Send me an email at if you're interested. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Back in the day, I was a pretty fair swimmer and ended up going to a large D1 university with a strong swimming program. I knew going in that it wasn't going to be easy - I had no desire to be a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to swim with and against some of the best in the country and the world. It was no cake-walk and, in my first year, there were meets that the freshman would joke "Dude, just don't be DFL!". "DFL", for us, meant "Dead. F---ing. Last."

The shift from dreams of glory, to fears of failure and embarrassment, back to the middle of the pack, and then to dream of glory once again was a great experience. I needed it. Later in life, when I had injuries, and when I became serious about coaching, and when I became a parent, those lessons in empathy, humility and perseverance were invaluable.

When you're learning the ropes, those first competitive experiences can potentially be a springboard for further success, or demotivate an athlete entirely before they've even begun to express their latent potential. DFL can be a lot easier to take if you have successful experiences already banked to cushion the blow.

Recently, my son was DFL in his very first bouldering competition. I was concerned that the placing would hurt his interest in climbing but, two months later, he wanted to enter another bouldering competition. He worked through his "problems", using all of his available time, never getting flustered. I was proud of his effort and he was ecstatic about his 8th place (out of 10) finish. We later laughed when it looked like 9th and 10th places went to entries that never showed up, but there's a valuable lesson there too!! DFL is infinitely better than never even throwing your hat into the ring. You have to show up!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Holiday Shopping Guide for 2012

It's crunch-time for holiday and Christmas shopping! If you've run out of ideas for the weight-lifting maniac in your life, or you're just looking for something special for yourself, here's a short list of things I think you might like. If you're wondering what else I've listed over the years, I've included links to previous suggestions.

$5 - 24" Nylon Runners
I reviewed these back in August and use them (instead of chain and clips) to link weights for pulls, drags, and grip work. They come in handy often.

$4-$10 Movement Lectures
Laree and Dave Draper of bodybuilding fame and, have put together an amazing collection of audio programs recorded by the finest minds in fitness and strength and conditioning today. Just about every topic in the field from assessment and rehabilitation to the business of personal training. There's even an audio program about squatting! Most lectures are in the $5 range and 30-60 minutes long. Sometimes it's nice to have these playing in the car during a long commute, or when you're taking the dog for a walk.

$25 - One 25lb Standard Weight Plate(s)
I know what you're thinking, "Standard plates... Whaa...?" Buy a slick plate like the one pictured and carry it back to your car pinch gripping it one handed - you'll understand it then. No, it's not going to turn you into a grip champion like Adam Glass, but some work with it and I'm betting you'll have a newfound appreciation for grip strength feats. Try it with farmers walks, passes around the waist, and plate curls (but don't overdo it).
If you find the 25lb plate to be too much, buying a 10lb plate and tying weight from it (you could use the nylon runner!!!) is a great way to build yourself up to the 25. ...the 10lb plate is cheaper to boot!

$24.95 - Dan John: Intervention (book)
Of all the strength and conditioning DVDs I own, "Intervention" is the one I will probably have to replace from viewing so often. I did a DVD review and you can find it here. The content is clear, informative, and relevant to weight trainers of all goals and interests. The book covers the same material and then some in a very readable format at a price everyone can afford. I will post a more complete review soon.

$25 - SKWAT! T-Shirt
I have a small batch of shirts and if you've ever wanted one, now's the time! Sizes available are Youth Medium, Adult Small, Medium, Large, and X-Large. Shoot me an email at and we'll arrange payment through PayPal.

Previous Holiday Gift Suggestions: