Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Birthday - More "Reminders To Self"

A few years ago, I wrote a long list of "things I have learned" entitled "Birthday Post". I figured another "reminder to self" piece wouldn't be a bad idea, so here we go. I tried to keep things training related but I may have strayed here and there. I hope you find some things that resonate with you.

1) Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts. - Albert Einstein

2) I think most people would be better off leaving not a rep or two in the tank, but instead leaving a set or two in the tank. Easy to say, harder to do...

3) I still believe that science will eventually discover that over-caffeination leads to major health and emotional problems. No, it's not health-enemy #1, but it's an issue for many Americans.

4) Pre-workout drinks are stupid. If you have to have one to get yourself amped before every workout, you have issues. I tried one for the first time this year and I felt like I had slammed 6 cups of coffee - and I have a pretty high tolerance for caffeine... Needless to say, I wasn't very surprised by this article (though I don't know how accurate it truly is): Popular Sports Supplements Contain Meth-like Compound

5) It's okay to say you "work out" again. Yes, there are some who eschew working out for "training". Whatever - plenty of elite athletes have "workouts" in their vocabulary. It's not worth getting bent out of shape over.

6) Cues are just cues to guide the trainee towards better technique. Cues are NOT proper technique. For example, if I tell someone to squat through their heels, it doesn't mean that driving through the heel is proper technique - it is to shift the weight off of their toes and drive with the hips and hamstrings rather than all quads.

7) People believe that swimming is a poor choice for people trying to lose weight. Although it may be true that swimming stimulates appetite, it does not follow that it not a good training mode. You'd be hard pressed to find a better way for obese people to train without destroying their joints. One limiting factor for many people trying to add swimming to their training regimens is poor technique. Get a coach.

8) The only supplements I ever recommend to anyone are a multi-vitamin/mineral tablet, simple protein powder, and (for some people) creatine.

9) Just about everything should be cycled. This includes foods, exercises, and "daily" supplements.

10) If I was a trainer on The Biggest Loser, I'd have my competitors doing some reasonable weight training, swimming, and a lot of nature walking. No, walking isn't a huge calorie burning activity, but it is relatively easy on the joints, it is meditative, and time spent walking is time spent away from bad habits. An hour a day spent walking is an hour NOT spent hunched over a screen or on a couch eating chips.

11) There's absolutely nothing wrong with teaching to the test if the test is a valid measure of something worth striving towards. If the test isn't worth teaching towards (whether it's a standardized test, or an NFL combine) (and I'm not saying it is or isn't), then maybe it's time to change it.

12) Most gurus don't like to be called gurus (or cult leaders) publicly.

13) Many blogs are just long-winded ad-copy.

14) I never thought much of Jefferson squats. Tried them a few times - when you have short arms it's pretty easy to rack yourself... do that once, ONCE, and that's enough. I have since totally changed my opinion on them since reading this post by David Dellanave and giving them another try.

15) A few unilateral exercises you should keep in the training mix if you can do them competently: Turkish Get-Ups, Bulgarian Split Squats, cossack squats, and windmills.

16) You don't need another encyclopedia of exercises.

17) Age affects your assessment of risk. Well, for most people it does... People in their twenties can afford to throw away a macrocycle of training or two. They can even afford dings and twinges here and there. People in their forties are going to be more cautious about those (and rightly so).

18) Never Miss a Rep. NEVER EVER. Avoid missed reps like a disease.

19) Pain is a complicated b*tch. To say "It's all in your head" is grossly oversimplifying things. Stress can be a trigger and acknowledging that (without judgement) is hard for many people.

20) Paul Chek has always been a weird bird (at least as long as I've been familiar with his work - probably 15 years now). That said, he's a deep thinker. I used to think his thoughts on diet and colon health were "out there". Now that I'm older, I think he was spot on.

21) In the same train of thought, digestion is so important. How often do we reach for something to eat while we are still full? How often do we seek out new input, new training, or new relationships before we have really appreciated what we've already received? No Time For Digestion

22) A pulling harness is great fun. For a while (back in 2008 or 2009), APT was running a special on them for very reasonable prices. I haven't found a deal like that since, but I'll keep an eye open.

23) No one will admit that they may indeed be genetically talented and gifted. "IT'S ALL BECAUSE I WORK SO DAMN HARD!" Um, okay. The fact of the matter is, that most of us, if we're in any kind of shape at all, are pretty damn lucky.

24) Dan John recommended the following books (among others) in person and online: "Born To Run", "Boyd", and "On Killing" - I read them all and they were mind-blowing. If you haven't read them, do so.

25) If you've read those and like them, other books I'd highly recommend are: "On Combat" (by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman), "Deep Survival" (by Laurence Gonzales), and "Mastery" (by George Leonard).

26) Virtuosity and Virtual-osity are NOT the same thing at all.

27) Giving up your integrity to make money is the definition of a sell-out. Don't be one.

28) You can't build a reserve if you are constantly emptying the tank. This applies to just about everything in life...

28) I think Dan John coined the acronym "MAPS" (Middle Aged Pull-Up Syndrome) to describe the inexplicable fixation that many middle-aged men have with trying to improve their pull-up numbers... and then end up with inflamed elbows. Pull-ups and chins are great and I think everyone should do them, but a little goes a long way.

29) I think that loaded carries/pushes/pulls are probably absolutely key to long term health for any wannabe strength athlete. The torso and hip strength they develop is crucial to stability when walking out, standing, and then squatting deeply with a heavy weight. Do them. Combine them with hills for even more fun.

30) I don't begrudge anyone making a lot of money teaching others how to lift weights, but please, don't get offended when people ask you questions about working out and say "THAT'S SO RUDE! IT'S LIKE ASKING A DOCTOR FOR FREE MEDICAL ADVICE!"... No. No, it's not. Get over yourself. It wasn't that long ago that people showed each other how to lift in the gym without having any kind of "certification" FOR FREE.

31) You can buy a self-massage stick like this in Japan for ONE DOLLAR (and stuff is generally more expensive there). I've been giving them to friends for YEARS. Why the hell can't you get them in the U.S.?... A DOLLAR!

32) Box jumps - I don't get it. As a challenge, sure - I can see why they'd be fun, but as high rep exercise it makes zero sense to me... I see absolutely no reason to include them in training for obese people. None.

33) Though it's not particularly versatile, the 2" vertical bar that I bought from Fat Bastard Barbell on Adam Glass' recommendation is one of the funnest pieces of weight lifting equipment I own. I use it for one-arm deadlifts, hammer curls, and loaded carries.

34) Contrary to current popular sentiment, there is nothing wrong with kids specializing in a single sport from an early age if training is sensible, and as long as there are off-seasons. I realize those can be big 'ifs'...

35) Studies that show that stretching is useless are dumb. Period. Look, if you believe that stretching helps reduce stress and can improve circulation and breathing, that alone is going to mean improved recovery as a result of stretching...

36) Sots Presses are one of those exercises that never get easy.

37) Glance at negatives, but focus on positives.

38) Placebos work! But if you are betting or banking on them, then you are either a thief or a fool (or both).

39) Tips make you better, but tips don't make you good.

40) Just because everyone passes a drug test does not mean that there is no drug use. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

41) Falling on the ground in a crumpled mess is a really bad way to end your set and, if you're not careful, it can become a horrible habit that will leave you ill-prepared for that second wave of physical challenge that might present itself... I wrote about this in this post: Walk It Out!

42) A 2" axle is a great way to add deadlifts to your diet. The circumference of the bar limits loads enough that I find it pretty hard to overdo it.

43) "Just wait till you have kids of your own!" - never have more prophetic words been spoken. Children add a level of responsibility and busyness that's impossible to comprehend until you have them. Understand that doesn't mean that people without children aren't busy or responsible - it simply means that adding children will level that up significantly.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Peak-End Rule, The Process, and Training

   A story is about significant events and memorable moments, not about time passing. Duration neglect is normal in a story, and the ending often defines its character. The same core features appear in the rules of narratives and in the memories of colonoscopies, vacations, and films. This is how the remembering self works: it composes stories and keeps them for future reference.
   It is not only at the opera that we think of life as a story and wish it to end well. When we hear about the death of a woman who had been estranged from her daughter for many years, we want to know whether they were reconciled as death approached. We do not care only about the daughter's feelings - it is the narrative of the mother's life that we wish to improve. Caring for people often takes the form of concern for the quality of their stories, not for their feelings. Indeed, we can be deeply moved even by events that change the stories of people who are already dead. We feel pity for a man who died believing in his wife's love for him, when we hear that she had a lover for many years and stayed with her husband only for his money. We pity the husband although he had lived a happy life. We feel the humiliation of a scientist who made an important discovery that was proved false after she died, although she did not experience the humiliation. Most important, of course, we all care immensely for the narrative of our own life and very much want it to be a good story, with a decent hero.
   The psychologist Ed Diener and his students wondered whether duration neglect and the peak-end rule would govern evaluations of entire lives. They used a short description of the life of a fictitious character named Jen, a never-married woman with no children, who died instantly and painlessly in an automobile accident. In one version of Jen's story, she was extremely happy throughout her life (which lasted either 30 or 60 years), enjoying her work, taking vacations, spending time with her friends and on her hobbies. Another version added 5 extra years to Jen's life, who now died either when she was 35 or 65. The extra years were described as pleasant but less so than before. After reading a schematic biography of Jen, each participant answered two questions: "Taking her life as a whole, how desirable do you think Jen's life was?" and "How much total happiness or unhappiness would you say that Jen experienced in her life?"
  The results provided clear evidence of both duration neglect and a peak-end effect. In a between-subjects experiment (different participants saw different forms), doubling the duration of Jen's life had no effect whatsoever on the desirability of her life, or on judgements of the total happiness that Jen experienced. Clearly, her life was represented by a prototypical slice of time, not as a sequence of time slices. As a consequence, her "total happiness" was the happiness of a typical period in her lifetime, not the sum (or integral) of happiness over the duration of her life. 
...The frenetic picture taking of many tourists suggests that storing memories is often an important goal, which shapes both the plans for the vacation and the experience of it. The photographer does not view the scene as a moment to be savored but as a future memory to be designed. Pictures may be useful to the remembering self - though we rarely look at them for very long, or as often as we expected, or even at all - but picture taking is not necessarily the best way for the tourist's experiencing self to enjoy a view. 
From Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, pp. 387-389

If you are an athlete training for elite competition, then the "peak-end rule" probably applies. However, if only the PR, peak, or placing matters, and we don't enjoy the process, we are fighting a losing game.  We can train our whole life, but at some point, our competitive days end, and so do the days for picture taking... Not to say that hard numbers don't matter, but a more qualitative approach can help us find existing and meaningful value when traditional metrics cannot.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


It's interesting that 'placebo' is almost a dirty word in many medical and health circles. The reason medicines are tested relative to the placebo effect is because placebos WORK. Doctors, coaches, teachers should be looking for ways to reduce stress and improve their patients, athletes, and students' ability to heal, recover, and learn. Dismissing something as "all in your head" is nothing but ignorance.
...the placebo effect really is the brain's own healing process, and that's a long word, so it's probably easier to say the placebo effect. But the problem with the word placebo is it carries with it a lot of baggage. 
...when you look at placebo-controlled trials, the reason we have to do placebo-controlled trials to determine the "true biological effect of a drug or intervention" is we have to subtract out the placebo effect where people have an expectation that just taking a pill or having an injection or whatever the intervention is, they have an expectation that that will heal and, in fact, it does. It reduces pain, it can reduce inflammation to a certain degree, and it's hard to estimate and it differs with different conditions.But the percent of effect of the placebo effect in any given intervention has been estimated to be somewhere between 30 and 90 percent. Ninety is probably a little high and 30 may be a little low, so let's say 50 percent. A drug that has the ability to help reduce pain by 50 percent is a very powerful drug. So, you know, it's not a trick; it is your brain activating anti-pain pathways releasing those endorphin molecules, releasing those desire molecules, dopamine, to shift and reducing the stress response. 
...why not use this in a sort of a carefully titrated way and say, OK, why not put the individual who needs to heal into the most healing environment where the stress response is not activated and, to the extent that we can, it's reduced where you have positive emotional memories that flood you. Put them into a situation where they're likely to release these positive, these anti-pain molecules and these, you know, dopamine molecules of reward, and that will allow their body to heal or to receive the drugs that you are then giving them. 
So I'm not saying, you know, don't go to a desert island and don't take your cancer chemotherapy, but I'm saying don't fight against it by putting yourself in a stressful situation. Do the maximum that you can with things like meditation and yoga and prayer to help amplify these pathways in the brain that we know ultimately can help the immune system do its job to heal.
From the radio program On Being (October 24, 2013): The Science of Healing Places with Esther Sternberg