Saturday, November 22, 2014

ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS

As I have mentioned many times in my prior writings, my formal education is not at all based around the hard sciences or anything remotely technical.  My undergrad and masters are both in political science, and I also managed to acquire a minor in philosophy (which, these days, is really all I care to study anymore anyway).  As such, I tend to understand most things in life through analogy and metaphor, bridging the unfamiliar with the familiar, no matter how bizarre, obscure or ridiculous it may entail.  The purpose of today’s entry is to share with you some of the more common ones I have rattling around in my brain at any given time, so that you the reader may use them as you see fit.




-The dumbbell rack is like a buffet.  When you go to the buffet, do you put the food on your plate and then immediately eat it there on the spot, or do you take your food back to your table and eat it there?  It’s the same thing with dumbbells.  If you take dumbbells out of the rack and then immediately start training right there on the spot, you have some sort of mental deficiency.


Even this is borderline

-Expanding on the above, good buffet etiquette also dictates “take all you want, but eat all you take”.  We are all taking from the same pool of finite resources, and once a certain item is depleted, we must wait until the kitchen restocks the item.  If you have a large appetite and MUST take the entire tray worth of bacon to be satiated, that is your right as a buffet patron.  However, if that same person puts the entire tray worth of bacon on their plate and only eats 3 pieces before leaving the rest to be thrown away, they are wasting food and in general being a bag of douche.  The same is true of the dumbbells on the rack.  They are free for anyone to take, and if you are running some sort of crazy drop set that necessitates you instantly switch from the 80s to the 70s to the 60s, etc etc, you are within your right to take all of them and use them.  However, if you are simply too lazy to return your dumbbells after each use, and instead amass a shrine of iron around your station while you continue to only make use of one set at a time, you are holding up the buffet.  The type of person who wastes food is skinny and weak, and you will find that the same is true of the type of person who takes more dumbbells than they need.  

-On the topic of “working in” etiquette, there is currently a debate on who has the onus of initiating the work in process: the person on the equipment, or the person wanting the equipment.  Keep in mind, at a public gym, we share equipment much like how, when we drive, we share the road.  In both cases, we have paid our dues (gym fees/taxes) and are equally entitled to the same space, but physics dictates that we cannot occupy the same exact space at the same time.  When we drive, if 2 drivers wish to use the same lane, how do they communicate this to each other?  Does the driver presently IN the lane ask the person next to them if they want to move over?  OR, is it in fact the case that it is the responsibility of the driver changing lanes to SIGNAL first and then move over?  It is the same story in the gym.  The person presently on the equipment has no responsibility to ask every single patron around if they want to work in, and instead it is the responsibility of the people who want to work in to “signal” their intent by ASKING to work in.  If you disagree with this, you are the type of driver on the road that causes a 47 car pileup.


"I mean, I didn't want to ASK to change lanes.  It would've been awkward."

-Continuing with the above metaphor, one may argue that the above is flawed because, when in the fast lane, one should yield to faster traffic, being aware of their surroundings and having the etiquette to move when needed.  I counter argue that both of these realities can co-exist, and that we must simply extend the metaphor.  In the above, we are speaking in the instance of sharing lanes, whereas here we are addressing the issue of “rights” to a lane.  The fast lane is for fast moving traffic, the slow lanes are for slow moving traffic.  If you are moving slower than someone else in the fast lane, you are obligated by etiquette to change lanes and allow them to pass.  You having been in the lane first in no way gives you the “right” to remain in the lane, because you are not using the lane for its intended purpose.  As such, you are abusing it.  The same is also true for equipment in the gym.  If you are using the power rack for curls and someone else asks to use it for squats, you have an obligation to allow them access to the rack.  At the very LEAST, you should offer to work in, but realistically, you should vacate the rack.  Those who don’t understand this are most likely the same type of people in the far left lane on a CA freeway going 45 mph with their left turn signal on for 30 miles at a time.    

-Lack of illegality does not necessarily mean that an act is appropriate, tolerable, reasonable, or worth pursuit.  The Westboro Baptist Church does not break the law in their actions, and are some of the most deplorable humans on the planet.  In turn, simply because an action you perform in training has no direct negative consequences is not reason enough to engage in it.  If you cannot reasonable justify why you do what you do in your training, pick up your sandwich board and go join the picket line.


'nuff said

-Eating vegetables is like flossing: the health benefits are innumerable and STILL people don’t do it.  In general, I find that most trainees eat like children, with no color in their diet whatsoever.  Lots of meat, emphasis on carb sources from grains and potatoes, and zero veggies.  Coincidentally, I find most trainees look and perform terribly.  Time to be an adult and do some flossing.

-There is a claim online that there is a moral imperative of gym attendees to correct bad form as soon as they witness it.  It is based off the premise that, if one witnesses someone putting themselves in danger, as a good Samaritan, they must save this person.  I ask, how many of these people pull over those who speed on the freeway?  What about smacking the burger out of the hands of those at McDonalds?  How often do these people lecture smokers on the dangers they are putting themselves into?  Do these people go to bars and scold the patrons on the dangers of excessive drinking?  We are not doctors, there is no oath, and truth be told, most people have zero qualifications in the realm of preventing injury.  Simply reading stuff on the net and training for a few months does not make you a super hero, and if you insist there is an ethical duty to correct bad form, this simply means that, in every other avenue of your life, you are a terrible person.

-Fretting about using the highest quality protein supplement while having a terrible diet is akin to putting premium gasoline into a ’78 Pinto on cement blocks.  A NASCAR is going to beat a jacked up ricer regardless of the fuel put in, because one vehicle is simply so much better constructed than the other that the little things are inconsequential when you compare them.  It’s only when both vehicles are on equal footing that the finer details finely come into play.  Build your foundation through solid nutrition and training and eventually the little things will start making that 1 degree of difference, but until you get that going, you’re stuck in neutral.


0 to 60 as soon as you put tires on it

-On the topic of cars again (not quite sure how I got into this rut, but stick with me), it is the driver, not the car, who wins the race.  If all it took to win NASCAR was the best vehicle, it would be billionaires in the driver’s seat, not the gloriously mulleted redneck nation that we have grown to love.  You can acquire the most jacked up rocket on wheels that money can buy, but unless you have the skills necessary to maneuver and control it, you’re still coming in last.  The same is true with our bodies and genetics.  So many trainees cry and moan and complain about how unfair it is that they were given the short straw genetically, not understanding that it is up to THEM to master their bodies, beat it into submission, and force it to grow.  Additionally, these same people that bemoan the genetically blessed fail to understand that these trainees still have to undergo the same process to actually take advantage of their genetics.  Someone gifted with the most amazing traits is still worthless if they fail to master their own body, learn it’s leverages, understand it’s propensities, and maximize its strengths.  In life, some of us get Vipers and some of us get minivans, but only a select few of us will ever learn that the governor chip on a ’97 Ford Windstar is set to 130 mph.

…I’ll have to tell you that story some other time.


Monday, November 17, 2014

YOU HAVE TO BE BAD TO BE GOOD

We are in such an odd era of history due to our ability to instantly exchange information with almost anyone on the planet.  In doing so, we have developed unrealistic standards for all things, fore the internet has made it as such that, at any given moment, we can witness the absolute zenith of ability on display.  We can witness artists crafting masterful portraits in minutes off of memory, musicians expertly weaving sound and melody together, and athletes performing feats that seem impossible by human standards.  Unfortunately, the nature of this exchange is such that we tend to only ever witness either the absolute best at a craft or failure on such a level that it is comical.  Rarely do we ever get to witness the mediocre, the “work in progress”, or the “pretty good”, and in turn, we as a people are led to believe that such people simply do not exist.

This has led to an unrealistic expectation of ourselves, and in turn a sense of shame whenever we are unable to be amazing at something.  There is no point in doing something unless we can be the absolute best at it, and if there is a slight chance anyone is better than us, it’s better to abandon course and find something new versus actually compete with an equal.  Additionally, if we ever DO find someone who is better than us at something, it is vitally important that we find some way to damage control the blow to our ego by emphasizing something WE can do that THEY cannot, and then explaining how our specialty is MUCH better than this potential threat.  Above all us, the ego must be preserved.


"5 time World's Strongest Man?  Well, I bet he is TERRIBLE at Guitar Hero!"

It is this mentality that has retarded the development of the strength training community.  One of the biggest hurdles is simply getting someone INTO the gym itself.  They are terrified that everyone at the gym is watching them, judging how much weight they can lift and the size of their muscles.  Many people in fact try to get in shape BEFORE going to the gym.

Let us analyze the blatant ego-centrism of this belief.  How conceited must one be to believe that an entire facility of people is watching them, concerned with their every action at all times and analyzing exactly what they are doing in the weightroom.  It is once again a reflection of how warped we as a people have become, unaware of how a normal functioning human society actually operates and so preoccupied with ourselves we are unaware of others.


If you see this and assume they are all talking about you, you have a problem

As silly as this may seem though, the trend continues.  If one finally musters up the courage to enter the gym, when it comes time to compete in some manner of iron sport, we witness the exact same trend.  They want to build up their deadlift before they powerlift, or get leaner before they sign up for a bodybuilding comp, or play with the implements some more before they enter a strongman contest.  It’s always the same thing though: they don’t want to be bad at something when they are new at it.

Folks, being bad is a part of the process of being good.  There is no escaping this fact nor avoiding this experience if the end goal is greatness.  We all must spend our time at the bottom of the totem pole before we can climb to the top.  Those who willfully embrace this reality are those that will eventually become good, while those who spend all of their time prepping before they put themselves on display will simply never step up to the plate, and though in their own minds they can justify how they probably would have been great had they ever stepped up, the reality is they were a “never was”.

At least this guy did it

I am not a good strongman.  This is why I love competing in this sport.  I put myself in situations where I HAVE to work on my weaknesses, and if I don’t, my failures get displayed in competition.  Additionally, the ever looming threat OF a competition inspires me to become stronger.  If left to my own devices, I would never work on my conditioning or footspeed, and just spend all my time lifting heavy weights.  Knowing that I will put myself out there inspires me to  work harder and get better, whereas telling myself that I NEED to do these things BEFORE I compete will just inspire me to do nothing to make myself better. 


No one is born great.  Even those people who seem blessed and have things come naturally to them at least ventured into the unknown the very first time they picked up their sport, having no idea of if they would be talented.  Risks must be taken for rewards to be received.  If you are bad at something, great, it means you have nowhere to go but up.  Enjoy the journey and appreciate the lessons it teaches. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

THE FORM CHECK: TREATING THE SYMPTOMS AND IGNORING THE DISEASE

It is without hyperbole that I say the internet form check is responsible for retarding the progress of the majority of trainees online today.  Trainees who could have spent years making amazing gains in the gym and reaching phenomenal and impressive levels of size and strength have instead been regulated to years of staying at light weights, striving for absolutely perfect form, failing, restarting at lower weights, and repeating the process over and over again.  People have now become so completely paranoid about the slightest hint of back rounding, elbow flaring, shallow depth, etc etc that we seemed to have forgotten that all of this was simply a means to achieve a goal: getting bigger and stronger.  Instead, we have now changed the means INTO the goal, with many trainees foolishly admiring the form a lifter employs in their training, rather than the results this form has achieved.

Let me be frank: seeking the advice of the internet on achieving your goals is seeking the advice of those who have failed on how to succeed.  The internet has FAR more failures inhabiting it than those who have managed success, and the advice you receive in turn will be on how to fail, not succeed.  It is the blind leading the blind, and if you are lucky you may accidentally have someone parrot actual good advice from a legitimate source, but for the most part everything accepted as dogma is simply perversions and mutations of actual good advice.  The loudest voice online is the least successful.


The absence of a counter argument in many cases simply indicates a lack of need

On this topic, those who contribute advice and critique to form checks are simply those regurgitating what they have been told is good advice.  In turn, all they simply do is state the obvious.  “Your back is rounding”, “you have buttwink (which, by the way, hearing someone say “buttwink” is a great way to know that they aren’t strong)”, “your knees are caving in”, etc etc.  These statements are useless.  It would be akin going to the doctor with a cold and him telling you with full authority “Your nose is running, you have a slight cough, and are running a mild fever”.  Thanks Doc, how do we fix it?!


We laugh, but is it any better with a form check?

Herein is where we identify once again the deficiencies of this system.  In theory, the internet form check is a boon that allows us the useful observation of many other trainees with helpful advice.  In reality, the latter is missing, and the observation is far from useful.  These good Samaritans are finely skilled at the art of critique, but when it comes to knowing how to get bigger and stronger, they are lacking.  Nowhere is the contribution “your back is rounding BECAUSE your feet are too far apart”, or “your knees are caving in BECAUSE your feet aren’t angled out”, mainly because these fine denizens of the internet are clueless on how to actually succeed, and instead only know how to tear people down.

It is this talent at destruction that is in turn so pervasive and horrific within the internet community, which creates a culture where success is impossible.  Those that foolishly submit their form to the internet are admonished for any attempt to exert effort, told instead that they MUST reset the weight until they can meet some impossible standard of perfect form (which, coincidentally, is ONLY possible when using a weight that is too light to elicit any manner of physical change).  Ghost stories and legends are told of experiencing “snap city”, “snapping your shit up”, and other such drivel that is once again only ever said by someone who has failed to accomplish anything impressive.  The trainees that post on these videos have not only never experienced success, but in many cases have never even experienced an injury to even know WHAT it feels like when form deviates so bad as to result in one.  They have lived a life of such extreme deluded paranoia that they have no frame of reference for what it means to even train.  And they speak in such masses with such volume that any attempt to preach sanity, effort, toil and hard work is immediately drowned out as dangerous.


Strong people encourage effort, weak people discourage it

When met with examples of highly successful trainees using form that is not what has been deemed as “safe”, all manner of excuses come out.  Genetics, drugs, experience, “advanced techniques”, whatever the case may be. As an intelligent reader, surely you can deduce from this that the ONLY people that are following the “safe form” are the unsuccessful trainees, and the successful people seem to be following the unsafe form.  Knowing this, whose approach seems worth emulating?

Allow me to offer my own universal approach to form critiques.  Odds are, if your form is failing, it’s because your set up is poor.  Many trainees falsely diagnose inability to maintain a strong position with a weakness in the muscles that support said condition, but truth be told, I have never seen someone unable to keep a neutral back due to a weak back.  Instead, they simply never put themselves into a position wherein they could even effectively RECRUIT the muscles necessary to maintain good posture.  If you videotape your lift and notice an issue with execution, you have already identified what the internet would have told you about your form.  Now it is up to you to play around with how you put yourself in the position to execute the movement, watch others with levers similar to yours, and find out where the discrepancies exist.

There is no universal cure for “back rounding”, but I know an easy fix for “feet too far apart”.