Sunday, July 24, 2016

I READ SOMEWHERE...

Anytime someone starts a sentence with "I read somewhere", you know that the rest of what is about to come out of their mouths is going to be terrible.  "I read somewhere" is responsible for the anti-vaccination craze, the popularity of the Kardashians, and the belief of a 6000 year old Earth.  And, of course, lifting is no exception to this point.  In fact, I'd argue that lifting/fitness/training/whatever is one of the biggest victims of "I read somewhere".


Image result for Dinosaur bones
I read they were put here on earth to test our faith...and reading that made me lose all of mine


For some reason, people are willing to attribute more credit to themselves when it comes to understanding exercise science versus any other science on the planet.  Try to drum up a conversation on quantum physics and you'll hear crickets.  Electrical engineering?  Silence.  Wanna talk chemistry?  Hope you like Breaking Bad, because that's all people know about that.  But exercise and fitness?  Oh boy does EVERYONE have a whole heaping amount of knowledge on THAT scientific subject.  How?  While I was studying politics, did everyone else major in exercise science, then go on to get their PhD?




Actually, let's keep going down this formal education rabbit hole.  Ever notice how exercise seems to be the one field where EVERYONE is an expert?  You dad is a doctor?  Clearly an expert on exercise.  Wait, he's an ear nose and throat specialist?  Dude, doesn't matter, he went to MED School.  Oh yeah, well can he compete with the guy who is a Kinesiology major? Also an expert in exercise.  What about the dude with the bio-chem degree?  Expert.  Guy with a personal training certificate?  Expert.  Physical therapist?  Expert.  Massage therapist?  Of course they're an expert.  As long as anyone studied anything even remotely connected with the human body, their opinion is gold and how DARE you question them.


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"Dude, it's the guy who gave the drug test to Ed Coan; he MUST know how to pull 900lbs"


And this is the issue we're witnessing; lack of quality control in our criteria of expertise paired with our overconfidence in understanding exercise has made it so that ANY piece of advice is worth considering and, therefore, contradicting any other piece of advice.  Dr. Atkins says carbs are the enemy, and I mean, dude is a doctor, but I read from the IIFYM Leangains guy that anything is good to eat as long as it fits you macros, and that dude is ripped AND has a website!  What am I to do?!




Here is an easy metric for anyone; if the thing you read somewhere results in you doing less work and having less suffering, it's most likely wrong.  You'll notice that people only pull out the "I read somewhere" when they're starting to experience discomfort, because it grants them an opportunity to get away from it.  I've seen folks say that they had to stop losing fat, because they were getting hungry, and they read somewhere that being hungry means that your body stores more fat.  Jesus Christ, what?!  How about people who have to stop training after 40 minutes because they read somewhere that anything over that puts you in a catabolic state?  How convenient that catabolism sets in once the real training and pain begins.  Good thing we can just avoid all of that and get jacked.


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It's how we get stupid stuff like this


"Exercise science" proper is an incredibility limited field of scientific research.  Consider the real deal problem plaguing actual scientists right now; cancer, AIDS, the zika virus, making artificial butter tastes so much like real butter than you are unable to believe that it is artificial butter, regrowing hair where it used to be and getting hair to stop growing where you don't want it to be, secretly supporting the illuminati, etc.  "Generating max swolitude" is simply not on the radar for the most part.  Even when scientist attempt to engage in exercise science, they gotta find the right market in order to get the funding, and that typically means they want to understand science as it applies to UNTRAINED individuals.  Almost every single study you find for exercise takes untrained individuals, and usually college kids because they're cheap/free labor.  For one, good luck getting these folks to actually stick to the requirements of the study, such as dietary and sleeping patterns when not being observed (to say nothing of recreational drug usage), but additionally consider the fact that there is a significant chance that NO ONE in the room knows how to exercise.  The untrained populace certainly doesn't...but do the scientist even know how to push out a 20 rep grinder set of squats?  Have they ever broken blood vessels in their face from a set of deadlifts?  Where is the quality control regarding if the people are even training versus simply going through the motions?




This is why we can't use our things we read somewhere to do anything worthwhile.  Instead of the one or two little tidbits that trickle through the media that legitimize our sloth and opulence, observe the TRENDING information from consistently reliable sources.  Find the people who have succeeded at the endeavor you want to succeed at, and cross reference what they say with the COACHES of people who have also succeeded, and see if you can find the common links between them.  I'll bet you it's going to be woefully unexotic.  You'll most likely find the same 3 variables appearing each time; effort, consistency, and time.  Work hard, work often, and do it forever, and you'll turn out pretty good.  None of these guys were concerned about if they were deficient in vitamin B12, or if they were getting all their protein in the anabolic window, or if they had anterior pelvic tilt, or any of that other stuff that we all "read somewhere".  Instead of just having read something somewhere, why not be proud of where it came from, and be a testament to it's success?


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How did people fall for this?


If nothing else, now that you've read this, you can tell other people that you read somewhere that they're being stupid.

Monday, July 18, 2016

LOSE LIKE A WINNER; NIHILISM IN COMPETITION

I've been seeing some people out there talking about competing, and for the most part the talk is sadly negative.  People say they're never going to compete, or if they ARE going to compete, they say that they're going to get crushed.  Some even go so far as to say that they're going to wait until they don't get laughed out of the competition before they compete.  They need to get ready to be able to compete.


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All these guys want to add another 100lbs before their squat before they compete in the novice category


Look; it's true not everyone can win.  In fact, if everyone COULD win, you wouldn't want to be at that competition in the first place.  Participation trophies are crap.  That said, first, I need to clear up the fact that no one is going to laugh at you in a competition.  In fact, I gotta imagine that the people who even say these quotes must be psychopaths, because if you even think that's an acceptable form of behavior to the point that YOU'RE going to encounter it, your worldview is a little skewed.  But once again, I digress.  Competition are full of supportive people, and if you go to one, no one is going to be a jerk to you.  As for WHY you should compete, reference my earlier work (aptly titled "Why compete").


However, what I present to you today is the proper way to lose; like a winner.  No, this isn't going to be anything about being a good sport and all that trite stuff that you already know (although you SHOULD endeavor to not be an asshole when possible), it's going to be about how KNOWING that you're going to lose can be empowering.


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I mean...maybe not ALL the time


I've written before about how, in "The Art of War", Sun Tzu advises to never completely surround your enemy with no chance of survival, because this means they will fight until the very last man.  If given a chance to escape, they will fight hard enough to be able to create distance and flee, but when there is no escape, they will fight harder than ever, because there is nothing to lose.  So why not CHOOSE to have nothing to lose?


The people chasing trophies and first place put themselves at a disadvantage; they are at risk of losing.  The people who do not seek victory cannot lose.  You're not here to win the war; you're here to holdout in the siege for as long as possible, draining the enemy's resources and exhausting their morale while you set fire to the oilfields and take potshots from sniper dens.  It's not about winning the fight, it's about seeing how many motherf**kers it takes to finally take you down.


When I used to wrestle in high school, and during my brief foray into MMA, I always had the same thought; the other guy has already won, but by the time this is over, he's gonna know he was in a fight.  I wanted him to break his hands punching my skull in while I was just smiled a bloody toothless smile at him.  I wanted to lose on points because I took too many hits coming in to throw a shovel hook that ruptured his liver.  We're talking about Jack Dempsey's "bad intentions" here.  You're not coming in to win; you're here to make the other guy lose.



I'm just saying that it's pretty obvious who came to box and who came to kill


When you compete, compete knowing that you're going to lose, but that you're going to ruin someone's day by doing so.  Know that you're going to get beat on the car deadlift, but that you're going to hit so many goddamn reps that the guy who beats you is going to get rhabdomyolysis.  Know that you can't possibly place by doing well in the last event, but that you're going to blow everyone else away so much that you're going to screw up the placings for everyone else.  Make it your goal to be that guy that no one saw coming; that while you're behind the 8 ball, you aren't holding anything back.


Knowing that you aren't going to win doesn't HAVE to be an admission of weakness; it can very well be an admission of strength.  You don't have to be a loser just because you're going to lose.  Go out there, lose, and lose so goddamn hard that you bring everyone else down with you.  Lose so spectacularly that no one can top just how majestic your downward spiral was.  Shoot out the biggest fireball when you crash and burn and erupt with such fury that the effort expended in your failure is unquestionable.


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Reminder: NEVER mix poprocks and coke


What else have you got to lose?

Monday, July 11, 2016

THE WEAKNESS OF STRENGTH; A DISCUSSION ON STRENGTH, SKILL AND CONDITIONING


(This is one of those kind of posts that just got away from me.  It's gonna go all over, but I think you might enjoy the journey)


As obvious as we might want to think it is, “strength”, as a concept, has grown increasingly confusing and nebulous as more and more trainees get into lifting.  I think it’s time we nail down this idea, discuss what strength really is, and talk about when, sometimes, strength can be a weakness.


Strength isn’t about weight moved.  This is the most common misconception about strength.  Now, I don’t say this to mean some cliché’ nonsense about how “strength comes from within” or “strength is all in the mind”, or anything else some guru is trying to sell you.  What I’m saying is that we cannot use a metric as evidence of strength’s presence.  This is due to the fact that weight moved can be influenced by a variety of factors completely unrelated to strength proper.

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I'm just saying

I like the bench as a classic example of the failings of identifying strength.  Say that you hear that someone has a 500lb bench.  That’s a strong dude, right?  But what if that guy has the biggest arch you’ve ever seen in your life?  What if that guy is a bench specialist, who sought out the best instruction available for benching, and has quite literally mastered the movement?  They know exactly how and when to flare their elbows, they have mastered irradiation, their leg drive is phenomenal, they know how to raise their chest to meet the bar on the way down, etc.  What if this guy hit his 500lb bench after a 12 week peaking phase, and could never hit it again if their life depended on it?  What if they were jacked out of their mind on nose tork and amphetamines and spent 3 hours psyching themselves up for this one lift?  Keep in mind; none of this negates the impressiveness of a 500lb bench, nor does it mean it “doesn’t count”; it more goes to show that a LOT of things contribute to this movement.


What if we take another 500lb bencher, but we find out he’s actually a strongman who occasionally benches as assistance work.  He doesn’t know how to set up an arch, his body is loose on the bench, and this was just a lift he managed to hit in the gym one day when he wanted to see how much he could bench.  Both guys are 500lb benchers, but the latter is the stronger lifter, while the former is a much better bencher.  And again; this isn’t a judgement of one lifter being somehow superior to the other.  These are different qualities, both of which are important for being a lifter in totality.  It’s why it is necessary to have a clear understanding of what it is we’re discussing.


The nature of strength is such that it should be non-specific.  Strength that can only manifest itself in select movements is by definition NOT strength but skill.  A strong athlete is one that, regardless of movement, can move heavy weight.  My go to example for this is Paul Anderson during his time at the Olympics.  Watch how he essentially cleans a barbell in slow motion and then presses it to lockout.  Paul was simply ungodly strong, and was so strong that he could win in a sport against trainees who spent their entire lives perfecting their SKILL in the movement.


You ever see a guy clean 400lbs in slow motion before?

It is for this reason that I oppose the currently en vogue “beginner programs” as strength builders.  These programs create the illusion of building strength, because they allow a trainee to rapidly acquire skill in a handful of lifts that are associated with strength.  Yes; the power lifts are lifts used by big and strong lifters, but simply being able to move more weight on these lifts is not necessarily an indication of increasing strength.  Strength is built slowly, while skill increases quickly, and at the end of a beginner program, one has finally tapped out their skill potential and is ready to actually start building some strength.  If one understands this, it is fine, but when one deludes themselves into believing that they are building strength with this approach, THAT is when things get murky.


Strength is built during the unfun parts of training.  As great as chasing and setting weight PRs on the 1-5 range can be, this is simply the time where one learns how to harness their strength into singular focus.  One is BUILDING strength during their assistance work; hammering away at the muscles with lots of volume and repetition in order to force them to grow.  Yes, this can be done with lots of sets of low rep work, but it can also be done with the “bodybuilding” style of assistance work.  It’s the long, hard, dull, monotonous grind of building and acquiring strength over the course of many years.


Because strength takes so long to build and requires so much effort, it tends to be neglected by trainees who wish to find a quick fix.  These people are always seeking out new avenues of acquiring more skill to move weights.  These are the people who strict press little, so they learn how to push press, focus on maximizing their leg drive, before moving on to push jerks, before moving onto the jerk proper, before finally mastering the split jerk.  They are constantly finding ways to move more and more weight overhead, and kudos to them for doing so, because that’s what counts in a competition, but it’s not building strength. 

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I legitimately typed in "small weightlifter" trying to make a point, but I got this photo and it's awesome

I do not make these comments to denigrate skill, but only to explain the difference between it and strength.  In turn, I now discuss the weakness of BEING strong.  I am a strong athlete, and I say that not as some sort of declaration of my superiority over other athletes, but more to identify the variety of athlete that I am.  I do not possess much skill in ANY sport I’ve ever played; instead having always relied on brute strength to accomplish my objectives.  This, in turn, displays the pitfall of being strong; you don’t NEED technique.  Not in the way that someone who ISN’T strong needs technique.  If you are lacking strength, you have to become proficient at moving weight overhead if you want to compete, but if you’re strong, you can just ignore technique and shove the weight overhead.  You might even win.  However, it comes at a cost; you end up not spending any time learning the finer points of technique.  It frustrates the strong athlete to try to figure out a way to maximize physics in order to achieve an objective that they can just DO through brute strength.  Why learn to jerk when I can just press?  Jerking takes too long to learn; that’s time I could spend building my press.  This is where strength can become a detriment, as it is now a barrier towards learning.


The athlete who only has strength needs to pair it with a ridiculous degree of conditioning if they have any hope of actually being competitive.  He is not conserving his strength by relying on technique, which means, on every single event and lift, he is greatly depleting his body.  Yes, a skilled lifter also pushes to the max for an event, but they know how to distribute the load through out their entire body and maximize all of their power.  The strong athlete is simply utilizing force of will and brawn to get to the end, and it’s exhausting.  Without a solid base of conditioning, the strong athlete will make a strong showing in 1-2 events and then just be exhausted by the end, having to rely on skill that simply isn’t there.

 Image result for Glen Ross strongman
I suppose you could just try being so awesome that it doesn't matter

If you CAN build up this level of conditioning though, you will now have a quality going in your favor that those who are relying on skill don’t; your brute strength.  Skill is about laser focusing one’s strength, but if that strength simply isn’t available, one cannot utilize their skill.  If, in a contest, you were forced to perform a truck pull as your first event, and now your legs are incredibly taxed, suddenly your leg drive is no longer applicable to the press event.  If you were relying on skill, you are now in a bind, but if you were relying on strength, you still have some potential to win.  Your legs may be shot, but your shoulders may have enough in them to still win the event.


I suppose now this rant has turned into a commentary on the 3 qualities that can really impact your odds of winning; strength, skill and conditioning.  If you only have 1 of those, you aren’t going to win.  If you have all 3, you’re going to dominate.  If you have 2, you’ve got a chance of winning.  Of those 2, strength and conditioning are going to require no talent; just some brutality in your life and being a little wrong in the head.  The lesson here is; if you’re an oaf, make sure you can outcondition everyone too, or else you’re going to get beat by someone who is better than you.