33. Plant-based Performance: Know Your Own Strength

  A few months back Jason from Iron Ethos suggested that I should contribute to a book a guy named Scott Shetler was planning on putting out about vegan athletes. I was a bit hesitant, because, although I have been vegan for about 14 years, and vegetarian for a few before that, I rarely discuss my dietary choices in conjunction with my training philosophy. I value both aspects of my life, but I consider them to be largely unrelated - I do not consume animal products for ethical reasons, not to make me a better athlete.

  In fact, I tell my clients that exclusionary diets (paleo, veganism, "Mediterranean," etc), actually make it harder to get to your goals (whatever they may be). I accept this, and work around it to support my personal dietary choices. I do not find that being vegan is a large obstacle to success, but, in my opinion, the small adjustments I must make are worth it for the ideological benefits. That is my personal perspective, and does not color my training philosophies and methodology.

  I would be lying if I did not say that my consumption politics did not influence the development of my training philosophies: without veganism (or any of my other activism pursuits), I would not have become the trainer I am. In that vein, I decided to contribute to Scott's newest book, Plant-based Performance: Know Your Own Strength. It doesn't hurt that Scott is a super nice guy trying to help out some great organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Forgotten Animal Rescue. 

 The idea is pretty cool, too: 22 different athletes and coaches from various sports and disciplines, talking about their thoughts on veganism, training, and life. Add on to that recipes and training logs, and you've got a pretty cool book that doesn't just talk about veganism, but a great resource for any athlete. 

  You don't have to be vegan to support or enjoy this book. These organizations aren't burning down buildings or hurting people to save animals. If you've ever wondered, "Where do they get their protein?" or "aren't all vegans scrawny, weak hippies?" Check out Know Your Own Strength. You'll find 22 different people from 22 different lives with 22 different stories, and you might even pick up a couple new tricks. I'm proud of my contribution, I think it might be one of the best things I've ever written. If you can, check it out. There's both digital and hard copies available at The Plant-based Performance store.

32. From Destructive to Productive: How to Shift Your Perspective From Self-Abuse to Self-Improvement in the Gym

  Last week we talked about having fitness-related goals that improve your life without taking it over. This week instead of discussing how to implement a (relatively) safe, effective, and enjoyable program that leads to said goals (as I initially planned), I ramble on about how gym culture is based on breaking down our body through busy work and how great things could be if we focused on seeking mastery through skill-based programming and joyful movement.

  Arthur Jones gets a lot of shit, and some of it is deserved, but not all of it: he collected data with the purpose of making the most efficient and effective exercise program possible with the absolute least amount of training. He created the Nautilus line of fitness equipment, which, if you’ve ever stepped foot into a large commercial gym, you’ve seen or used. He was a proponent of H.I.T. (High Intensity Training), which is still a common practice for bodybuilders today. Despite how some feel about Jones’ influence on modern gym culture, he was a generalist – he is quoted as saying “specialization is for insects” and “a man should be able to  a man should be able to put food on the table , build a house, tan a hide and deliver a baby." In his eyes, exercise programs should have general, transferable skills. We should use our training in the gym to improve what we do out in the world….wait….this all sounds familiar….Greg Glassman=Arthur Jones=Bob Hoffman=Bernarr MacFadden=Eugene Sandow….DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND?

  It’s nothing uncommon to say that people need to move more. Business is business, and all of the names I mentioned were men who were in the business of fitness. Their goal was to make money by promoting fitness. It is a noble cause, but as a business person, your bottom line of profit margin. No-one stands to make a fortune repeating “run, lift, drink water, and sleep.” But by taking a new perspective, commodifying it, and selling it with a product line, you can make a crapload of money.

  The point is this: there are many ways to get fit, and many systems to get there. I won’t tell you that everything works, but most things do (for a while, at least). So whatever your goal, approach, training system, philosophy, whatever – stick to it and you’ll get better. If you’re not making progress, you’re not sticking to the system, you’ve run it to its useful end, or it’s not right for you.

  Things become problematic when we stop working towards a practical, quantifiable goal (be able to lift more, run faster, climb something, improved health, etc), and start working to work. I am a huge fan of movement for movement’s sake – we should be walking, running, jumping, and climbing our way through daily life as much as possible. There are huge psychological benefits to moving, both inside and outside the gym. But there should be a purpose to our movement in the gym, and that’s where skill training and goals come in.

  It’s interesting: when I write about physical play or purposeful exercise, I unconsciously use the word “movement.” But when I talk about arbitrary, purposeless exercise, I default to the word “work.” And that’s what it is, really: work. Busy work. Chip Conrad has talked about this extensively, and I won’t belabor the point he has made many times, but it is relevant to our purpose: if you do an exercise just to do it, just to get tired, it’s busy work. If it leads to a larger purpose (skill or enjoyment), it’s productive. And don’t sit there and tell me you enjoy wallballs, that’s bullshit. Your body craves movement, and even arbitrary, repetitive exercises like wallballs act as a temporary fix. Imagine the joy and fulfillment you could find if you invested time in movements that actually led to increased ability….

  So why is this desire to waste time in the gym so prevalent?  Let me play amateur sociologist for a moment and suggest that most of modern life is a waste of time: so much of our day is spent doing busy work, distracting ourselves, and wasting minutes/hours/days of our lives pointlessly staring at screens large and small, filling out paperwork, making small talk, buying things, driving places, etc. For the record: this blog is different. It’s not a waste of time. KEEP READING AND BUYING MY PRODUCTS.

  Why wouldn’t this culture of busy work cross over in to the gym? It adds up. Go-go-go out there, go-go-go in the gym. It’s difficult to turn off your mind and shift perspective. How many people do you see on their phones in the gym? I’m guilty of it. We live in a constant state of distraction. The only thing that pulls us out is something that is more pressing, more intense. We are attracted to exhaustion-creating workouts because they are like a drug – an ultimate distraction. You’re caught in the moment, unable to breathe, unable to think, unable to worry about anything else. People begin to expect that experience in the gym, and feel as though their program isn’t effective if it doesn’t create this desired result.

  I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard and get your heart rate up. You should. But you also shouldn’t be quivering on the floor in a pile of sweat after every workout. That’s not productive, that’s just tiring. But it’s pervasive – I’m not working hard if I don’t “feel the burn” or if I’m not “bacon sizzling”  after a “WOD.” And trainers perpetuate it, because they don’t want to lose clients. I’ve done a lot of workshops at a lot of different gyms, and most people are very open to the idea of getting better, of better applying their time in the gym, yet there still seems to be so many more gyms programming brutal workout after brutal workout. A lot of it comes down to trainer fear: people are taught that their workout is supposed to look a certain way, and now they expect it. Trainers/coaches/WOD cheerleaders/ whatever you want to call them are afraid to disrupt this expectation. I've spent the past four-ish years infiltrating CrossFits and have found a willing audience. If we can transition from an exhaustion-based gym culture to a skill-based one, I think we can do some radical things. Powerlifting, Olympic lifting, parkour, martial arts, and even (in some capacity) bodybuilding gyms are proof of this.

  Your programming should be a combination of some type of skill training, whether it be rehabilitative work, strength training, sport training – something that applies to a greater purpose. I always pick on the strength sports, but it could be argued that these sports also perpetuate gym obsession and have limited outside applicability. I think that is true only when your movement quality suffers due to a focus on improving your strength sport-related skills (ie, powerlifters who can’t lift their arms above their heads). Anyway, skill training is the first part. The second part is play: we should play and explore movement. Try new things. Remember, your skill training should be useful – can you climb something? Can you run there? Test your skills and enjoy yourself.

  In the end, skill practice IS play. Practice is a luxury. We are lucky to have the time and energy in our days to focus on learning non-survival related skills. People devote insane amounts of time to learning soft touch skills like playing instruments and visual arts – why is it such a rare thing to commit time to physical skills? And furthermore, when did we become so lazy as a culture that we can’t even be bothered to care about getting better at anything? We should WANT to get better at skills in the gym. Why would you look at a pull-up and decide that instead of doing a transferable skill that could lead to doing truly awesome things, you’d rather take a shortcut that leads you to doing lots of sort-of pull-ups?

  Find a skill. Get better at it. Find more skills. Get better at them. Value yourself. Value your abilities and nurture them.

31. Wholly Holistic

We have been sold the idea that exercise must look a certain way, take place in a particular place, and lead to a specific goal. Usually that goal is related to looking a certain way, or being able to accomplish a particular act. At some point, though, you just need to start moving. Your movement will never be perfect, and you will never have a zero percent chance of injury.

  Nothing will ever feel amazing and easy, nor should it. There should always be an element of difficulty. The body needs to be pushed beyond homeostasis. The body is incredibly adaptable, but also lazy. Not lazy in that it doesn’t want to move, but in that it doesn’t want things to be difficult. The body gets stronger so that next time you attempt a task it is easier. It’s like a car: it works best when used. If you let it sit, it becomes decrepit. “Use it or lose it” is the old adage, and it’s true. If you don’t move, you lose the ability to move. If you sit eight hours a day, your body conforms to the seated position. If you put yourself under a heavy bar day in and day out, your body conforms to that. If you climb every day, your body will adapt. These adaptations can be good or bad: you can get really strong, but you can also limit your ability to move in other planes, develop overuse injuries, or generally crappy posture.

   So the best idea is to move in a bunch of different ways, right? Nothing revolutionary, I think there’s a little thing called CrossFit where they talk about that….Not that they invented the idea, but they’ve definitely done a bang-up job of commodifying it. CrossFit has done much in popularizing the idea of doing lots of different “stuff,” and doing it with intensity. And lots of very smart people have attached to this and have done lots of great things talking about how to do all this different stuff better. And you should read as much of it as you can.

 We live in a golden age of physical culture. GASP! I know, I can’t believe I said it. Benarr MacFadden is rolling in his grave. “But what of York Barbell,” you scream, “and the strongmen of olde?” Pssh, I say. Never has so much quality information been available to so many people. You want to become an elite powerlifter? Google “powerlifting.” Even ten years ago it came down to Genetics and Geography. The right athlete in the right place. Now things are different.

  Last year I finally made the jump in to doing the highland games heavy events, something I’ve been wanting to do for years. In my first year of training, I’ve had a chance to pick the brains of not only some of the best throwers in BC, but the current world champ and former Master’s world champion. You can, too: all you have to do is email.

  It’s easier than ever to discover a sport, and get great information from the best in the world. Elite athletes and coaches in just about every sport are traveling the world giving seminars. Remote coaching is more accessible than ever due to video conferencing and the ease of video and data transfer.

So what do we do with all of that? So far I’ve told you that your body conforms to what you do most, that you should do lots of different stuff, you should do it with intensity, and that it’s easier than ever to find great coaches. How does that look in practice? How do you "get fit?"

People attach themselves to a certain identity through fitness - powerlifter, yogi, runner, etc. The first step for most people is deciding what type of fitness person they want to be. The second step is Googling it. If somebody decides they want to be a “bodybuilder” they seek out bodybuilding resources. If they want to be a “CrossFitter,” they’re all over that stuff. The list goes on. There are voices out there who try to encourage holistic training without larger categorizations, but this, to me, is like the dude at the hip hop show with Mohawk, huge jeans and a drug rug talking about how he “doesn’t believe in labels, maaaaan.”

Their points are valid, but no-one really takes them seriously. Trust me, I know. I’m one of those guys (not the huge jeans guy, the labels guy). People want direction. They want to be part of something. The downfall is that isn’t necessarily what your body needs. If I had a nickel for every person I encountered that identified as a “runner” whose body was an absolute mess from overuse injuries and postural dysfunctions, I would be on some Scrooge McDuck type stuff (swimming in a pool of nickels, for those unfamiliar with my oh-so-relevant reference).

My advice is to be realistic: you can be an Olympic weightlifter, but you’re not Klokov. You can run, but maybe stick to 5K. If you’re living in constant pain and sustaining life-altering injuries because of your sport and you’re not getting paid for it, then it’s not right for you. Or you’re training above your genetic capacity. We’re not all phenoms, and sometimes it can be hard to accept that.

Your movement time, wherever it is (in the gym, park, on the road, etc), and what you do while there should improve your life. It should be fun, therapeutic and lead to a larger goal. Have purpose, but enjoy yourself while doing it.

I want to continue this discussion next week. We’ll get in to how to structure programming based on these principles and how to effectively and enjoyably plan your movement time without becoming unbalanced. 

30. IXC Updates

Hey Internet,

    No big rant or wandering prattle today, just a couple updates:

1. I've still got about 30 copies of Issue 2 of the zine left: $5 shipped worldwide, limited to 60 copies, hand-numbered. I'm pretty stoked about this issue: the content actually revolves around a theme (purpose), has an interview with one of my close friends (Andy Hurley), an awesome smoothie recipe from Erika, and an article by a real live brainiac (Alex Schmid - just don't tell him I said that). I've got some really great ideas for the next issue, but I won't start putting it together until I sell out. Tell your friends and enemies, buy a copy for your grandma: http://www.ironcovenant.com/buy/the-iron-covenant-issue-two-fall

2. The shirt stock is dwindling: 2 of the OG white-on-black double-sided tees in medium are still up for grabs, as well as 5 or 6 of the black-on-black tanks in XS, small, and medium. They are unisex, but fit like semi-slim and are super soft and nice. Once I sell out of those, I'm hoping to do some sweet long sleeve tees, throwback style. Grab the tank here and the OG tee here

3. If you threw your name in the hat for sweatpants, they should be here some time next week. That means you can expect them to be all shipped out and in your grubby little hands by December 1. If you didn't, you're probably out of luck. I ordered maybe 3 extra pairs. Link for those will be up soon.

That's it until next time. Party hard, lift weights, be radical

29. A Reflection Upon Mental Meatheads 7

  I’m going to break from my usual habit of ranting and rambling on to talk about a workshop I recently attended at Bodytribe down in Sacramento, CA. Bodytribe is both alma mater and former employer to me, and holds a special place in my heart. I had some fairly formative experiences there in terms of career and personal development, as well as the formation of some very important friendships.

  Bodytribe is a unique place (to say the least), and has been around for over a decade. Owner and founder, Chip Conrad, is a friend and mentor of mine, and works hard at pushing the boundaries of fitness and physical culture. He’s had his nose to the grindstone for the past 6 or 7 years working on books and projects exploring the philosophical aspects of physical culture, and has released a book, two DVD’s, and countless videos discussing his approach. It’s less methodology, more philosophy. While he’s been known at different points for being “the kettlebell guy,” “the club guy,” or “that weird mobility dude,” he’s less about how-to and more about the why.

  The other presenter was Dan John, and I don’t even know where to start with him. In my humblest of opinions, modern physical culture, especially of the “underground” sort, would not exist without him. His name is up there with guys like Brooks Kubik, Bill Starr, Mel Siff, and Louie Simmons – guys that have left indelible marks on fitness. Former elite level thrower, Highland games Master’s world champion, Olympic lifter, author, theologian, and coach. He’s on his own level. His coaching and training methods are so beautifully simple and effective that at first glance, you don’t even realize how good they are. To fully understand the depth of Dan’s methods, spend 20 years training at an elite level, another 20 studying and coaching athletes of all levels, all the while raising a family and becoming a university level teacher in a totally separate field, then come back and read one of his pieces again. I’ve said it before, but whenever I have what I think is an incredible, revolutionary insight in to training, I go read some Dan John and realize he said it ten years ago.

  So when I heard that Dan was doing workshop with Chip, this time in a city where I used to live, at the gym where I used to work, I figured I’d better pony up and get down there. Did I mention it’s a Mental Meatheads workshop? Added bonus. Founder of MM, Dave Hall, is a southern boy on a mission: through this workshop series and his interview series of the same name, he’s trying to create a network of like-minded lifters, movers, and talkers. If you follow my stuff, you might remember the epic talk we had earlier this year disguised as an interview. He’s one of the best, and doing good things.

  The workshop itself was scheduled to run Saturday, November 1 and Sunday, November 2 from 10-4 each day. Going in to it I had no idea what was going to be covered, outside of the working title, which was Mental Meatheads 7: Dan John and Chip Conrad, Building the Holistic Athlete. Now I’ve been to Chip’s workshops before. A lot of them. In fact, I used to travel and teach with him. I know the vibe, I’ve heard a lot of what he has to say (not that it isn’t good, it is). I’ve never been able to make it to a Dan John workshop, which has been a long-standing goal of mine. I’ve wanted to work with him for years.

  The material covered in the workshop was stellar, no doubt about it. But the real magic of the weekend was in the community: both Chip and Dan were super accessible, fun, and talkative. I know how exhausting a full weekend workshop can be, but they were both accommodating and friendly throughout the workshops, afterward, and during the two community dinners we had. To sit down with the both of them was one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had in my career. Dan fielded all our questions with grace and candor, and made time for everyone who attended the workshop.

  An innocuous statement I made after the conclusion of day 2 about my foray in to Highland games led to Dan (former world champion and throws expert) giving me an hour long lesson in hammer, weight for distance, and Braemar stone technique. I walked away speechless. The wealth of knowledge that he has, and is willing to share at the drop of a hat is staggering. Combine that with Chip’s playfulness and general weirdness, and you have a weekend that felt less like a boring clinic and more like a weekend long hangout with good friends.

  I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity, and I strongly recommend seeking out any iteration of Mental Meatheads, Bodytribe, or Dan John workshops. No posturing, egos, or attitudes. Authentic sharing of knowledge, love of movement, and welcoming to all. Thanks to Dave for putting it together, thanks to all the great folks who came from across the US and Canada to attend, and, of course, thanks so much to Dan and Chip.

28. How to be Good at Things, Part 2

In last week's blog post, we discussed how to begin forming goals and developing ideas to take our fitness goals beyond just body composition. This week we'll talk about how to begin implementing those goals, and taking them from idea to reality. Now, this is the part where normally we would start talking about micro and macro cycles, setting short and long term goals, percentages, cross-training and a whole bunch of other technical stuff, but I'm going to skip that. You can find it anywhere on the internet. What we're going to look at is the why, the mindset behind achieving.

I've attended lots and lots of lectures, seminars and workshops on a wide variety of topics. I've trained with and observed athletes of all levels. I've mentored and been mentored. I've studied, trained, and studied some more. And you know what I've discovered? You've got to work hard to achieve something. Crazy idea, isn't it? The common thread I've seen time and time again in the successful, no matter the arena, is dedication. It may seem over-simplified and maybe even cliché, but they say it again and again: if you want to be good at something, do it all the time. If you fail, try again and again.

You see, most of us only have a passing interest in most things - we see something, admire it, and say, "I want to do that." We try it, and usually, we're good at it or we aren't. Most then pursue that at which they naturally excel, and dismiss that at which they initially fail. Some will persist, but once they hit one, two or perhaps even three obstacles (if they're very driven), they abandon the pursuit in question. There is nothing shameful about this process. It is the way we find out what we're good at. But if you find a thing that you love, something that you want to do so badly you can't keep away, you must give yourself to it. This is not always a healthy path: it requires working through injuries, neglect of job, family, friends and more. To master something, to be an expert or even elite, requires much sacrifice.

Not all of us want this, though. Most will be satisfied with competence in a field. We can take lessons from the obsessed, learn how to apply the concepts of mastery to those things in which we may only take a passing interest. If you want to be good at something, find a qualified teacher, learn the foundations thoroughly, and work on it every day. It's as simple as that. Maybe not easy, but uncomplicated. If you want to be good at something, do at least a little work on it every day. If you want to be a hand-balancer, work on spending time on your hands every chance you get. If you want to be an Olympic lifter, work on your foundation lifts every day. If you want to be a master of a martial art, drill your forms and techniques at every opportunity.

Do not expect to be successful at something without working hard for it. Strength, fitness and even health: these are skills, abilities. Marketing in the fitness industry has lead us to believe that fitness and the fit aesthetic are things that can be easily achieved with a pill, a program or a gadget. It couldn't be further from the truth. No matter your goal, you must work to achieve it. Accept this and success will come - perhaps not immediately, but it will, and you will be all the richer for it.

27. How to be Good at Things Part 1

Hello Internet people. 

  This week we'll begin the discussion of how to get better at stuff, and why that's a good idea. But first, let me direct you to the Iron Harvest Workshop Series page (click to go to page). I'll be working with my homies over at Iron Ethos in PDX on an awesome weekend full of workshops. We'll do an intro to powerlifting, injury prevention/mobility, Olympic weightlifting, and strongman. We'll talk technique, getting stronger, and, of course, I'll make some hilarious jokes. Please join us if you can!


  The title is kind of vague, I know. But isn't that all we want? To succeed at our various endeavors, to perform at a higher level and perhaps master a skill, or many skills? Even our fitness pursuits involve mastery - we want to become stronger, faster and better. We want to master our body, improve its form and composition.

  There is a disconnect in fitness between skill and strength/fitness/health, though: we have no real, strong definition of what these things are, beyond an array of adjectives and technical terms (but that is a blog for another time). Today we discuss how to succeed - how to achieve our goals, short and long term, aesthetic or performance-related, whatever they may be.

  But we can't go any further without knowing clearly what our goals are. If you endeavor upon a path towards "fitness" (which is the general heading that will loom over all of this, as it's the purpose of this blog), you must have a clear and thorough understanding of what is your goal. Aesthetic goals are easy to pick, they're all around us. Reduced body fat, increased muscle mass, getting "toned" (not a real thing, by the way), ripped abs and bigger arms - everywhere we look, there's someone or something promising us those things. Once we look beyond those superficial goals we enter a more vague realm: I want to get "stronger" or "more fit." But often we still hold on to the ideas from the superficial: fears of "bulkiness" or injury, insidious ideas put in our minds by marketing campaigns or sales techniques used to direct us towards certain products and away from the hard work that, well, works!

  Back to the point: once we've established what our goal is - usually something sport or competition-related is sufficient motivation for most people. There are so many options: martial arts, endurance events (marathons, triathlons, etc), powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, strongman/woman, soccer, softball, tennis, winter sports (skiing, snowshoeing, etc) - the list goes on endlessly. Too often people say, "Oh, I can't do that! I'm too (insert limitation here)!" The truth is, there are leagues and associations for every sport, strength or otherwise. I've given priority to strength sports because they directly build a lacking component of modern fitness programs: you guessed it, STRENGTH!

  But I've got a football game to watch, so you'll hang to hang on until next week, where we'll will discuss how we can use our goals to motivate ourselves towards fitness, and how we should structure our training to get there. 


Iron Ethos x Iron Covenant

Weekend Workshop Series

4 Workshops!

1 Gym!

Tons of fun!

Friday, October 24th 6pm-8pm: Competitive Powerlifting for Beginners

  A how-to on getting into powerlifting for sport. Learn what makes training for lifting competitively different than just lifting. Join Coach Jason Morris to learn the finer points of the back squat, bench press, and deadlift, as well as common rules and regulations of the sport.     $20

Saturday, October 25th, 9-10am: Injury Prevention

A by-donation workshop covering proper warm-up, cool down, prehab movements, and how to use them to reduce the risk of injury and improve performance. Taught by Tyler Welch.               Suggested donation: $5-$10

Saturday, October 25th 10am-12pm: Olympic Weightlifting Basics

Coach Tyler Welch will take you through a no-nonsense, old school approach to Olympic weightlifting. Discover the snatch, the clean, the jerk, how to integrate them into your training with proper preparation and accessory work, and why these lifts will make you SO AWESOME.  $20

Saturday, October 25th 12:30pm-2:30pm: Introduction to Strength Athletics

Building on the foundation of our previous strongman workshop, we will cover common events seen in the sport of Strength Athletics (aka Strongman) such as log clean & press, atlas stones, yoke, and more. Expect to dig in, move some weight, and have some fun with Coach Tyler Welch.                                                                                                                                               $20


SPECIAL OFFER: Sign up for all four workshops and pay just $50! BIG VALUE!!

*All workshops are open to the public and appropriate for all levels

26. A Word on Intensity

Quick note before we begin: new shirts are IN! This run we've got one-sided black-on-black tees and tank tops with the gorilla logo. Stock is limited, and about half of the tees are already sold. Get 'em while you can! http://www.ironcovenant.com/buy/


  Of late I find myself reining in clients - encouraging them to pace their works, abandon the pursuit of high intensity for mindfulness, form, and safety. With the current trend of nigh reckless intensity in fitness, I find it crucially important to remind clients to pace themselves and learn movements fully and properly before increasing intensity. This, by and large, causes most sessions to be education-focused and slower-paced – which, for most casual worker-outers, is not what they want when they come to the gym. They want to get their sweat on, jump around, and feel like they did something that day.

  On the opposite end of the spectrum exists a portion of the population who lives in fear of intensity. Every movement must be certified safe: slow –paced, comfortable, and (ideally) done while seated on a comfortable pad. To them I say pick it up! Exercises are of little value if they have no skill transfer to your everyday life. If you trip and fall, you need to be able to get up. If you buy a big ol’ bag of dog food, you should be able to carry it from the car to the house. Hell, you should be able to carry it from the store to your house!

  So before we dig in, what is INTENSITY, exactly? For our purposes, we shall define intensity as an increased level of effort. Intensity is when you’re trying really hard, working as fast and explosively as you can.

Three tips to safely add INTENSITY to your workout

  1. Start slow: You can’t learn something fast and then slow it down. Your body is hard-wired to learn at the speed you perform. If you race through a movement without consideration, your body will compensate in whatever way it needs to do it. This can be especially bad in complicated movements like the Olympic lifts – sure, you need to perform them fast, but if you’re unable to hit all the necessary positions at the right times, you’ll either end up increasing your risk of injury or miss lots of lifts. Spend the time learning the in’s and out’s of movements before greatly increasing the speed or number of repetitions.
  2. Get strong: High intensity does not equal high volume. This is a common misconception by many CrossFitters: do a lot of something really fast and that’s INTENSITY! In terms of maximal strength training, intensity is either a very heavy weight moved for a low number of reps, or a lighter weight (50-60%) moved very quickly/explosively for low reps. See the common link? Low reps. The body cannot keep up maximal intensity for a long period of time. See energy delivery systems (aka metabolic conditioning): the body cannot sustain an anaerobic pace for more than a few minutes, so anything efforts over that short amount of time rely on the aerobic system for energy. Learn when to apply maximal effort, and when to operate at a lower capacity. Hint: short versus long workouts, heavy versus light weights. High volume (lots of reps, a long time on the clock) does not equal intensity. It’s just damn hard.
  3. Hard does not always equal good: In fact, I’d say it rarely does – not in the way people think it does. That 45 minute workout with hundreds of reps that you slogged through, sweating, crying, and with ripped hands? That didn’t help you become more fit. Sure, maybe it INCREASED YOUR MENTAL TOUGHNESS, but unless you’re in Special Ops, that shouldn’t be a priority in your workout. Remember that you’re in the gym to get your sweat on, have fun, and get fit, right?


  You don’t need to strap on the cross every time you work out. Have fun in the gym, and work hard, but do it smart: have your workouts build towards a purpose (we’ve talked plenty about this), and do it in a way that is safe and fun for you and your body. Find the appropriate version of intensity for you – remember: intensity isn’t just working hard. It’s being fast, explosive, and powerful. 

25. Muscle Mass and Flexibility

Somewhere along the line being muscular became synonymous with being stiff, inflexible and unable. This is due primarily to the pec-obsessed bodybuilders of the 1970s and 1980s, who spent hours and hours bench-pressing and doing endless flys, tightening down their chests and shoulders until they couldn't raise their arms above their heads. In fact, the bench press was rarely, if ever used before the 1960s. There is actually a direct correlation between the rise of the usage of the bench press and an increase in rotator cuff injuries. It is not the muscle mass itself that causes inflexibility, contrary to popular belief. It is, as mentioned before, the usage of too many anterior (front of the body)-focused movements and a lack of posterior (back of the body) movements.

As the chest and shoulders tighten down, overhead movements such as shoulder presses and overhead squats become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, and are thereby ignored and eventually avoided for fear of injury. These overhead movements become incorrectly villainized as damaging movements, when in reality it is the use of these chest-focused movements that tighten down the upper body and greatly increase risk of injury. That is not to say that these movements should be forever avoided, but instead used in moderation with exercises that improve the strength of antagonist muscles. In the case of chest/shoulder movements, pulling movements such as pull-ups (done correctly), ring rows, batwings, bent-over rows, and the Olympic lifts are extremely beneficial.

There is no such thing as becoming musclebound. There is, however, a real risk of limiting flexibility in pursuit of a singular goal such as large muscles or a higher bench press. Balancing a strength training program with equal parts pressing, pulling, and squatting combined with sufficient mobility work will maintain flexibility while increasing strength, ensuring longevity and balance in your training.

Lift heavy, move better.

24. Navigating the Fitness Labyrinth

With the multitude of fitness systems, websites, infomercials, gadgets, gizmos, supplements and other assorted fitness accoutrements, it's easy to get caught up in the hype. The vague, snake oil salesmanship and pseudoscience of the industry makes it nigh impossible to find a straight answer. Here's a couple tips to help you navigate the fitness labyrinth:

Beware fantastic claims

I know it's nice to imagine that there's the possibility of "getting ripped abs in two weeks with just three easy tips!" or "adding two inches to your arms in two days!" but the truth behind it is these companies prey on our physical insecurities, offering us shortcuts to certain physical attributes that are supposedly desirable. Any company that features a person with an exaggerated representation of said physical trait (usually abs or arms) is trying to mislead you. With the advent of computer manipulation, things have gotten even more ludicrous - cartoonish and supposedly tongue-in-cheek, but the intention is still to lure you in to purchase their product/program/supplement. The road to any external physical goal is long and hard, and requires attention to detail, impeccable diet and many sacrifices.


Usage of scientific data that claim to "increase muscle activation X percent" Remember, we can't choose where we lose fat and most of us need to simply work hard at varied and intense movements (WITH PROPER FORM). There is a time and place for scientific studies of movement. The only time to be concerned about more or less muscle activation is when someone is at risk of injury because of structural deficiencies or recovering from an injury. Muscle activation is simply another way to say a muscle is working, which is important in terms of our body functioning properly, but not more or less important in terms of enhancing its physical appeal. Our body works synergistically, with all parts working together to accomplish any movement. Realize this, and utilize movements that promote these proper biomechanics.

Beware supplements

There is no regulation in the supplement industry. Let me repeat that: THERE IS NO REGULATION IN THE SUPPLEMENT INDUSTRY. That means they can put whatever they want into that NOanimalindigodynaMAXmegaXtreme and tell you whatever they want about it. I have people (usually over-excited young men) tell me all the time, "Yo, but that stuff works!!" So does being young, dumb and willing to work out all day and eat well. I've also heard "Well, it might not work, but, hey, at least I get the placebo effect!" The danger there lies in the potential long-term negative effects on your body. There is no testing done to these products to determine whether they have any long-term negative side effects (or any real effect). This isn't an across-the-board attack on supplementation - there's supplements I use, and love. There is a toxic version of that industry, and it is the one that is most marketed. I’m not saying never use any supplements, but buyer beware. 


So what has been tested for years? What is the real tried and true method?

1. Rest.

2. Eat real, whole foods, and eat enough.

3. Work hard in the gym, doing challenging, compound movements.

We've been hearing these three things mentioned a lot lately, but people still ask me all the time, "So what does that mean? What if I want ripped abs/bigger arms? How do I do that?" Remember all the stuff I just told you in this article? About the BS and misdirection by ads and marketing campaigns? You're just feeding into their rhetoric. There's no easy way to a low body fat midsection or bulging biceps. You're going to have to work hard and make sacrifices to get there. Determine whether that is of that much value to you, or if you'd be better served working on being able to do pull-ups, or deadlifting more weight, or doing a handstand. Do your goals have to be based on how you look? Well, in terms of fitness, form follows function. If you are fit, your body will reflect it. Begin with compounds movements, healthy living, build a solid base, and add from there. 

23. The Squat, Part 2

Last week I addressed some of the myths and fears about the squat. Today we're going to talk about how to squat weight safely and effectively. For simplicity's sake, the squat in question will be a barbell back squat. There are many varieties of squats, all with their own benefits and drawbacks. For the barbell alone there is the front squat (where the bar is placed on the front of the body, across the chest and shoulders), the overhead squat (where the bar is held overhead with arms extended and elbows locked), the Zercher squat (bar held in the crook of the elbows), the Jefferson squat (I won't even begin to explain this one), et al. The squat is a movement that can be infinitely varied for just about any purpose (some more valuable than others). Its adaptability and central nervous system (CNS) demand make it an essential movement, and one of the most valuable for gaining strength and mobility.

Spinal integrity is the most important component of the squat. There are some coaches who claim that the squat is a movement to be avoided due to the spine as a limiting factor - meaning that for some people (usually elite athletes), the legs can actually move more weight that the spine can support. This is in rare and extreme cases, and powerlifters are living proof of the potential strength of the spine/back. Many elite lifters can squat upwards of 1000lbs. Yes, many wear suits, but the lift still demands incredible strength of the spinal support muscles (aka "the core"). So for your average (or more than average) lifter, the back stands to gain strength and stability through squats.

 Crucial to a good squat is correct positioning: set up under the bar, grabbing with hands just outside shoulder-width (a bit wider if you have tight shoulders, but a narrower grip leads to a tighter, stronger upper back). Place the bar on the shelf created by your rear delts (shoulders) and traps - too high and it will sit on your last cervical vertebrae and place undue pressure on your spine. Too low and you'll have to support it with your arms, which will be uncomfortable and put too much strain on your shoulders and wrists. There is a bit of debate amongst lifters as to which is the more valuable bar positioning: Olympic weightlifters utilize the high bar position which shifts the center of gravity slightly forward making it a more quad-centric movement, while powerlifters prefer a low bar position which places the bar much lower on the back, allowing the lifter to sit back much further, putting the emphasis of the lift onto the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, etc). Both have their benefits, and I recommend playing around with each to see which fits your body type and goals.

Once you've established your bar position, you must now establish your trunk: some people describe the set up of the spine as establishing an “arch,” while others talk about tucking the hips. The goal is to create a locked midline from chest to hips. . Imagine the weight is going to crush you (when you get heavy enough, it actually will), drive the shoulder blades back and down as if trying to touch them to the hips, push the ribs down and lock the hips into position. It is in this position that we are able to most safely recruit all of our spinal support muscles (transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, and glutes, mostly). This is critical in safely establishing the squat position, and it's probably one of the best "core" strengthening movements you can do. The goal is not to stick out the bum, but instead create a tight “core.” You should be able to squeeze your glutes (hold a quarter between your butt cheeks) and be pushing out your belly (power belly). This is the true purpose of a belt – pushing out against the belt to increase recruitment of the core muscles, but that’s another talk in and of itself.

The trunk isn’t limited to the aforementioned “core” muscles, though: the lats and glutes are critical in establishing your spine positioning, as they're important muscles that are rarely referenced in a stabilizing capacity. The lats help hold the shoulder blades in position and stabilize the spine, while the glutes are principal in keeping the trunk upright. Pulling the elbows back and together while the bar is on the back will help activate the lats, but it's not as easy to keep the glutes turned on throughout the squat. Here's where we bring out the awkward cue: squeeze your sphincter. If you keep tight "down there" you'll keep all of your deep core muscles active and maintain that spinal integrity. Your elbow position may shift throughout the squat based on your technique, but keeping the lats and upper back muscles tight and strong is what keeps the chest up throughout the movement.

Once your upper back, trunk and hips are all locked in position, it’s time to unrack the bar and step out: limit your number of steps – too many and you’ll have a long journey back to the rack after squatting. Hopefully you’re still solid head to hips from your previous set up, but it doesn’t hurt to run through an internal checklist: upper back tight, ribs down, belly tight, glutes tight. Get your feet set in position at whatever your width is (this depends entirely on the person and their hip structure, as well as your style of squat – powerlifting, Oiympic weightlifting, etc) and screw the feet in to the ground. Another popular way to describe this is pushing the ground apart, but whatever allows you to create a strong base and increase your glute recruitment and predispose your hip to flexion and external rotation (aka squatting) works. You want to limit variables: your upper body is one ridge unit, your feet are rooted and all that should move is your hips and knees.

Now you’re ready to squat. Go for it. Lift something heavy and have some fun.

22. The Squat Part 1

Hey Internet, 

Quick and early post this week, as I am heading out of town camping for the weekend. Recycled article from a couple years back on one of my favorite movements: the squat. It got a little long, so I broke it up in to a couple parts. Here's the first:


If you've ever read anything I've written, chances are you've heard me mention the squat. It is one of the basic foundational movements that I teach every person who comes through the door (barring extreme injury/condition). As I've mentioned before, though, the squat gets a bad rap, which doesn't exactly add up in my mind, as people have been bending and squatting for the whole of human history, and still continue to do so to this day. Why in the last 30-40 years has the squat all-of-the-sudden become dangerous?

 Part of this misconception could be attributed to the fact that strength athletes have begun to move extremely heavy weights in the past several decades - a practice which has trickled down to younger athletes, amateurs and "average" gym-goers, thus increasing injuries not only on the elite level (extreme stress on the body/joints due to extraordinary numbers), but also injuries based on un-preparedness to move heavy weights in the general population. It is not the weights themselves that are to blame, but the impatience of the amateur lifter: high-level athletes spend years training and preparing the joints and ligaments, which take longer to strengthen than muscles. The untrained amateur may rush to lift heavier weights before his body has fully adapted, assuming since his muscles are getting stronger his joints/ligaments are similarly prepared.

 Injuries like this become anecdotal evidence of a movement's (in this case the squat) "danger" and perpetuate myths that villainize movements outright, with no attention paid to particulars that can transform a movement from potentially damaging to beneficial. The root of this "squat fear" (amongst other movement phobias) can be traced to lack of education. It is common practice in Western medicine and personal training to completely avoid movements (IE, the squat) if the person is unable to immediately perform the movement perfectly. It's this avoid-at-all-costs mentality that perpetuates fear in the general population, when it is more laziness on the coaching side than danger in the movement.

 Look at any personal training manual and you'll see the supposedly ideal form that is expected: back straight, knees and feet pointed straight forward, feet hip-width apart and femurs parallel to the ground at the bottom of the squat. All other biomechanical issues (primarily lack of depth) aside, this is not a realistic squat. Sure, some people can pull it off, but have you ever seen any strength sport athlete squat like this? It's not an efficient way to move weight. For most people this position will shut down the hips, remove any and all posterior chain (back/glutes/hamstrings) recruitment, possibly cause the knees to buckle (due to adductor weakness and hip angle) and put undue stress on the knees. It is a theoretical way to squat - an academic interpretation of how someone should squat, assuming all things on all people are equal. Funny thing, though: we're all different. Special and unique snowflakes, all of us.

 To safely and effectively teach someone how to squat, individual differences must be accounted for - body proportions, lever lengths, previous injuries, tension patterns, natural flexibility (we all have it in certain ways). The squat isn't a movement that you can show someone a stock example of and say, "do this." It must be adapted to the individual to account for their particulars, and thoroughly taught to ensure safety and biomechanical effectiveness. Some can't squat, ever - but it's a much smaller portion of the population than you might imagine. There are many, many people walking/limping around out there claiming they can't squat, when in reality they can (and should), but just haven't been taught how to do it correctly. Only experience can help you find your correct squat, either through working with a knowledgeable coach or personal research (hopefully a combination of both) can help you find the right version of a squat for you. The two best forms of feedback will be pain and progress: if it hurts, it's not the right squat for you. If you can't move more weight over time, your squat needs adjustment. Pay attention to these factors and you'll squat more, better, easier. 

 Stay tuned for our next post when I'll delve into the details of this wonderful movement - the squat.

21. How to Succeed (in the gym, at least)

The internet is overrun with advice, some of it good, and some…not so good. It is easy to get caught up in the technical complexities of training and lose sight of the pillars of training. It’s been said many times (by people smarter than me), you can’t go wrong with the basics, and the basics are where the gains live, as the kids say. So today I offer you 3 simple solutions to help you achieve your gym-related goals:

1.  Follow a program.

Doesn't matter which, just do it. Blasphemy, I know – what about the 1965 Bulgarian overhead squat program for elite 95kg lifters that will increase my snatch 100kg?? (This is not a real program, before you email me about it). Or the obscure powerlifting program used by every champion deadlifter since 1826? I’m going to let you in on a little secret: these amazing, mind blowing, works-miracles-for-everybody programs don’t exist. Everybody does something slightly different. Sure, there are similarities, and some approaches work better than others, but what matters is that you stick to it.

So the program you follow really doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does. Want to powerlift? Squat, bench and deadlift every week. Want to be a weightlifter? Snatch, clean and jerk. Want to be a CrossFitter? Do CrossFit stuff. Find a coach, become proficient at the techniques of your sport, and train hard – but make sure it is sustainable. If you want to get stronger, lift a little more every time you’re in the gym. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Keep track. If you can’t add more weight to the bar, do more reps.  If you’re 100% stalled, pull back – something’s wrong. Either you need to change your approach (exercise selection or workout structure) or your technique needs work.

There. Now you’ve got a program, go do it.

2.  Eat enough, but not too much.

Your goals dictate the amount of food you need. Want to get bigger? Eat a little more. Err on the side of protein. Want to lose weight? Eat a little less. Err on the side of vegetables. This one is actually quite simple, but there is something deeply dysfunctional about the food “industry” that makes this much harder than it should be.

If you have trouble sticking to weight/body composition goals, keep a food log. There are tons of apps for smartphones, as well, so look in to one of those. The goal is not to obsess about food, but to (big surprise) follow a program. Make sure it is one that you can keep up – sustainability is important here, too.

3.  Sleep.

As much as you can. This one is severely undervalued. Sleeping more is the number one missing link in people’s programming. I talk about this one a lot. If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re not recovering. If you’re not recovering, you’re not gaining. 8 hours minimum, with an additional hour per night for each hour of strenuous exercise that day. Sounds luxurious, I know. You can get by on less, but more work requires more recovery.

Sleep is also a great stress reducer, and lower stress levels also have a beneficial impact on performance. I also recommend meditation for stress reduction. 10 minutes a day of quiet, which I know also sounds like an impossible luxury, but it can be done. Spend a little less time in front of the TV, computer or phone. If you’re one of those people who think they’re so incredibly busy that they can’t make that kind of time, let me remind you that you’re reading some obscure blog and that it took you at least 10 minutes to even find this.


There you have it. 3 simple tips to ensure success in the gym. Don’t get caught up in the hype. Just work hard, and recover just as hard. 

20. Unfun

We take ourselves too seriously in fitness. Words like extreme, hardcore, elite are scrawled across gym websites, accompanied by images of skulls, blood, bending bars, and other hyper-aggressive imagery. Now there's nothing wrong with that, if it's your bag. But not everybody fits that personality type. Your average gym-goer doesn't necessarily want to get screamed at, unleash their inner beast or be the most HARDCORE. Most people just want to have a good time, and get fit in the process. Here's a couple tips to help you be more playful in the gym:

1. Change your mindset

We all want to have a good time and feel better, though. Why can't our workouts be fun? We'd be more likely to do them on a regular basis, feel better about it and get better results. Instead of viewing our workouts as obligations, let's look at them as an opportunity to play, de-stress and relax. If we think of our workouts as another burden on top of the whole pile of our everyday stresses, we'll dread them, avoid them and eventually hate them.

2. Enjoy yourself

Use movements and exercises that are fun, challenging and rewarding - not just exercises we think are going to give us the body we want. Try working out in a group, or with friends. It doesn't have to be cutthroat competition - try a buddy workout where one person does a movement for a certain number of reps, then the second person does the same number while the first rests. Alternate back and forth, pushing each other and taking away the monotony of resting. Having a training partner is a great motivator, and playing games, working out with friends and breaking out of the confines of “traditional” exercise can improve your fitness experience.

3. Consider different goals

Once you break out of the grind of typical movements, you'll find a whole new world of fun exercises and challenging workouts. You'll be driven to improve your performance, getting stronger, faster and more able. Let these become your goals - all of your aesthetic-based goals will quickly follow. Sign up for some sort of strength sport competition (powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, highland games, strongman/woman, CrossFit, etc) – you don’t have to be an elite athlete to compete in any of these sports. Join a casual sports team/club, or play a pick-up game with friends. Once you get involved in an activity or sport, you’ll be able to direct your training to improve your activity of choice. Do more than arbitrarily work out to “get fit.”


Going to the gym doesn’t have to be arduous, boring, and burdensome. Well, it needs to be somewhat arduous and burdensome, but it doesn’t need to be boring. Find something you enjoy, and pursue it. Have a reason to exercise, but it doesn’t need to be deathly serious. Have fun with it.

Now go lift something. For fun.

19. Making Moves

  A post from 2011 when I moved from PDX to SMF. Felt particularly relevant as in the past several weeks I have seen a number of inspiring athletes from all walks of life take up new challenges. Shout-out to Plantbuilt athletes, Portland Highland Games, the CrossFit Games, and all the awesome people who came to my Iron Ethos Strongman/woman workshop last weekend!


  How do we share our passions with others? How do we inspire the same level of awe, love and devotion that we feel into those who may not feel as much, if any interest in what we love?

  This is the wall we’ve hit. A single person can only give so much to a cause/idea/movement before they tire, run out of resources or simply lose hope. Sure, we can assemble a close tribe of similar-minded fanatics, but all too often we must reach far out into the world to find these individuals, and even then, the staggering minority of able and motivated people we discover when the stars align only magnify our voice minutely. What we need is a loud and collective voice - something universal that can speak to the majority. Is it doctrine? Is it art? Is it a product? The difficulty is not in WHAT to say, but how to say it. 

  There will always be historians. The urge to record, sort and chronologize persists throughout human history. We have the incredible resource of the Stark Center, as well as numerous “underground” historians to keep tradition alive. Unfortunately the beloved dusty nature of these catalogs - the very essence which attracts a certain few to these pursuits is what condemns history to its inevitable prison in the musty catacombs.

  I've said many times before that fitness is ever forward-looking - a marketing-driven juggernaut that laughs off the past as archaic, incorrect and comedic in its naivete. So can we turn the tide? Is it our duty to spit in the face of fitness as it is and claim “you are wrong,” ousting the current trend-based regime and substituting our own doctrine? Is it time to topple the palace of lies and institute a golden age of fitness based on history, logic and hard work? Shall we take up our clubs, macebells and barbells and storm the castle?

  That’s all very good and dramatic, but we aren't (unfortunately for some fitness would-be demi-gods) in the midst of a war won and lost by the roll of a twenty-sided die. I vote for a more insidious approach - perhaps not as grandiose nor public, but accomplished with subtly and grace. We have no need for new products or marketing schemes, insufficient resources to scream our mantras on infomercials and TV news programs. What we do have is a dedicated core of people, the internet and a nominal amount of amateurish equipment. 

  I've been distracted as of late, it’s no secret. For a little bit there I thought I lost my way, and began to question whether I had really chosen the right path for my life - not in the short term (the move, new job, etc), but on that larger scale - is there really promise in fitness? Can I really “help” people through movement? Should I? Aren't there more pressing concerns in the world than a bunch of spoiled Americans who are too lazy to even give a shit about getting up? I became unhappy, and I attributed it to the possibility that I might be squandering my life in pursuit of an inconsequential goal. 

  So what did I do? The same thing I always do when I get depressed. I moved. I ran, I tumbled, I lifted, I pushed, pulled and pressed. And I felt better. I always do. Maybe it’s not as simple as that for everyone, but if we can take the obligation out of exercise (take the “work” out of workout), we may have a true possibility for change on our hands.

  I was a nerd, sure, but I found my “cool” through punk rock. Exercise was never part of my image - it was something I did in spite of everything else I did in my life (punk rock shows, veganism, activism, haircuts, etc), not because of it. I was only a mediocre athlete in high school (and a chubby kid before that), so I wasn't hoping to continue my athletics career, nor hoping to rekindle that legendary fitness of my youth.

  I did it because it was the only thing that made sense to me (read Henry Rollins’ thoughts in his famous Iron and the Soul article). My counterculture friends always scoffed at my interest in fitness, considering it to be irrelevant to what ever their interests might have been (usually drinking, drugs and being ridiculously skinny). I wrote it off for years until finally, after spending several years away from the “scene” I realized it was merely a defense mechanism to protect these skinny loudmouths from something they found very intimidating. It’s easy to write it off as negative association - jocks, bullies and all that - but more than that I think it comes from a more internalized fear that we all have (some less than others) of our own bodies. A self-destructive tendency that makes us shy away from our physical potential, a result of a culture that, as we often say, encourages us to disconnect from our bodies. And the more intellectual, political and academic we become, the more we tend to severe this connection with the body, dismissing it as inconsequential, base and narcissistic.

  There is nothing selfish (like Chip says) about movement. I recently wrote a little article about the growing disconnect between humanity and the “inanimate” world (here), and how we cannot hope to foster authentic connections with the world, or even other humans if we are not in communication with our own bodies. All superficial concerns aside (not that real life health concerns are superficial, but they are already part of the existing fitness rationale), we need to publicize the need to connect with our bodies. There is an interest, but it’s exoticized and commodified through the “mumbo-jumbo” of modern yoga, tai chi and martial arts. The western fitness world is wholly devoid, and I think afraid, of the idea. So let’s make it cool. Let’s make it real. Accessible. Un-intimidating. Impressive. Sexy. Real. 

  We need to keep going into these shitty mega-clubs - not to tell people they’re wrong, but to remind ourselves why we’re so damn right. We need to keep our minds open, and not be too afraid/arrogant/irritated/jaded to say something. To explain, not condemn. People will always ask the same questions. But over the past few years, though some of the questions have gotten somehow even more bizarre and asinine, so many more have become more insightful, informed and inquisitive. They want to learn, we just have to show them.


  I realize how arrogant this all sounds, 4 years later. I still believe in the essence of this approach, though the world of fitness has shifted somewhat - yes, there has been an increase in "underground" gyms, and yes, fringe pursuits like Olympic weightlifting, strongman and powerlifting have gained in the public eye (largely due to CrossFit), but there is still a large portion of the population who would never step foot in to gyms like this. We tend to get caught up in our little social media circles and think that what we see is what Joe Public sees. It's not. Sure, maybe the average person has one or two friends who post tons of post-WOD selfies (hastag fitspo hashtag fitfam hashtag crossfit hashtag SWOLDIER), but that's not the norm. A majority of people are still struggling with body image, struggling with what they should eat, and completely bewildered when it comes to how to get "fit." 

  It's not that I think I have the perfect answer, or even the only right answer. There's lots of different ways to skin a soy cat (IT'S A JOKE, GET IT??), but my point is this: hiding yourself and what you do from the world does not beget change. Neither does screaming in peoples' faces. Change takes time, persistence, and a welcoming attitude. Be an example and people will see. You can't force them, but they will notice. 

  So I guess what I'm saying is, go forth, and lift something heavy.

18. Move Like a Dancer

Short post today, as I am about to leave for a family vacation.

Recently a peer posted this video comparing the landing mechanics of athletes and dancers. What I find to be most interesting is the positive side effect (reduced ACL injury) of dancer training methods emphasizing grace, control, and fluid movement.  Dancers are not taught to maintain gluteal stability, intra-abdominal pressure, and ankle dorsiflexion at the apex of their jumps - they're taught to make it look good. Part of this, of course, is lessons learned over generations. Dancing is an art that has developed over the course of human history, and ballet in particular has, by and large, very rigid forms and techniques. Proper execution of these forms not only create the desired look, but also, whether as intention or byproduct, preserve the body of the dancer.

Watch Video Here (sorry, apparently I cannot embed videos in to these blog posts?)

Opposing arguments could be made as to many of the other damaging properties of dance (body image pressures, excessive flexibility leading to joint laxity, etc), but I think the point to take away from this study is the importance of grace: if you look across the spectrum of sports/physical pursuits that require grace, body control and fluid motion, you will see many positive movement attributes. 

Seek out quality of movement in everything you do. View every physical pursuit as an opportunity to express beauty in motion. Don't just move, move better.

17. Accessory Work

We live in an age of exercise minimalism: do the primary movements and nothing else. That's all you need to become strong/fit. There are still parts of the strength sports community that do additional movements, and that approach is gaining ground....again. You see, there was a time, not so long ago, that all people did was accessory movements. It's called bodybuilding. Then boot camps, P90X, CrossFit, etc came around, and people went back to compound movements like squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and the like. That's great. Those are all very important, effective exercise. The problem is that not everyone is ready for compound movements. Some people have issues in their movement patterns that need to be addressed. Sometimes this doesn't come out until later in their lifting careers and they hit a plateau. 

What is an accessory movement?

An accessory movement is an exercise that complements primary skill training. In terms of strength sports (powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, CrossFit, etc), accessory movements are exercises that are supplementary to primary movements like squats, deadlift, clean, snatch, et al. If we're being picky, in the sport of weightlifting squats, presses, push presses and deadlifts are accessory work to the primary lifts - snatch and clean & jerk. For this article, we will take a more generalized approach and consider all of those movements primary. 

For those familiar with accessory work, variations of weight training movements performed in bodybuilding style is what comes to mind. It goes deeper than that, though: consider accessory work to be anything that improves performance quality in your primary pursuit. If the thought of a primary pursuit or goal outside of fitness is foreign to you, I suggest you check out this post: Question of Goals. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding purpose. Once you have a goal (whether it be sport, strength or esoteric), the rest of your time in the gym supports that. Arbitrary workouts become skill training, and gives us drive to improve, versus performing movements as obligation. Consider your accessory work to be anything that supports your primary goal, whether it be additional strength training to address lagging muscle groups, mobility, conditioning work, or specific skill training.

Why do I need them?

Once a trainee has progressed past the initial stages of training and has a firm grasp of the techniques required to safely perform a primary lift, they may discover sticking points or weaknesses in said lift. A minimalist approach would demand that they continually perform the lift until they self correct, and there is some truth to that - repeated practice under reasonable load, without significant form decay and without pain should (theoretically) lead to improved performance. 

On the other hand, life is not so simple: many trainees come in to the gym with pre-existing injuries, movement pattern issues and imbalanced muscular development, either from sports, past training, or postural compensations (usually past injury or lifestyle related). These issues compound over time and eventually manifest themselves in either breakdown of form, injury, plateau, or some combination thereof. 

Using accessory movements can help correct these issues when applied correctly. There's no magic exercises here - develop the ability to analyze your own movement (video yourself) and/or find a coach who understands the intricacies of what you are trying to accomplish and listen to their advice! Once you discover what is limiting you, whether it be a sticking point, flexibility, or breakdown of form, find the corresponding accessory work and add it in to your program.

How do I implement accessory work?

The question of when to use accessory work depends on the severity of the issue: if there is a large problem seriously limiting the primary movement, then a larger amount of time needs to be devoted to the applicable accessory work. Sometimes we use accessory exercises up to four times a week for short periods (2-4 weeks) to create a significant change. Most accessory work should be done once to twice a week, usually done following the primary movement. Just like anything else, you can overuse accessory work. There's no need to try every accessory movement under the sun to see if it works. One to three well-chosen exercises per primary movement/muscle group done occasionally can have a notable impact.

Wrap it up

To summarize: training compound, primary movements such as the Olympic lifts, squat, deadlift, press and row is central to becoming stronger. Never let those fall to the wayside. If you are injured or not making any progress, re-evaluate how you are training. If you are training your main lifts consistently over an extended period of time (more than 6 months), and you are not making any progress, consider adding in a few intelligently chosen accessory movements that address your weaknesses. Do not expect magic. At the end of the day, training smart and hard is what creates gains, but accessory work is an important part of a smart training program.

16. Physical Culture

From Eugen Sandow’s Strength and How to Obtain It (1897):

  “And what is physical culture?’ is naturally the question which arises to the lips of those to whom the subject is still unfamiliar…it is to the body what culture, in the accepted sense of the word, is to the mind. To constantly and persistently cultivate the whole of the body so that at last it shall be capable of anything that sound organs and perfectly developed muscles can accomplish - that is physical culture…To undo the evil for which civilization, and all the drawbacks it has brought in its train, have been responsible in making man regard his body lightly - that is the aim of physical culture.”                 

Although Sandow was concerned with the aesthetics of the “perfectly formed” body, his intentions were true - to cultivate the body, to develop fitness, health and ability. Sandow is adamant that strength of the mind comes first, then soundness of the body, followed last by external improvement. One quote I often use is “appearance is a consequence of fitness.” If you are fit, your body will reflect that. If you are not of sound mind and body, it will manifest itself aesthetically.

Physical Culture is the pursuit of the improvement of the self - not a vain quest to fulfill an external perception. Begin the dialogue with your body, build the connection between body and mind, and seek out those physical activities that bring you joy, enlightenment and success and you’ve found Physical Culture.

15. Humility

  This weekend I participated in my second Highland Games in Coquitlam, BC. While the games are immensely enjoyable and, in truth, more playful than competitive, the process has been humbling, to say the least.  I’ve established a fairly limited circle of experience – it’s not that I’m not open to trying new things, but I’ve put so much effort in to establishing a few parts of my life (namely parenting and coaching) that I’m rarely exposed to something with which I’m not already quite familiar. I don’t do particularly well with new people, I seldom have the time or means to go new places, and I am more of a sports spectator than participant. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to make new friends, go new places, or try new sports. It’s simply that I am good at a few things and work hard to be very good at them.

  If you’ve ever undertaken a new endeavor as an adult, sporting or otherwise, you realize that it can be intimidating. We, as grown-ups, fear appearing unskilled or amateurish. We become so set in our ways that we are uncomfortable being the novice. We want to seem confident and in control all the time. Being new, being out of our element creates discomfort, and it is a reasonable goal, in my opinion, to be comfortable. But constant comfort leads to stagnation. We need to move outside of this zone and in to new territory. It can be awkward and terrifying, but that push is what allows us to test our limits, realize our strengths and weaknesses, and, ultimately, clarify what is important to us.

    In terms of your beloved author (me) and my situation, participating in the heavy events of the highland games has turned me in to a rank novice – not that I’m complaining. You see, I’m not particularly good. Some events are better for me than others, but it’s not something that you can just walk in to and excel. Some can, as with any sport, but I am not one of them. My training background has made me physically prepared for the events, but the techniques take years to grasp, and even longer to become skilled.

  It has been a lesson in humility to me, to sit back and look at this sport, which is so enjoyable to me, and realize that it will be a long path to success. I don’t mean success in terms of being the best, but in terms of developing competency. I could use the word mastery, but I don’t think it applies here. Perhaps I will achieve some sort of mastery at some point, but Steve Atlas (http://www.thebodypractice.com/) pointed out in his wonderful workshop I attended earlier this year, mastery suggests that one day you will have completely conquered a skill (I am poorly summarizing). For now I am a rank beginner, and that is OK.

  In Zen Buddhism there is a term, Shosin, which means “beginner’s mind.” It is suggested that one should approach all things with an open and eager mind, free from preconceptions. If we reduce our circle of experience to only those things with which we are familiar, we lose that mindset. All things become stale and unimpressive. While researching this article I found a great article over at zenhabits.net entitled “How to Live Life to the Max with Beginner’s Mind.” Instead of essentially repeating what was written there, I suggest you check it out and try to implement some of the strategies recommended there to improve your life by using the Beginner’s Mind, especially #10: Discard fear of failure. I think this is essential in terms of approaching physical pursuits. It is so easy to be paralyzed by fear – what if I can’t do it? What if I look stupid? What if I hurt myself?? While these concerns are reasonable, they become overwhelming. We use our adult logic to rationalize ourselves out of doing something new, and let that experience fly by. Once we let it go (quick aside: there is a Disney movie that came out recently called Frozen, and it is big around my house. There is a song in the movie sung by one of the main characters called “Let it Go” and I can no longer hear that phrase without thinking of that movie). Anyway. Experience is essential to living. New experience pushes us to new places that we might not go otherwise, and helps us refine what we truly want out of our lives.

  It is crucial to training/exercise/movement in that it gives a why that goes beyond “fitness” or “abs” or “being JACKED/toned/skinny/etc.” We need real, definable goals that motivate us. Suffering is not a goal. Discomfort is not a goal. Looking a certain way is not a goal (it is a byproduct). Being able is a goal, and a good one. Applying ability is even better, especially if it betters us, improves our quality of life and the lives of those around us.

  So go out there and try something new. You don’t need to be the best at it, or even good. In fact, all the better if you suck. Go suck at something. It’s going to be great.