Programming Strength, part 1: Organic versus Inorganic machines

 In philosophy, thoughts about stuff

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Building and Breaking the Machine

A manufactured machine is ready for it’s purpose once it leaves the factory floor. Rev that sucker up and expect horsepower. That’s its reason for existing and modern technology lets us create it so it can do its thang fresh out of the box.

We’re not that machine. Our organic nature means we’re a machine that builds itself. If we skip this building process, we will break. But we have something in common with the manufactured machine. That little characteristic of a flaw perpetuating itself. If a machine begets a minor change in its structure that even ever so slightly changes the original plan of its movement, this will lead to wear and cause big problems eventually. In other words, anything that changes the correct process of the machine, no matter how small, will make a big mess at some point.

jake rope 1As an organic appliance, not only might your physical systems not yet be up for huge horsepower tasks, you might not even have the benefit of being programed with the right idea of what movement should be, especially if the workload demand is high. High rep-for-speed training, especially for a beginner who never learns anything different, can easily skip the steps of embodiment. Doing MORE will actually shut down the communication between mind and body. It becomes trauma control time, and the mind switches to ‘just get through this anyway possible,’ which are never buy-words for quality. The body – or mind – doesn’t learn the movements. The dialog has ended and the workout has actually become a greater stress on the body than previously existed.

Plus, the chances of your biological packaging acquiring a misfire in its performance is way beyond that of a manufactured machine… heck, it’s almost mandatory. And the consequences are a bit more dire. Our machines, pretty amazing regardless, need programming and practice to be the best machines they can be. Remember that next time you feel like attempting a high rep-for-speed workout. Do you truly know the movements? Are you built and programmed for it yet? And, most importantly, is there a good reason for doing it?

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A post workshop tree climb. Organic machines playing organically.


Moving Your Machine (or someone else’s)

If some of your life choices include imposing force on other folks, you might either be a dictator or a trainer. Although dictators seem to spring up with an odd (and frightening) ubiquity around the world, they’re numbers are dwarfed by the fitness mitosis that seems to create trainers in vast numbers, all duplicates of each other. The titles might differ… personal trainer, coach, strength and conditioning specialist, and good intentions might have started everyone on their chosen path. But subjecting another human to possibly dangerous forces should have a few more requirements than personality and good intentions.

In fact, the dubious job of changing lives through movement could be quartered into sections of equal importance:

Program Design

These are not reserved traits for just trainers, but anyone wanting to pursue the strength arts to any degree. Here’s a minor run down of each category…

Not a squat gone bad, but a Steinborn Lift gone good

Not a squat gone bad, but a Steinborn Lift gone good

Technique: the How. Short term considerations: the safest, most effective goal oriented movement. Not always “efficient”. Long term thoughts: longevity of body. In other words… do shit right or suffer the consequences. Maybe not today, but give it time, my friend… give it time.

Program Design: The What. Goal oriented movement selection and execution. What path is going to provide to best outcome?

Personality: The Who. Motivation, support, leadership. The personality might show itself in the vibrancy and enthusiasm of an entire community, yelling about the beauty in their particular brand of pain, or it might be the volume of a single person, so loud that it strips you of any need to think for yourself.

Purpose: The WHY! The big missing component in a great deal of modern training.

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Today let’s chat about Program Design.

We’re born with potential. This is what separates us from the other fauna on the planet, and that ain’t meant as a boost to the esteem of our species. Other animals meet their potential through preset software. We’re factory installed with only a blank map, an empty guidebook and a big machete, and if your tribe does its job of lurnin’ ya right, then you’ll end up pretty darn skilled at using that machete to chop through the jungle of bullshit.

We’re manufactured from some DNA that demands a gallon or so of blood, sweat, toil, tears, terror and tenacity to gleam to most out of our flesh packets. We’re machines of a special type. Organic, biological. Not quite the perfect movers that some of the recent training protocols are hoping we are. In other words, we are not built for many of the workouts our bodies are put through, at least not without some serious practice and training. The high rep workload trend seems to forget something crucial, a little point that Tommy Kono likes to drill into our heads every time he visits:

Practice makes PERMANENT.

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The legend himself. We’re blessed every year to have him come and impart his 60+ years of training and lifting knowledge on us.

I’ve been as guilty as the next gym for being cutesy with creating themed workouts, but I can’t keep up with the true artists of mayhem.  My social media feed is littered with concepts like a 50 Shades of WOD workout that has 50 reps of 12 different exercises It’s usually the common popular culprits of wall balls, pushups, air squats, etc… the standard CrossFit arsenal that has infiltrated so many programs.

get up caroline 3This may be heretical thinking, but I very rarely need to know that my athletes can do 50 of almost anything.  In all the workshops I’ve taught, even to big rooms of trainers, I’ve seen what 10 pushups looks like to the vast majority of people. I can only imagine what 50 will do. Add burpees to that mix, and it’s Slop Fest 2015.

That 50 rep set of pushups might see a handful of something that might be called a pushup towards the beginning… maybe, just maybe 10 do actually look good. Then the next 40 might turn into slop, just because you’re under the clock and gotta do those 50 with the goal of speed trumping all else. This isn’t program design. 10 pushups that might help the body, and 40 that suck… a 400% practice of slop.

Practice makes permanent… guess what you’re practicing?

barbells made of people!

barbells made of people!

Add a barbell to this type of party and things have an even greater chance of going wonky. If the goal is to build skill, which we’ll yammer on about in great detail in the rest of this series, then it seems that yanking the bar from the ground to your chest  30+ times in a row must make you better at something. But what? It will have no real chance of making you a more skilled Olympic lifter. In fact maybe we shouldn’t even compare it to olympic lifting technique. It’s a new beast, and the impact on your organic machine might demand questioning as to why you’re doing it.

Workload is not technique practice. But now that workload and power output have trumped maximum force/skill development as the ruler of the programing kingdom, then our organic machines are falling victim to this backwards trend. Power output is a support player to a bigger picture. It IS a skill, it just isn’t THE skill. Creating entire programs based on doing more, faster miss the entire point. In fact, they’re backwards.

Backwards? Yup. Strength trickles down. Having a solid base of maximum force development (MFD) transfers greater to skills and skill chunks. That is the foundation we should build on, and bringing up our work capacity and power output is simply a tool to utilize that max force development better. Power output (GPP, Metcon, etc) is simply applying our ability to generate force on a broader scale. It also helps us sustain a larger training schedule to get towards those increases in max force development.

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Sometimes it’s organic machine versus manufactured machine. In this case, Sonya wins.

In other words, power output supports MFD. It is a helper in a cycle of generating greater force. It is not THE foundation of a program, but a tool to help support what should be the foundation, which is MFD. And to generate maximum force properly, ya might wanna work on technique. In fact MFD is interchangeable with Maximum Skill Development, since perfecting an important foundation skill requires, well, MFD (but we’ll talk about this more later in this series).

An athlete with mad skills in MFD will be able to train down the spectrum of strength into high rep workload training far easier than the opposite. You can make a quality Oly lifter good at CF or endurance feats faster than going the other direction.

Point being there is more to program design than workload, but so many of the trends in physical culture right now seem bent on more, faster. Not more, BETTER, which has been the fool-proof plan of the truly strong for centuries before hand. The body likes a good challenge. Good as in quality. There can be volume only if the quality is maintained. Otherwise it’s anti-fitness. Anti-skillful.

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