How the Fitness Industry Fails and What We Can Do About It

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I admit to having a bias in believing that everyone had access to proper movement education. But my travels and wanderings, which find me teaching (and learning!) all over this country, have made blatant a strong truth. With just a quick glance, it is easy to see how the fitness industrial complex is actually failing in it’s recruitment program, if there could be a case that such a program exists. All I needed for proof at this failure was to spend time with my family.

My brilliant, wonderful kin are part of the 85% of our society that is not involved in movement culture to any degree. So the usual online offerings of, oh, just about any website or video channel (including my own) isn’t going to do much to help them begin their journey. The fitness industry as a whole has no proper welcome wagon, instead believing that shiny new toys or flashy programs are the answer to recruiting the non-movers. Nope. Not quite.

This isn’t news, if you’ve paid any attention to these blog posts (and I don’t blame you if you haven’t). I’ve rambled in length about it. 

A recent play workshop, working on freedom and embodiment through movement. It's no ore silly than picking up heavy stuff, only to put it back down again.

A recent play workshop, working on freedom and embodiment through movement. It’s no more silly than picking up heavy stuff, only to put it back down again.

First, we screw things up by thinking that movement and exercise are synonymous. Exercise is simply movement as a task towards a reward. And therein lies the problem. Our society, which thrives on being as busy as possible (which is not synonymous with productive, but sure looks the part), sinks a lot of faith into this system of sacrifice. Life becomes a simple, yet busy, system of sacrifice and reward, and movement should be no different. Hence we believe that the rewards from movement must only come through struggle and suffering, just like everything else. Fun just isn’t part of the equation.

No wonder, as a culture, we abhor exercise.

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Yeah, yeah, ya still get to lift heavy stuff. Strength is the crucial foundation for movement culture. It just has more faces than we are currently teaching.

So in a small attempt to begin the process of change, I’ve embarked on another video series. This one was inspired by my family and answering their questions about how to approach movement again after substantial periods of time not embracing it. But since trainers and coaches are so busy teaching exercise that they skip teaching movement, this ‘movement introduction’ is not just for beginners to enjoy freedom of movement again. This is also a blueprint for the 15% who are busy exercising already. Ironic, but lovin’ it.

Yup, the fitness industry is actually pretty poor at teaching movement, period. Not just to beginners.

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My friends at CrossFit Bezel in Virginia are delving into more ways to embrace movement. It was an honor teaching there on a recent workshop tour.

This new video series is about sharing thoughts and ideas for that important part of the 85% who share blood or marriage ties with me. And, of course, it is an open invitation to anyone who finds the fitness industry not quite offering what they’re looking for.

Below is the intro video to this series, meaning it’s a bit long. They get shorter and more specific from here, promise. But I’ve got things to say… you know me.

We really do need to trash this entire industry and start over. This is my small attempt so far. Some basic guidelines of foundation skills that can grow into a thriving movement practice. So here’s a call out to trainers and coaches: please stop feeding the machine, that broken process of just teaching exercise. Find the joy in being a guide through someone’s movement discovery.

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Age and the Holistic Athlete

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Movement is good, but sometimes ‘training’ isn’t. The brain invented training. The brain conceived the workout. The brain created this thing called exercise, and all the various categories it goes by (and all the various cliches it thrives on). The body has no idea what these things are. It just wants to move. This is where the body knows better than the brain. Are we listening?
I’m officially in my mid-forties (44-46, if you’re keeping track), graduating from my early forties (41-43), and steamrolling towards my late 40’s (47-49). August, as my birthday month, has traditionally also been my competition season, as in the last 13 or so years I’ve decided to take gravity to the mat and enter some weightlifting or powerlifting meets to celebrate the new signifier in our human dance of chronology (this August also saw me in my second strongman meet of the year). And every year I strive for another kilo or two on the bar, and so far, I’ve been successful.

me jerk compNow this flies in the face of our accepted idea of aging, which seems to promote a ‘slow down and die already’ concept of accruing more years in the calendar bank. It begins with our culture’s craving for peaking in our 20s, having all of our possible athletic prowess out of the way by the time we pass the quarter century mark. Our sports-centric, win-at-all-costs ‘play’ system desires our warriors to be their best before they’ve even experienced much of what the world offers. Too many stories have crossed my ears that began with “in college I…”

Then the downhill ride begins… and is supposed to continue in momentum for the next 40-80 years.  At this point I should have at least 19 years of declining shimmer. Decay and rust should already have quite a hold on my joints, and atrophy is the only acceptable outcome for these ancient muscles.

These are the rules, and I am told them regularly with a vehemence that is almost holy. But there is one thing we tend to forget a bit too easily…

handstand art park 1There are so many possibilities at movement that we can spend our entire lives learning something new every single day, therefore never ‘peaking.’ Feel free to pick something to groove on for a while, but remember that there are so many options that our curiosity could be constantly tickled. We never need to Peak as a human unit. We never need to stare at upcoming chunk of years as a perpetual rot of the system. In fact, that’s kind of sick. We’re the only mammal that limits itself like that. My 12 year old cat is well past middle age, yet no one told him he’s supposed to retire from being a moving, exploring creature. Aging is a mind game far before it is physical, and all other animals seem to know this except us. Infinite wisdom be damned.

snatch night 14bwAdding a kilo here and there (this year a snatch PR and a would be clean and jerk PR, if the judges all agreed in my favor… which two of them didn’t) allows me to keep my chops sharp (an almost archaic turn of phrase these days). But the Olympic lifts are simply part of the foundation of my movement skills. If ya know a thing or two about my programming, they are simply catalysts for other skill training, allowing me to have some power and umph to put towards, well, anything I want. Remember… unlimited possibilities.

Did you know I suck at swimming? I mentioned my semi-fatal samba with H2O in an older post, and since then, water and I have had a passionate, but strained, relationship (a common theme in my life). Water and I are far from strangers, as I’ve been participating in it’s pleasures forever, from snorkeling to cliff diving. But these can all be deceptions, faked competency in the water. They require little swimming ability. Really. So my comfort level in the drink is limited to things that require either unlimited floating (snorkeling) or a quick in-and-out (diving). Covering distance with any speed has led to some interesting scenarios, usually soul-crushing panic attacks only witnessed by very few unlucky folks. Last year I barely made it out to an island in the river and back without finding, and then changing, religions several times, and in the words of Justin Sullivan, praying to any god that would come.

me frog lake 1This year I’ve been to the island several times. I’ve been swimming daily, mostly using the flaying breast stroke technique. I look like a drunk, legless moose trying to paddle with wings, but where I am not yet perfecting technique, I am overcoming fear. I am calm in the water. Still not great for distance, but better. That was my biggest movement gift to myself this year. And I’m far from peaking, and even farther from declining.

Here’s a lesson. It takes less work, if directed properly, to continue steady progress than ya might think. If tomorrow means better than today, striving for huge leaps and bounds sets you up for a mountain that will be too tall to climb eventually. Sure, I preach Better trumps More, and it gets trumpeted all over social media when I mention it, but it surprises me at how few apply the idea.

park planche 1Training is the organization of movement into a system for progress. This is where brain and body can learn from each other to create the best path. Brain listens to body’s wants and needs and then uses it’s calculating intelligence to create a path of physical education. Learning through moving and learning while moving and moving to learn. This is also why a ‘program’ of randomization makes little sense in a grand scheme of things.

Physical education. It’s not your high school PE class.

me stone pile 1But this is also why training and movement are not synonymous. At 44 years old, I can impress party goers with a few movement tricks, and can compete on a semi-competent level in various forms of strength athletics. And I get better at these things every year, adding more tricks to my palette and more pounds on the bar. I can play harder now than I could 10, 15 or 20 years ago. Not because I’m a super amazing athlete. Far from it. In fact, it was being a skinny-ass book worm musician in my early 20s, sort of an anti-athlete, that helped me avoid planned obsolescence of my physical abilities. I didn’t peak young and am making a conscious effort to never do so.

Don’t read this as ‘do not progress.’ I think we’ve made a case for progression and peaking being two different things.

We’re a smart bunch. Why do we either peak young, or have to re-introduce movement back into our lives after avoiding it for many years since we were children? How about a middle ground, where we continue to embrace child-like play, that curious, exploratory passion for movement, into the years where we’re told to chose between two movement options: either play sports (oh, and win, win, win), or quit being childish and therefore stop moving entirely.

Go ahead, talk among yourselves. What would a good middle ground be? How do we promote movement as a lifetime of progress, creativity and education?

me log press 2Let’s overturn the current construct of movement-as-exercise. The embodied athlete knows that the journey trumps the outcomethat the big picture means learning from the small pictures. If we’re listening to the body,  then ya don’t have to win the workout.

Move more than train, play more that exercise. ‘Let the body’ far more than ‘make the body.’ In my roughly 10 years of competitive weightlifting (15 years powerlifting), I’ve upped my total the sum of what the specialized youngin’s will get in a year. But I’ve racked up a handful of other groovy skills that enable me to enjoy movement beyond the gym. That total means little without the transfer to real life. I don’t live for the gym, I live beyond it. Training is purposeful intense movement to allow an even greater world of purposeful movement, even if the purpose is simply just to fucking MOVE!

Strength athletics are simply a small part of my potential. Not my net worth. Competition is a bench mark of my journey, not the end result.

My child self is made better as an adult through training. With a tad of grown-up wisdom (do better, not more), it isn’t a challenge to progress every year while engaging longevity, sans the danger of pushing extremes I don’t have to. Don’t get me wrong, I play on the edge during training, just not with reckless abandon or unnecessary volume.

me-tgu-terri-6bwAnd think of this. If, at 44, I can add pounds to my bar or skills to my body with far less volume than a kid in their 20’s… why are they working so much? They’re often doing 2 or 3 times the workload without 2 or 3 times the progress. Every workshop I teach is full of folks my junior who could out workout me. But I could out play them. My skill chunks are always increasing, while their volume is simply making them workout masters. Funny enough, with my limited time in the gym, I can still usually hold my own with their workouts as well.

But being an athlete isn’t defined by time in the gym. If you can do less in the gym for more in life, shouldn’t you? Trust me… you can.

 

 

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Living and Moving as Organic Machines

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Organic Machines vs Manufactured Machines

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:

Technique
Program Design
Personality
Purpose.

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…

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Double bodyweight squat for Irma as she approaches her new PR of 300#

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.

That 50 rep set of pushups your WOD might call for today might see a handful of something that might be called a pushup towards the beginning… lets say 10 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, this is a joke. 10 pushups that might help the body, and 40 that suck… a 400% practice of slop.

Practice makes permanent… guess what you’re practicing?

And we need to get serious. Yanking the bar from the ground to your chest  30+ times in a row will have no real chance of making you better at an actual Olympic lift. But since that’s not the actual point of a 30-rep set, 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 development as the ruler of the programing kingdom, then our organic machines are falling victim to this backwards trend.

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.

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.

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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 purpose 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. Something we share with the manufactured machine is the 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.

As 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.

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A post workshop tree climb. Organic machines playing organically.

 

 

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The Mom Test

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The Mom Test is pretty simple. Would I send my mom to your gym?

Sure, she’s 70-something, but having been a thinker and doer her entire life, she’s free of a great deal of age related buggity-boo. Most joints in decent working order, mind like a laser and a vice combined… a Vaser, aimed and ready for anything. Plus this big ol’ puppy dog heart that, actually prefers puppy dogs to people. This witty animal rescuing fire cracker of a woman would be an honor for any trainer to have as a client, and that’s not just me whistling Dixie (which I can’t do… never did have the tongue for it). But there is one caveat.

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Her son is a bit of a snob. A snob about her health. Wouldn’t you be if she birthed you and raised you? She is a card carrying members of the 85%. Although quite active and in a higher level of health than her peers, she probably hasn’t seen the inside of a gym for some time, which, as you might expect me to say (snob, remember?), might not be a bad thing. Her gym is her several acres of land that she roams with her dogs. Maybe that makes her a fringe member of the 85%, but she let’s just say she hasn’t been successfully targeted by the Fitness Industrial Complex.

So this snobby son of hers wouldn’t let just any trainer (‘coach,’ whatever) take her into their web. There isn’t a brand name that instantly passes the mom test. In fact I’d steer her clear of all of them. There isn’t a trend that passes the mom test. Heck, she’d even find that insulting. The industry as a whole fails the mom test horribly, which is a big reason why she hasn’t chosen to be part of it.

Sometimes, it ain’t snobbery. Heck, you as a coach might not want her. You might specialize in something in particular and she just might get in the way. Cool. Thanks for knowing and acknowledging the path of your passion. My mom would make a shitty powerlifter or acro-yoga student, and you don’t have to sugar coat it. Should she deadlift? Yes. Should she aim for her 1 RM or worry about breaking parallel on her box squat? Or balance on someone else’s feet?

Or work on her third pull (or even know what a third pull is)? Or learn a kong vault?

No. But I still know many weightlifting, parkour, acro and powerlifting coaches I’d trust my mother with. It doesn’t matter what they teach, even if they specialize. It’s bigger than that. Sure, they’d probably be bold enough to say ‘hey… this might not be the best idea,’ but even if they didn’t, I know these coaches well, and I know she’d be in good, empathetic and highly skilled hands.

me momSo it isn’t what you teach, it is how, and more importantly, why. The coaches I know in the above scenarios all have strong personal philosophies that speak of integrity, holistic wellness and play. Their passion has a Do No Harm clause built into their mission. The three ingredients of transformation, intensity, consistency and purpose, are defined and celebrated properly, and these coaches can express the process to anyone, including my spunky, if not explosive, mother. They might not want to, but I’d trust them to if they did.

My radar has a few years of fine tuning in its wiring and programming. The question routinely pops up in my inbox if I can recommend a gym, usually somewhere far away. Sure, my network is vast, but in all my travels and gatherings and hugs, there aren’t many folks I feel would pass my mom test. And that’s it. That’s the only test I care about. I wouldn’t recommend a gym to anyone unless that gym passes the mom test. Because the Why beats the What, and that’s across the board. If you can’t treat my mom well within a training program, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. That’s what my radar is honed on… a rare blend of passion, competence, integrity and empathy.

It’s full disclosure time here. I myself wouldn’t have made my current standards of the mom test many years ago. These aren’t traits taught in school or certification classes, which is why, as mentioned before, earning the title ‘coach’ ain’t a title to be handed out so liberally.

But you’re out there. I’ve battled gravity with you, broke bread with you, laughed and cried with you. I’ve read your words, heard your voice, watched you move and felt your heart. I’m thankful for the growing network that I’ve accrued through my journeys. What a Tribe!

So… who wants to train my mom?

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The Reason We Move, part 3: the 85%

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(part 1 here)
(part 2 here)

The 85%

The fitness industry is failing. Or should I say it should at least be doing better. There is one big reason…

Our recruiting program stinks.

Dave Hall will drop this bomb on ya: only about 15% of our culture is participating in movement and fitness. Kevin Geary says only about 1% succeed at making it a lifetime of good choices. Although that second number seems hard to prove, it still behooves us to ask what the heck is going on here?

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Mental Meat Heads workshop at Agoge Fitness Systems

A mountainous chunk of the info bouncing around right now – the youface videos, the articles on superbadass.org and bloodWOD.gov-  is the 15% talking to each other. Heck, it’s happening right here, right now. And that’s groovy, since our tribe needs to share, educate and support each other (remember the three needs of a tribe: communication, equality and sustainability).

But trainers impressing trainers sure isn’t attracting that 85%. And the campaign that is in place to entice this population is more flawed than the Arizona legislature’s idea of “tolerance.”

Here are some ideas…

What if we actually listened to the body?

It begins with replacing judgment with compassion, maybe even an understanding that would empower the 15% as well as the 85%. It is quite tempting to call non-movers lazy or scared. But I’m going to posit a theory…

Bodies understand movement better than brains. Yet brains are what created the fitness industry. Brains are what believe what the industry has taught them movement is supposed to look like (and how much it should cost). But if bodies thought for themselves, so to speak, how do you think they’d perceive what we call ‘fitness?’ Under the assumption that your body would even want to go to a gym, what would that gym look like? The shiny spectacle of the common chain gyms would have NO appeal to your body. Cardio theaters and color coded ‘strength’ equipment are brain candy, but bodies would reject them. Even dingy warehouses with nothing but some bars, bumpers and a pullup station would seem sort of dull.

acro 1Our bodies want what we used to call recess. Intensity in fun, challenging forms, and the brain and body would have differing opinions of what this looks like. So my theory is that at least some of that 85% might simply be hearing the muffled cries of their bodies screaming “that’s not what I want!” Don’t write them off as lazy… maybe just perceptive, but lacking real resources.

In my videos and workshops, I ramble on about the child’s mind, this archetypical consciousness where movement is understood, if not completely consciously, to be integral to all processes of the self. Therefore approaching movement as a perpetual student creates greater potential for growth.  The child-like approach to movement is curious, creative, explorational and judgment-free. Although the fitness industry does a fine job of treating us like children, nothing about the industry’s presentation actually appeals to the child-like approach our bodies desire.

Even as adults. Heck, ESPECIALLY as adults. Adults in a culture that tries to squelch play somewhere around high school, turning movement into a series of categories, formulas and routines geared towards a superficial product. Maybe some of that 85% can simply sense bullshit.

Yes, laziness does exist. But not physically. Laziness is a brain game, a disconnect from the body. Many friends of mine claim they suffer from laziness. These are artists, parents, writers, professors, musicians… quite productive in many aspects of their lives. They’re not lazy. They’re scared. They suffer a disconnect from their bodies and  have yet to been shown the value of movement, or a venue or outlet for which his body finds it appealing to begin the journey.

This is a bummer. Because all that productivity will cease as soon as their bodies give out. Their tribes – families, peers groups, jobs, communities – will lose an important member. The body doesn’t want this. It isn’t lazy. Possibly poorly fueled and tired, but not without the essential desire to participate in life.

But there is a deep psychology in movement, or lack thereof. Which brings us to a huge point…

What the hell has our culture done to create such fear of movement? And why does the fitness industry do far more to perpetuate avoiding movement rather than enjoying it?

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Or deny each other

Because the industry is brains selling to other brains, not bodies being heard. Therefore it is getting it all wrong. Movement is being sold as categories, sections and trends. From ‘cardio’ to mobility, Zumba to CrossFit, movement has been turned into pieces, parts and genres. But the body doesn’t think that way, so to speak. Although some structure helps us reach goals, dogma can get in the way. Chosen places, correct times and approved movements are doing more to turn movement into a stressFUL experience, the exact opposite of what movement is supposed to do.

Some of that might be the built in politics of an industry.

If ya have an industry, ya have leaders. And leaders have followers. And none of this will truly breed a fun-filled stomping ground for the body. My Facetube feed is filled with industry posts geared towards trainers about being an ‘industry leader.’ Here’s the problem…

A tribe can usually only handle a few leaders, but can have many, many teachers. A leader has followers, a teacher has students. How many followers can become leaders? Very few. How many students can become teachers? All of them.

Mas wrestler Sonya teaching the next generation.

Mas wrestler Sonya teaching the next generation.

The 15% better get off our self-centered asses and recognize our potential teacher status. And since every true teacher is perpetually a student, we’ve got to shoulder that empowering responsibility as well. Ya game?

As trainers, we need to be mentors for goal setting. Not our goals. Theirs. Our job is to show them what is possible. We’re allowed to jump and play and laugh and love and dance and sing and rage and climb and fall and swoon and crave and fly. Allowed? We’re supposed to. It is what the body is made for. Consider not denying it.

One of the biggest lessons? Better choices now for more choices later.

I wanna tell everyone they’re beautiful and strong, and I want to start with you. Plans and programs and charts and levels and structure might be clinically proven but what about a simple hello and an open door policy to shine? That might be what the 85% need to get their party started.

(part 1 here)
(part 2 here)

 

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The Reason We Move, part 2: Deep Recess

(part 1 here)
(part 3 here)

Deep Recess

Sitting at a desk for what seems like eternity, often under the frown of someone with some fairly unreal expectations of what you’re supposed to deliver today… and for no observable reward?! Then, as if that’s not enough, why not take some of that work home with you. Meanwhile your being judged, graded, and picked apart by your peers, some of them who call you ‘friend.’

Damn 4th grade is a bitch! “Stressed out” might not be in the average 9-year-old’s lexicon, but it ain’t all fun and frolic. At this point in history you’re at least a couple of years away from catching your best friend’s brother rolling a joint in front of you, and the closest thing to hormonal demands on the heart, brain and various other anatomical bits is hoping for that clandestine game of truth or dare to force Julie Vessel to kiss me on the cheek.

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Oops…. did I switch tenses there? I wonder what happened to Julie. My cheek was never quite the same.

Not a lot of complaints about lower back pain or tension headaches though. So can we adults blame out current obsession with achy bits and joint creeks on age? Heck no. Age is simply the length of time we’ve had to make decisions, and if our choices were poor, that isn’t the fault of chronology, no matter how much we shake a finger at the calendar.

There is an irony that as we age, as the added responsibility of being grown up fills our cells with that elixir of destruction called stress, we also eliminate our release valve. Metaphor alert: MythBusters made a great case for not taking your release valve off of your water heater in one of the best blow-shit-up moments the show ever had:

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Our 4th grade self had what could be argued as an equal amount of stress to our adult selves, if we create a relativity formula based on physical size, collected wisdom and overall conscious coping options. So any waxing nostalgic we might do about the pre-teen years would be born from our yearn for those release valves that were available to us when we were hip high to a Grup.

We moved! And unless we had some sort of Bolshevik team coach, no one really told us HOW to move. We knew. We experimented. We explored. We played. Through movement of all varieties and intensities, we released tension.

And we learned.

Recess is strength, mobility and creativity in action, in demand, in flux. Great word, ‘flux.’ Vaguely naughty sounding, yet not. Flux even played a role in the greatest invention of the 20th century: The time-traveling DeLorean.

Playfulness ranks high on the things-that-help-us-NOT-breakdown-through-aging list. Holding onto your youth, or embracing it after a period of not speaking to it is pretty similar to time travel. Recess: our own flux capacitor.

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Oh wait, I hear that gossamer vibration of some young strength geek in the back shaking his head. He’s thinking that, at 22 years of age, he’s got years before he has to worry about any of this. He can lift, fuck and fight with the best of them now, and its all serious business, so to him considering training as recess, movement as play, is anti-cool. He’s a grown up now… no need for childishness. Just like mobility is yoga crap for chicks and old people,

Up until his first injury. Might be when he’s 23, might be when he’s 43, but not understanding how the body truly wants to participate in the world will create a physical mutiny at some point.

A switch is flipped, sometime in our lives, where movement turns from joy to obligation, from recess to a workout. Movement, which was the territory of the body, switches to the territory of the brain. The bummer is that movement then switches from being a tension release valve to being just another stress. It becomes a time, a place, a schedule, a routine, a class, an exercise.

jump funston 1bwWhat if we brought it back to being a celebration of motion, being able to let the body do, learn and be? Here’s the good news… if our brains have been successful wrapping themselves around the structured adult world of the modern workout, fear not! Successful play is served best from a foundation of structure. We can train for recess. In fact, the categorical protocols from all the years, studies and bodies that have created the shifting world of training science can still play a role in play. So can our favorite tools.

Our over-the-pond buddy Rannoch Donald recently commented on the beauty of true and playful movement being the product of consistent practice. We train to play… but with play as our training! A body wants the effort of conquering obstacles to achieve higher levels of ability, and that it pays off in many ways. The body wants the beauty of the challenge and overcoming it, not just the outcome. I believe that’s what we call strength.

But boy, does the industry offer it up in such an unappealing way, or at least I’m guessing our bodies think so.

(part 1 here)
(part 3 here)

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The Reasons We Move, part 1: the Beginning

me planche smith rock 1

(part 2 here)
(part 3 here)

The Beginning

The article Routine versus Ritual has always been the mission statement of Bodytribe, the introduction towards our particular brand of fitness comedy.

But what led me to those realizations? Here is the first draft preface, or in modern terms, the `prequel,’ to how Bodytribe started…

It always begins on a mountain or under a tree, so far be it for me to be the exception. There is a mountain ridge amongst the Sierra range that is modest in size and user friendly. It is an intermediate hike to the crest which provides a nifty view of Serene Lakes on one side and Lake Norden on the other, not to mention the numerous other mountains, valleys and acres of trees that can be seen for miles in all directions. This ridge probably has a name, but I knew it simply as a mountain that rose up between a ring of cross country ski trails that circled its base during the winter. If, for the sake of organization, you’d like a name for it, let’s call it Sherry.

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I was about 10 kilometers from the resort’s lodge, deep in the woods and at the far end of Sherry one day when I decided that, since it was there, I may as well climb it (her?). It was spring and the snow was solid ice in the morning, and slush by late afternoon. In the ice stage, it was easy to ski off trail, if you had a good familiarity with the `skating’ style of cross country skiing. So up the mountain I went, skating the snow/ice, eventually reaching the top of the ridge.

Once the climb was made, the rolling peaks of Sherry’s top were a pleasure to ski, and the view had few equals, at points a 360 panorama of one of the finest, most piquant mountain ranges in the world. I rested on a giant rock, not knowing that it would be the location for an epiphany that would lock me there for several hours.

Sherry had many things to teach me.

Sherry and me, many years later

To Nature, Humans are not beautiful creatures. We’re fond of ourselves and sometimes each other, but the rest of the planet, the non-human majority, doesn’t view us as such. Naked, we’re not built to tolerate most climates. We offer no real place on any food chain. We’re not essential to any original ecology (in fact we tend to destroy any environment we inhabit). And we, when compared to other species, aren’t really that great to look at.

Why are we still around? For reasons beyond our understanding, we possess a cognitive gift more developed (arguably) than anything else on the planet. The theories explaining our `how’ have been argued since we first realized we could communicate beyond grunts. More exciting is figuring out the `why.’

Sitting on that rock overlooking vast sections of natural pulchritude had me a thinkun’. Admitting our inherent ugliness and lack of importance to an otherwise thriving and autonomous planet was a tough step. We all want to feel needed, but having the bosom of the Earth Mother staring at me from all angles imparted a strong message that if we didn’t exist on the planet, her survival would actually be easier.

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This awesome photo by Bodytriber KK Condon. Ask here where it was taken!

We, probably sensing our worthlessness in some corner of our unconsciousness, have made dangerous decisions about how to assert ourselves. We’ve decided as a species to CLAIM worth through domination, the classic sign of the insecure bully. The irony is lost on us that our punk-ass attempts at domination eventually show us how dependent we are on the planet, but at that point our seemingly infinite capacity for logic and rationalization have degenerated into greed, and we’re too power-drunk to admit to our natural, birth given ugliness.

The Hollywood scenario would look like this: the battered, bloodied hero, while spitting out a broken tooth and trying to get up off the ground, starts to laugh. The villain, feeling inches from victory, stops the pummeling for a minute to ask where the humor is in the present situation, just as he gets squashed by a train that the hero saw approaching the whole time.

Right now we can hear the planet giggling under our clenched fists.

Even the lifetime ago (when I was still in my 20’s) when I was on top of Sherry, nature was laughing at us, and had been for some time. My solitary perch upon her chest gave me some unexpected insight as to what might really be our purpose as a species. I was surrounded by beauty and purpose, as everything within visual distance had a place in the glory I was witnessing. In other words, where I was wouldn’t be what it was without everything I could see at that point, from the diminutive, almost invisible spiders that wanted me to get the hell off their rock to the massive range of peaks on the other side of the valley daring me to climb on theirs. The only one not serving a purpose would be this pale, stinky ape sitting on the rock with giant sticks on his feet and obnoxious colored boots.

Stop me if you’ve heard something similar: If a tree lived in a forest and no one was around to see it, would it really exist?

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Oxygen is a little sparse at 8,000 feet, making the spam and lime jello globe vibrating between my ears a little more privy to wackiness. But I believe Sherry was telling me that too many of our philosophical pursuits are as selfish as our quests for planet domination. In other words, yes, that tree exists, whether it falls and we don’t here it or it stands for several hundred years hanging out with peers and no human eye ever beholds it.

What good are we then? If we don’t have an instant place in the order of nature, then let’s look at the tools we were given, this ability to create thought, and see how it might be better used.

First, let’s define beauty as it relates to our scenario here. Beyond human aesthetic perception, let’s define it also as an integral part in nature, explaining then how, to the planet, we’re ugly and a dung beetle is, in its own way, hot. Beauty, to this big blue ball, is the utilitarian synergy of living things. And with a little squinting, we can probably see that too.

me-waterfallBut guess what we can do? Better, in fact that probably any other creature on earth? We can create beauty, in both the aesthetic perception sense, through art and ideas, and in our relation-to-the-planet definition. We’ve been given this ability, this quest, and the cognitive understanding to realize it.

How cool is that? Again, it really doesn’t matter too much as to how we got it. Whatever deity or beaker-and-slide-ruler you want to put stock in doesn’t change the fact that our real mission is how we use this gift.

It is the difference between just existing and truly Being. We’re surrounded by a constant parade of existence, lots of energy, hype and stimuli achieving nothing at all, creating so much unnecessary work giving us the false impression that we’re productive, when actually we’re just busy.

When we are honestly using our gift, though, steeped in the process of truly Being, then we are beautiful to the planet. If we can achieve this as a species, harmony ensues. Alas, a boy can dream.

If it isn’t obvious yet what the role of the holistic athlete is, and how each of our individual bodies connects some important dots in all this, then there’s your meditation for the week. And the purpose of this little blog series. In the meantime. Be you. It’s what you should be best at.

(part 2 here)
(part 3 here)

handstand me 1hand 1bw

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Are you getting dumber by getting certified?

In this industry, dropping a grand or two on a weekend certification seems as common as fitspiration memes of Facebook. Although some of the information in certain certs might be worth adding to anyone’s training knowledge quiver, a chunk of our population seem to only find information legit if it is packaged as a certification, and this education trend has infiltrated the fitness industrial complex, due to it’s unregulated capitalist tundra, to a degree where people are forgetting to learn. They’re just buying other people’s thoughts. Let’s explore why this might be.

A brief history of the certificate racket

Although certifications are so ubiquitous that choosing just one seems like eating just the bread from a buffet table, there once was a time when they held slightly more meaning, if only due to a scarcer marketplace of options. Initially this industry had 3 major players, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the Aerobics and Fitness Assoc. of America (AFAA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (yep, you guessed it, ACSM). Now keep in mind that roughly 30 years ago, none of these existed, or at least no one cared yet. But somehow the big 3 eventually convinced fitness corporations that this new industry of personal trainers needed some sort of benchmark as to what their heads were full of… some sort of standardized education that made them blandly employable.

mag 6bEventually, as the fitness industry grew, the big 3 (which added a small handful to their ranks, including NASM and NSCA) succeeded so well at convincing the fitness industrial complex of their worth that you couldn’t get hired as a trainer without one of these kindergarten badges of honor, which generally took about 2 days to earn and had some sort of test at the end . A template that is still so successful you can legally own a franchise or affiliate gym from some companies with just this minimal requirement and a lot of money.

Keep in mind that, despite the fact that they were usually essential for employment, not a single one of these certs was required by law, as there is no governing body for personal training. In other words, massage therapists, physical therapists, hair stylists and mechanics are all in a legal league beyond the training world, since they are licensed and government regulated.

But not the fitness industry. And this is a mixed blessing. Although the entertainment that quite commonly passes for training (or ‘coaching’) has not yet caused enough damage to incite the highly litigious into precedent-setting legal action, the government hasn’t gotten it’s dirty little claws into the game, deciding who does what with whom, and what standards will be enforced.

me planche smith rock 2In other words, as an industry, we’re free. Free to be as insipid, smart, hornswoggled or enlightened as we feel. And in this rare libertarian industry, we see a great deal of what it means to be human.

For one, it becomes blatant our need to have our education validated by something other than the quality of its application. New information to us is to be collected. Whether we use it or not, whether it is even valuable or not, seems secondary. The product of information becomes more important than actual info itself. You can grow your information collection! Your worth as a trainer has increased because you’re certified! Heck, for some it’s almost like info hoarding. Even in my early career, before certs were all the rage from anyone with a new idea (or a regurgitated old one), I collected over a dozen of them, like trading cards to impress other trainers.

Yes, they’ve all lapsed. By many, many years. Heck, my ancient personal history involves teaching for certification companies and providing continuing education units for multiple certs for my own workshops. That’s right, full confession time. At one point I certified and helped re-certify folks for the big players in the game.

tommy kono 12 me bwBut at some point the information became the key and what I did with it became the journey. It became time to literally sit at the feet of many masters, and then return the favor to many students, with nary a certification to worry about. It’s worked for centuries, this intelligence exchange, and keeps the education itself as the focus, not the validation of the education.

So why wouldn’t we just take the workshop sans a cert? Our humanness sometimes suffers from a confidence void. We believe our journey isn’t enough, so we’ll eagerly buy someone else’s experience. The otherwise useless piece of paper tells us that we’re now riding the wave of another thinker’s process, that their successful experience becomes ours, because we’ve now bought into it. We, ergo, are valid.

Yes, certifications help reduce our need to think for ourselves. And that just might be making us dumber as an industry.

Here’s some quick points to consider about this certification world…

barbell sun 1bwIf you’re a trainer, how many times has a non-trainer (ya know, like a client?) asked about your certifications? In my two decades of this game, maybe 3. They have no idea what certifications mean! The RKC or CSCS after your name is only there to impress other trainers. The rest of the planet doesn’t give a damn. Period. And if they did, they obviously don’t know the truth about the industry…

Certifications mean bunk. First, anyone can create a ‘certification,’ leading to the vast and confusing world of trainer certs available to anyone with ducats and a dream. Yup, my 108 year old deaf neighbor in a walker who smells faintly of old air fresheners and cheese can create her own weightlifting certification tomorrow if she wanted to live that fantasy. The chronically slouched hipster across the street who lives on Arcade Vampire Fire Weekend and PBR could create the next posture assessment protocol cert if he could pull himself away from Instagram for more than 10 minutes.

deadlift allyson 3bwIs it good for business? Perhaps telling a client or potential client that being certified in Left-hand specific Gyroscopic sports conditioning Biomechanical Tectonics (LGBT for short) will wow them right into your clutches, but chances are they won’t have any idea what that means. Or they simply won’t care. At fitness gatherings eons ago we used to boast to each other about our certs, not unlike whipping out our 12th level magic user’s character stats at D&D conventions and bragging about his +6 save against polymorph spells.

But, alas, Joe and Jane Public couldn’t give a greater rat’s ass. Yet, somewhere along the way we decided that just learning and applying the info wasn’t enough. We had to PROVE that we gathered the information (which doesn’t prove that we know how to use it), at least to each other. Gimme that piece of paper!

Vigoral was touted as "both meat and drink." Ewww.

Vigoral was touted as “both meat and drink.” Ewww.

So the certification market/racket has a wide range of options. What started as generalizations (the ‘personal training’ cert or the ‘aerobics instructor’ cert) has diversified into a vast cornucopia of specializations (there are at least 8 different major schools of thought for kettlebell certifications alone, and recently a macebell cert popped its head up, so the 9 people on the planet who know what it is can fork over $400 to impress no one else). They don’t all suck, in fact the information behind a handful of them might be money well spent. BUT, no one outside of the actual industry understands how they work or what they mean.

Why should you care?

If this is a libertarian market place, than buyer beware. Unfortunately, that would only includes the trainers subscribing to this certification nonsense. It doesn’t include the clients, who are still part of a system that turns to us for their muscle smarts and movement education. If us trainers are blinded by our own hyperbolic propaganda, what sort of product are they, our clients, going to get? A certification gets us to believe way too quickly that we’ve learned what we need to know. This is why freshly certified neophytes are opening their own gyms or starting their own boot camps with a frightening growth rate.

Son, you didn’t learn puppy dick in your two-day course, and chances are you were barely given the tools to teach what information you did acquire. Grok this: perpetuating movement and force development in another person (or a big group of people… yikes) takes a lot more than enthusiasm and some new initials after your name. I might’ve been wrong in calling a certification the kindergarten of understanding. It might actually be pre-school.

That’s why I don’t offer a Bodytribe certification. I’ll give you tools, ideas and a template to expand your learning horizons. We’ll work together on filling your head and making your body groove in new ways.  But what, in two days, are you going to show me that proves that you are capable of creating something amazing out of that? And that’s under the assumption that you will actually make these ideas simply part of your own stew, and not just spew my thoughts and the philosophy of Bodytribe through your lips blindly. Meanwhile, if you want to truly be a Bodytribe trainer, you can apprentice with us. Spend months sucking from our educational teats only to expand your brawn and fatten up your brain by creating your own journey from our template. It’s your art created from a mixture of our groundwork and your experiences.

But okay… you can get certified at any of my workshops. You create whatever name you want to give it. I’ll sign it. At no extra cost. Make sure the initials are cool though. Ya wanna put them all over Facebook.

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When Fitspiration Goes Wrong

what's excuse

Content versus Intent

If you haven’t seen this meme circulating around the social media by now, good for you. This one hits pretty close to home, as in she is local and barely a degree of separation from me. By all accounts, she’s a very nice woman (I’ve heard this from several of her friends). Her intent, which is well documented in several forms of media, was admirable. But the execution, the content, is where the trouble began.

Until something socially detonates right before our eyes, many of us haven’t discovered that the big worldwideweb receives and processes information considerably different than our immediate social peer group. In other words, no matter what you meant or how you want something to be perceived, when dealing with the internet you’d better apply some lubricant to this particular rule of friction: content trumps intent. Period. In other words I began by giving her the benefit of the doubt; that she simply didn’t understand the implications of her content. But the content overwhelmed whatever her intent was.

In this case, there was no lubricant. The friction caught fire. The content was poorly chosen words, and whatever the intent was went up in flames and smoke.

The picture alone would have succeeded in the intentions better. Less shit storm, more high fives. Part of her response to the backlash from this meme would have made more sense if it was just the image sans words.  In the aftermath she wrote “what you interpret is not MY fault. It’s yours.” In the case of the intent of an image, this is often very true (although not a lot of compassion or responsibility in that response, which is simply adding fuel to the fire).

What's your excuse, maggot?

But add some loaded text, and the fault becomes very clear, despite intent. Oh, those words. Is there an instance in your mind where you can remember those words being used in a positive manner? They are shaming words. They’ve always been a matter of blaming someone for not achieving something. They’re mean-parent/mad-boss/grumpy-drill-sergeant language. And motivation through shame is NOT empowering, despite what the fucked up fitspiration movement has been trying to perpetuate. Ya can’t wink or nudge playfully in a meme like this, especially when these words are very loaded for most (not some, but MOST) people.

Let’s isolate the words without context.  Has “what’s your excuse?” ever been positively motivational? On it’s own as a sentence, it is a poor choice of words for inspiration. But in context with the picture… BOOM! Exponential explosion.

For instance, this wouldn’t make sense, despite the intent…
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In Maria Kang’s meme, the entire package says (again, despite her intent) “I am an ideal… why aren’t you like me?”

Simply put: “what’s your reason for not being like me?”

Shame, blame and judgment. Again, despite good intentions, this type of language says the viewer is being judged for not meeting the standard set by the photo. If you find blame motivational, what does that say about your relationship with your body? As a former bulimic, it might behoove her to understand the importance and impact of language like this.

But here is ultimately what I’m getting at…

If you are motivated by a body shape, by an aesthetic ideal, or by shaming language, that might say something profound about your relationship with your body worth looking into. You’re probably being motivated by a complete lie. The lie of ability, the lie that such a body can actually accomplish anything or that it is IMPORTANT IN ANY WAY.

Later she wrote “start celebrating people who are a result of hard work, dedication and discipline.” Yes, but what result are you talking about? Lean body mass? The result of hard work should be skill, empathy, tribal empowerment and strength. She’s proven none of those things. So far it just seems that her 6 hours a week in the gym are to post pretty pictures. Is there benefit in that result? I’m willing to make a case that pictures of lean bodies don’t prove shit. Add boastful and shaming language (‘why aren’t you like me?”) and the ‘result’ is actually kind of ugly.

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Nude Gratitude

me planche smith rock 2

Every year or so (with occasional deviations), I reiterate a rant on gratitude. It goes a little like this…

If we had to give everything back, if the universal plan demanded us to hand over all possessions and start again bare and raw, I would have a very under-impressive load to turn in. What we would be left with, in our stripped down, essential state, is the coveted internal real estate we should perpetually be striving to cultivate. To give and receive from this place, there is no better exchange. All else is superfluous, although possibly entertaining. As a naked, unencumbered soul, give thanks, then, for how well you can fill the world with nothing but you. The caveat to this spiritual nudity is the quick understanding that if you haven’t taken care of yourself, if you don’t have the respect for yourself to care about the condition of your system, you greatly limit your choices, possibilities and gifts.

Naked in front of God, Buddha, Poseidon or Pan, give thanks for the better choices you’ve made and embrace wisdom for choices not yet made.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!! Eat well, be well, do well!!

my inspiration

my inspiration

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