Stop Lying to Yourself

scar gym day 1

Let’s begin with a premise. Our goal in the gym is to make a better version of ourselves, or if we’re one of these fancy fitness professional folks, maybe our clients. If we can agree on this, perhaps we can agree on a foundation for programming. To achieve this upgraded human status, our training should enable better movement, which empowers greater strength.

To create a better us, our training is about skill building.

july 51I’m guessing, if you’re reading this, you’re probably on board, just like the groovy, enlightened attendees of my workshops, who nod their heads vigorously, occasionally raising me up on their shoulders to loud cheers of Huzzah! (It could happen).

When we scrutinize the output of the Fitness Industrial Complex, though, we’ll see a contrary story, usually manifested as reduced movement programming and more distraction than actual strength building. The industry’s words say one thing, their actions another. As a species, we’re increasingly masterful at lying to ourselves. The fitness culture is one of many outlets for our personal dishonesty.

acro 37Let’s remember the premise above. Enable better movement to empower greater strength, all as a foundation of building skills. Some version of this message is trumpeted enough on websites, blogs, and our instatubefacegram posts that we have made the shaky correlation that gym=improvement. Period. Do the gym. Be the superhero. No questions asked… or at least honestly answered.

What if we get specific? Let’s pick an example of a modern gym program staple and ask how it makes us better. Like, really. For reals.

Try this. Flop to the ground. Just go ahead and bend over and then fall flat. And then writhe your way back up by flexing and extending your passive spine in positions that would get you kicked out of yoga kindergarten. Maybe add a little jump once you’re up. Land and repeat. Again. And again (and again). As fast as you can.

Now come up with a case of how that is building any skill. How would this flop-and-writhe support our premise goal?

It won’t. Which means we’re lying to ourselves every time we toss modern burpees into the daily exercise stew.

I know my attack on the poorly performed modern burpee, which we’ll henceforth call a Sloppee, is old news. We’ve been on this soapbox for a while, but not without reason.

me frog lake 1When we work on improving our skills, there is a byproduct of getting tired. Through the course of fitness industrial history, it was deemed easier to sell the byproduct than the actual skill-building journey. We’re now, as a culture, distracted by our belief that getting tired is the goal. Getting tired is somehow the magic path, and the industry currently markets it under another name. Intensity. We seem to understand that intensity is part of the transformation recipe (as we’ve mentioned before), but now we’re offered this great chance to start lying to ourselves. Call it cognitive dissonance, call it brainwashing, or perhaps it is pure ignorance, but our quest for chasing exhaustion completely disregards the true correlation between intensity and getting tired.

If we put in high quality work towards learning skills, we will get tired. If we put in low quality work towards getting tired, we won’t learn any skills. Turning the byproduct (getting tired) into the goal is a failure to our bodies.

ramble, ramble

ramble, ramble

A properly executed burpee is a call to athleticism. No, really. It takes two good ol’ foundations of structure and mobility, the plank and the squat, and combines them. Through understanding key components in our movement vocabulary, we attempt to let them seamlessly flow together. Athleticism lives in the transformation of shapes. The burpee lets you practice becoming a performance changeling, morphing from one well executed shape into another, quite different, but no less important, shape.

Zen out on it. A burpee has a chance for movement meditation status, whereas a sloppee has become the slightly traumatizing experience of get-through-this-any-way-possible. Sure, one might pray during a sloppee, but usually to be done. Meanwhile, a burpee can be a little slice of self-reflection. A burpee allows for playfulness and presence. The burpee is not punishment, as movement should never be.

A burpee is also a keen study in intensity, with many lessons about how that word might not mean what you think it means.

Discern any movement, tool, or program through the filter of our premise. Are your practices building skills by enabling better movement, therefore empowering greater strength? Make a good case if you think they are. Be willing to let go of dogma if your case falls apart. Have the goal of being honest with yourself. If you are lying to yourself, what about your clients, peers, and tribe?

july 22

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The Story of Intensity

michelle bday 6Purpose and transformation are life partners. One finishes the other’s sentences. When their eyes met for the first time, they both breathed, “you complete me.” One can’t quit the other.  Unless you’re perfect in every way (therefore not needing transformation), your time steeped in that purposeful recess of training is simply the consecration of their union.

Well, sorta. Purpose is actually one third of the recipe. But let’s not jump too far ahead.

The Recipe for Transformation

  1. Intensity
  2. Consistency
  3. Purpose

That’s it. That’s the alchemy for your transformation. Here’s how it works.

Intensity ignites the potential for transformation, as we’ve mentioned in Ritual vs Routine. It is the spark for change. It’s also the focus of the next chunk of this book.

Consistency is simply repeating this ignition until it’s a fire. It perpetuates the change.

michelle bday 4BWPurpose defines the change! This is perhaps the biggest theme of this tome. Not all transformation is good. Random or aimless encounters with intensity have no direction, and therefore the outcome might, well, suck. Even well-intentioned attempts at transformation can be badly programmed, steering the intensity through a series of poor choices, which, as we’ll chat more about, reduce our options and limit our freedom.

We’ve waxed ad nauseum about purpose throughout this blog site, so what needs some serious crime scene investigation is the concept of intensity. What the heck does it mean?


wod mock1Do Better: The Story of Intensity

Through the omnipresent lens of social media, I’m witness to many prescribed workouts by many trainers and gyms across the world. A great deal of them fall into a theme of do-more-faster, with various workouts prescribing hundreds of reps. One recent example was a workout of 200 air squats/100 KB swings/50 pushups/50 box jumps, then repeat for half of everything, for a grand total of 600 reps. That’s a lot. Yet that’s becoming standard programming. Is there a point? Later we’ll also ask the question: Why would such programmed redundancy be at all appealing to the huge chunk of the population we need to be trying to get moving? Why has movement become regulated, and often celebrated, repetition?

Only a few bits of wisdom will seep through my old, calloused cranium, but a big lesson that has lodged itself in that pink orb between my ears is that quality trumps everything. Why do my athletes improve? They work on doing things better. Since our big journey is the path towards holistic usefulness, then it may behoove us to place a great deal of importance on the carry-over from workout to real life. Hence it is crucial to recognize that quality of life often has a direct correlation with the quality of your training… but less so directly with the quantity.

jump funston 1bwWith that formula for transformation, the magic goop that puts glitter on our unicorn horn is Intensity. When we repeat it (Consistency) and give it direction (Purpose), we’re changed. Simple. Depending on that purpose, we might be one step closer to actually being useful.

This diatribe ain’t new gospel from my pulpit. In fact the premise of BodyTribe is the quest for intensity as a game, and life, changer. Strength is ability. Physically, it’s the ability to overcome obstacles. Metaphysically… well, basically the same thing. Face a challenge and deal with it. As with mastery of anything, we practice it. Our physical training is simply creating challenges and then slapping them around to make them our bitch. Or at least attempting to.

Therein lies a dilemma. Our limited time on this cosmic spinning glitter orb is already rife with challenges. Why would anyone want to create more challenges? Why would we want to purposely put real physical obstacles in our own way, simply to go over them, under them or move them?

Because it is a skill, this obstacle crushing. To improve our skills, we should practice. Frankly, in our quest for humanness, these challenges are what make things interesting. Even fun.

tues 15The good news is that we can have a blast doing it. The outcome, says those around us, is, as we mentioned earlier, an increase in our mate-able worth. Oh, and the real big news? There will be ass kicking in the future. Your tribe gains a superhero, if you choose to use your powers for good (and you will… that’s why I like you).

Why is volume not always the answer? Isn’t Volume intense? Hold on, my friends, we’ll be there soon. Sure, all transformation comes from challenge, but not all challenge creates transformation. We call this the classic Coaches Fallacy.

First, what is Intensity?

Don’t Google this one. It won’t quite solve the riddle. I see the strength athletes with their hands up. Calling on one of them would get me an answer about percentage of 1RM. Intensity for them is the all-out kaboom of a max effort lift.

The metcon junkies are going to counter this with a power output proposition. The yoga contingent will pitch a case for focus and awareness.

wod mock 2And yes, someone will make a case for volume. Doing a lot of something feels awfully intense, right?

You are all right, but it’s a math question, and none of you showed your work. Well, metaphysical math, but Intensity is a formula nonetheless.

Intensity = investment X challenge

That’s right. Intensity is the amount of investment times the level of challengeSimple, right?

Now we’re masters at busy-ness, which is a bunch of investment in unchallenging things. On the other hand, many of us have strangleholds on walking away from giant challenges, maybe after a half-ass effort, what I call the At Least I Tried Syndrome. Those, obviously, fail at being transformative. According to our formula, not much intensity.

irma 2bw The examples of intensity given earlier, though – 1RM, focus, metabolic meltdown – all plug into our equation with a net sum of a high intensity quotient. So yes. Intensity can come from volume. High numbers represent a big challenge, and if met with high investment, your intensity formula will definitely ring in the red zone.

Beware. Not all intensity is the same.

Can intensity be abusive? Heck yes. Its transformative powers can turn metal into gold or shit into a bigger pile of shit. I’ve oft quoted the legendary Tommy Kono as saying practice makes permanent. If you’re finding your intensity through practicing a volume fest of crap, guess what you’re making permanent?

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I am your Dancing Monkey

bham E 5

I have detractors. Weird, right? One of them pops up on my Facebook posts on occasion, especially if anything in the discussion seems to, even vaguely, point any finger at his favorite training protocol as something that could be done better. The philosophical banter would be fun, if there was some. But instead the formula follows the I post/he reacts/I elaborate/he disappears model.

But once in a while the post isn’t word driven. It might be a simple video of part of a workout of mine, although these are relatively rare. I’ve done the DVDs and the online show and the how-to vids and the downloadable stuff (which, of course, you should watch). But it is relatively rare to see a quick, basic, today-I-did-this video of mine enter the internet-o-sphere. Fear not. Everyone else seems to be making a lot of them, and probably better than I can. So you’ll still get your fix. But there is another reason they don’t often flow from my practice into the public…

Immediately after I post a snippet video of the aforementioned ilk, the response from said detractor is often “YES! That’s what I love about what you do. Show us more of that!” And strangely, I feel a little icky afterwards.

bham C 10In this nouveau fitness culture of play and flow, being labeled a dancing monkey would seem complimentary. Even ideal.  But the term is pejorative, portraying the concept of obedient servant. And that comment on my post may as well have read ‘dance, monkey, dance.’

I ramble. My pie hole may not be impressive in size or power (like most of me), but in volume, there is a tenacity to it’s ability to wax diatribally (which my spell check says isn’t a word, but it also has a problem with ‘deadlift,’ so what does it know?).

Occasionally there might be something of interest that I do beyond the ranting, usually something movement-based, and suddenly everyone pays attention. The words – the persistent struggle to define our journey, the mining of the metaphysical in a mire of strictly physical (and usually superficial), the questioning of cliches and our relationship to our own ideas (or the lack of them) – these are both the bane and the boon of my passion for this movement and strength stuff, as I’d hate to be tapped on the arm by the reaper and reply ‘wait, I’m not done with this set.’ Then, as he tugs on my sleeve with vehemence, I insipidly realize I wasted huge chunks of my life in the gym instead of using the gym as a tool to actually get OUT of he gym.

So the brain and body jig with the heart in a perpetual meringue of contemplating a little meaning to it all. Perhaps this comes across as crass, when there might be notice of something that doesn’t seem to be meriting the amount of processing in the ol’ noggin that it should, and I happen to call it out. Dogmas get frazzled.

bham 16But once in a while, there is the honor of being a conduit for potential. When a door is kicked down by my size 42 Feiyues, every now and then I’m joined by a few other pairs of eyes to explore what’s beyond it. It’s a spiritual joy when I see my own words in a post or a meme (often anonymously quoted, but so what?) put out into the universe (well… interwebular galaxy) by someone I might barely know beyond a ‘like’ or two on Facebook.

And sometimes it cultivates into something a little magical. Maybe a small workshop tour comes together from a few folks who have taken to kicking down similar doors, or at least being there when my heel did the work. My path then connects with a host of other seekers, teaching, and of course learning, all headed to the the top of the same proverbial mountain.

But I’m often reminded that information exchange in this industry of exercise is often less cognitive and far more corporeal. Which, initially, makes sense, but then there lies the major fallacy of this industrial complex.

This industry teaches exercise, but has a hard time exploring movement.

I write and rant and enter a handful of dialogs about movement or exercise as a needed outlet for the non-corporeal part of my hylomorphic self. In other words, I feel we gotta talk this shit out, because there are a big bunch of folks who are lacking purpose in their exercise, and an even bigger bunch who aren’t moving at all. I crave purpose, always attempting to answer the perpetual question: Am I useful?

And there seems to be a giant sucking sound where this sort of banter ought to exist. There is chatter, there is noise, but very little of it moves beyond the Me, Me, look at Me selfie culture. We’re so busy talking about how great we are at working out, we forgot how meaningless that workout probably is in big-picture, wide-angle lens format. You’ve got this amazing program that you bought into… so what?

gym day 9Point being, I find the philosophy of movement often more important than the demonstration of it, simply because everyone is already talking about the What and the How. What to do and How to do it fills every youtube channel, every magazine, every nook and cranny of the fitness world’s social media. But shit… question the purpose and sometimes hell breaks loose. WHY simply isn’t the thing people wanna talk about.

But no matter how badly we need to be asking Why, we still suffer from Dancing Monkey Syndrome. Most people will suffer my ranting with polite nods, or they’ll get frisky in their disagreement until they run out of steam, but post a video of a groovy little movement creation and the Dancing Monkey Syndrome kicks in. I’ve been brought to gyms in the past so they could simply steal whatever cool new moves I happened to show them, while they gently tolerated my words. I was their dancing monkey. I get it… that’s what we do. Teach exercise. Look at the dancing monkey… then replicate it.

But there is our failure, or at least my lack of understanding. I’m not a particularly skilled athlete, but in most workshops I impart a great deal of new movement ideas to the participants. I’m grateful for this privilege, but I have a caveat. Next time I come through, show me what you’ve done with this information. The movement ideas are simply an expression of my philosophy of exploration and play, how strength in action should look. So when I’m surrounded by a room full of people who can out-workout me, my hope is that I’m offering  the artist’s rendering of what the purpose of working out is… the foundation of building skills. I’ll demonstrate what these skills in action might look like, and I’ll talk in length about why a workout is meaningless unless there is a point to it. I’ll look on the surrounding white boards and see all the times and weights posted by members of that gym, and usually rank myself in the bottom half of what I see. And then I show you where your strength might go, what it might look like in action.

I’m not a dancing monkey showing you the newest trick. I’m showing you a philosophy of strength as action. Steal the moves if ya’d like… they weren’t mine to begin with. But what is your journey? I walked many paths, always to bring back the fruits to my own freshly trod quest. You can simply mimic me, or any of the videos from whatever movement mentor you’ve chosen to emulate. But then who is the dancing monkey?

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What Inspires You?

He was a big man. Not the kind of big that comes as the enviable outcome of choices made in the gym. More like his past decisions involved many foods that were probably in plastic wrap and were of colors not entirely natural. He wore these decisions as considerable extra weight. Some of his history was now unwanted aesthetic carriage.

And he become the reason I moved and celebrated movement this weekend. He was my lesson.

He was a true shining example of how training can infect our tribes as a tool of empowerment. I didn’t meet him. I simply overheard and witnessed a few choice words and actions and decided that he was my mentor right now.

He had a son, probably 3 years old. In our short time sharing space (I was behind them in a grocery store line) dad made it very clear that he was now creating a newer, different journey, one that was meant to include, educate and inspire, his son. His personal empowerment will be through his role in empowering this small tribe of family. And from within ear shot I picked up that at least part of it had to do with training, movement, and good food choices (I peaked in his cart, as I do everyone near me in line at the grocery store. Even as I try to reserve judgment, I’m usually disappointed. Not today.).

bt 11He had a goal. It was obvious and uplifting. I’m sure superficially it had to do with fat loss and wellness boosting, but those will actually be symptoms of his journey. The actual transformation, the true success, will happen if the scale needle moves a little or a lot. Someone else is involved. Someone else will learn and improve. In his mission, at least two are loved (probably more).

Living for the gym, and using the gym to live are two incredibly different things. He personified how the physical begets the metaphysical. He was, in my definition of the word, strong.

The coveted physical changes of intense movement – strength, shape, performance – are simply adaptations to perpetuate more of it. Movement is the tactile exploration of space. It is knowing where you are, and who you are, through participation.

Or at least that was the purpose for our organic machines. Sure, free will dictates you can do with it as you please, but remember that better choices now mean more choices later. Why not use it for what it was intended?

gym day 10


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Programming Strength, part IV: What the heck are the Foundations of Strength?

Where do we start? First, as you’ll hear me repeat at any workshop I present, let’s learn movement before we practice exercise. These days this concept becomes its own packaged category. Call it the primal natural animal trend. We sure do have a hankering for romanticizing simplicity. Or maybe we’re just trying to make a buck.

Anyway, to understand our own movement philosophy, we’re faced with a surprisingly tough challenge:

How simple can we make it?

I’m going to posit that our quest for ability (ya know… strength) means always improving our skills in how to…

* Roll
* Crawl
* Change Elevation
* Pick Stuff Up
* Put Stuff Over Our Head
* Carry stuff

Answering the question: if there is an obstacle in our way, can we get over it, around it, under it, through it or move it? Let’s start thinking “yes” to all of them. Doesn’t get more ‘primal/natural/animal’ than that.

not hardcore, just lucky... possibly the heaviest stone I ever lifted.

In reading that list, you might observe a few things. First, if we’ve had any gym experience, we’ve probably put movement ideas to some of these. Pick up stuff? Heck, that’s a deadlift. Putting stuff over our heads? That’s a press. Hold on… we’ll get there.

As you expand your mastering of the foundations, you can graduate to building a repertoire in the Major Skill Chunks we’ve mentioned before. The problem is, in our quest for cool, in our dreams of fame, or simply because we want some throbbing biceps, we often skip the foundations and work on specializing. We all know a handful of skilled athletes or veteran gym rats that are less than capable in some of the basics.

bridget deadlift1 bwYou and your creative head and passionate soul can begin defining what these mean by assigning movements to them. Shucks, you might even come up with your own foundation list. But whether it’s this one, or one of your own, if you don’t have a baseline standard, you’ll struggle for completeness. Which, frankly, might not be a goal, but remember… our purpose here is usefulness.

So the basic BodyTribe template is to teach and perpetuate these foundations, which always feed the Major Skill Chunks.

Setting the lowest bar, and then raising it

In programming, we often set benchmarks… be able to squat double bodyweight or toss a baby 100 feet or punch through a walrus hide with your pinkie. A good observer might see correlations between certain benchmarks and a general increase in potential. Dan John says if a woman can deadlift 275 pounds, the performance world opens up to her, for instance.

acro 1But building a foundation means defining what the base will be before we ever  begin to dream of what the advanced benchmarks are. So to simplify all this, decide what you believe foundation skills are, or borrow mine above. Yup. For free. No certification required.

If you’re a trainer, this means asking yourself what everyone in your tribe should be able to do and continuing to improve upon. Then decide what the lowest foundation is that you’ll accept. In other words, what should everyone in your tribe, no matter what, be able to do? This isn’t an entrance exam, though. It simply means if they’re not there, you, as their movement sherpa, have some work to do.

Then you can build levels. If they can do the foundation skills at level A, how about B? You might discover that some folks can level F a certain skill all day, will being barely proficient at a level B of another skill. Guess where their weak points are? Which is why, surprisingly, you might find it isn’t always the beginners you have to worry about. Specialized athletes often skip this basic foundation concept for something more shiny, like a bigger clean and jerk or higher Girevoy Sport numbers, while bypassing some basic skills in the process. This leads to unbalanced potential.

So we’ve mentioned the Foundation Skills. Here I’ll explain them and then offer what we believe level 1 should be:

sandbag gino 1bwRoll: This means ya have a basic knowledge of engaging the ground. This is surprisingly hard for even advanced athletes who haven’t played this way in a while. Level 1: just a simple backwards and forwards cradle roll, holding onto the knees.

Crawl: Being able to move on all fours. Level 1:  an actual crawl on the hands an knees.

Change elevation: Go up and down. The  level 1 standard here is to be able to get up and down off the floor, get in and out of a chair, get up and down from a 36″ plinth or box (not jumping, just getting on and off it), and a good 30 second hang from a bar.

Pick something up: This is the skill of picking something up (what did you expect?). Level one: be able to pick something up. In this case, weight doesn’t enter the equation with any importance. Simply knowing the proper mechanics is the goal. If you ever watch powerlifting competitions, you may notice many have skipped level one, letting the weight on the bar trump useable skill. Oops.

Put something over head: Now the first thought you may have is ‘overhead press.’ Sure, but for a big chunk of our society (both fit and unfit) they lack the correct shoulder and back prowess (be it weakness or tightness) to pull this off safely. So other options like club work might be more appropriate for level 1.

Carry something: This sounds pretty basic… and it is. For you geeks who bore your clients to tears, this is loaded terra-based upright biomobile kinetics(tm).  Heck, just be well versed in all the potential ways to actually carry stuff. The foundation of this is to have at least one option under the belt.

windmills valeris jason 1bwAlways continuing to grow in proficiency in these will add to our Major Skill Chunks, and skipping any of these will be a noticeable gap in overall ability.

Now you’ve probably already begun assigning movements to this list. Pick something up? That’s a deadlift, you say! You wouldn’t be wrong. Now your next goal is to choose the movements you feel best represents each foundation. So many choices! Get moving. Are you a collection of exercises, or are your movements actually improving your skills. Ya know, the ones that make the 23 hours a day outside the gym considerably better.

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Programming Strength, Part 3: Chasing Exhaustion

mm me 3

Teaching at a Mental Meat Heads workshop


I don’t care how you workout. Show me how you live! If you live to workout, perhaps you’ve got it backwards. I dig your 800 pound squat, but I really want to see what that is doing for you.

Now every time I mention the concept of training as a means to get better at physical skills, folks all emphatically nod in agreement… but then run off to conquer their 50 burpees and 100 wall balls. It seems the only skill they want to improve is working out harder.

crossing on logIn a great majority of workshops I teach, I’m in front of groups of people where possibly everyone in the room could out-workout me. On every given day they could WOD all over me. But in the workshop I’ll spend the next 2-5 hours showing them what they can’t do, or at least what they could do better. I don’t care that you can cram in a bunch of reps in a shorter time period than I can. I’d like to show you that skill is built differently. It isn’t about chasing exhaustion.

Because ‘fitness’ has a byproduct of being tired, we’ve turned it into the goal. Now there are two camps of chasing exhaustion:

1) Chase the fatigue to conquer the fatigue.

The skill of not pooping out as easily. In other words push the constitutional boundaries into the red so there is a greater foundation for work capacity when practicing other skills. There is some serious validity to this, and in the ol’ days, before it got the fancy name of ‘metabolic conditioning,’ we called it GPP, general physical preparedness. It was used to not only have a grounding in increased stamina for further skill building, but a blanket ability of being a good beginner at any skill. In other words, it’s going through kindergarten in skill potential.

Here’s where it has gone awry. It is now believed that this is THE skill to have, so the majority of intensity in the gym is geared to doing MORE FASTER, forever building the skill of working out by conditioning the ability to fight the fatigue of that workout. Does it seem wise to use important movement skills of some degree of difficulty for that conditioning, even if it means actually letting those skills break down?

Here is a very common story, although names are changed to protect the victims of modern fitness propaganda:

me stone pile 1An extreme exhaustion chaser, we’ll call him David Lee Roth, and I were chatting recently. A sweet guy and a frenetic energy ball, he was regaling me with tales of yesterday’s extreme WOD, followed by that morning’s other extreme WOD. All the ass got kicked and all the sweat puddled and spilled. This was far from the first time I had heard these exclamations of his quest for lung-shattering, muscle burning workouts. In fact, it is sort of his thing. Facebook and social media are his popular outlet of AMRAPs and buy-ins and EMOMs, and the hundreds of reps and rounds he routinely attacks. It’s a big part of his identity.

And it takes me less than a minute to show him something he can’t do.

road trip me 2bAnd this doesn’t mean I produce the greatest mega-workout for him to try, nor am I any kind of super athlete with mad skills to show off. I might simply say something like “come do this cartwheel flow with me.” Or “lets go climb that storage container and then jump off.” Nothing in his WODtastic, ‘functional’ training actually gave him the skills to do either. He can sweat circles around me (he actually competes in this stuff), but he hasn’t built any usable skills or abilities that I have found to lead to even greater skill chunks. What’s his end game?

A ‘functional’ exercise can be completely voided by sloppy programming.

2) Chasing exhaustion as an addiction.

Recently I heard Doug Kraft speak and lead a meditation here in Sacramento. Part of his talk expanded on something I’ve heard before. When spiritual leaders visit from other countries, they are often surprised and shocked by how much we seem to hate ourselves, and how it shows itself in various forms of abuse. Strange how I had examples right on the edge of my noggin of people I’ve experienced over the years who treated their movement journeys in such a way. There are many folks with the right personalities that have bought into this modern beat-your-ass-up workout world because, simply, they’re addicted to abuse. Whether chemical, emotional or the very tactile, physical abuse of poor training programming, there is a growing culture of perpetuation of this tweaked idea of body relations, and the modern gym culture is not helping.

When asked "what's your sign?", Odessa replies "Carry Chains."

When asked “what’s your sign?”, Odessa replies “Carry Chains.”

In fact we celebrate it. From screwed up ideals like businesses called Live Sore to the popular pump up vernacular strewn with cliches like Beast Mode, the take away seems to be that we’re not doing it right unless we create some unbalanced relationship with our bodies where the brain is the master and the body is the slave. Ironically, that’s actually the opposite of how addiction really works … but you can see the dichotomy that an addict will find appealing in our world of trumpeted self abuse.

Your gym most likely has at least one of these people, but cognitive dissonance, supported by a culture that clicks that ‘like’ button every time he or she posts a picture of themselves in a sweat puddle on the floor, assures them that it is a coveted ideal.

Obsession is dysfunction, parading falsely as passion.

Meanwhile we mistake chasing exhaustion for skill building. We smear out social media with videos of highly skilled movement and strength artists, lauding them as shining examples of human achievement.  Then off to the gym we  go, beating ourselves up by doing redundant reps of our same basic-level skills over and over, somehow believing it’s sort of the same thing. Splashing paint all over a canvas until you’re thoroughly spent is not the same league as creating a masterpiece.

‘Functional’ training ruined by dysfunctional programming. Now trending.

I’ve been posting a series of small videos on Facebook that are simple versions of adding some skill practice into your training on a level most folks who have even a modicum of movement perception can attempt… and yet, many folks who have spent a great deal of time chasing exhaustion have a hard time with some of these.


Repeating Preschool Doesn’t get you into High School

Some folks took offense to part 2 of this series in regards to high rep muscle ups. Let’s expand on those thoughts. The muscle up is kindergarten ring work, and it has one purpose… to get up on the rings to do other things. Maybe continually practicing to get up on the rings is time better spent actually pursuing the next round of skills. You can do a few in a row? Time to graduate. Now you’re up there… what can you do? Adding more and more to that set of muscle ups is not building any more skill, its chasing exhaustion. Doing more for the only outcome of getting tired doing that one thing. You can call it ‘power output’ or ‘work capacity,’ but really, you’re just repeating a lower level skill to beat yourself up. That’s time wasted.

Hanging play time

Hanging play time

If we’re aiming for increased skill (which I thought we all agreed upon as our goal), then the hierarchy of climbing up on stuff might go something like this. Can ya hang from a bar? Groovy. You’re a climbing toddler. Can ya do some pull-ups? Superb, you’re in climbing preschool. That muscle up puts you in climbing kindergarten, and then there are a host of things that you can do once you’re up there to work yourself up to the higher levels of elementary school of getting up on, and then over, stuff.

But increasing your ability to master preschool or kindergarten sort of seems a bit redundant, doesn’t it? 1 pull-up is a good start, 10 unbroken pull-ups seems a good progression, but 30 pull-ups in a row? Sure… as the outcome of already being a great climber or gymnast, perhaps, but as the outcomenot the goal. Once you work your way up the skill chart, then being able to do 30 pull-ups would be a result of building other more important skills. But having 30 pull-ups AS a goal DOES NOT graduate you any higher up that skill chart. Why repeat preschool? Mastering basic math over and over again doesn’t give you mad algebra skills.

How do we change our current paradigm? That’s coming up in part IV

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Programming Strength, Part II: Potential Versus Actual Strength


Matt Wichlinski teaching at Mental Meat Heads 1 in Alabama

Matt Wichlinski teaching at Mental Meat Heads 1 in Alabama

Matt Wichlinski and I were Skyping about strength one day (as such geeks do) and we quickly realized we had the exact same definition for Strength. If you’ve kept up with my blog over the decade+ it’s been around (heck, it began as a series of posts on a Bodytribe Yahoo group over 14 years ago), you might already be quick to shout out that strength = ABILITY!

In fact, it is easy to come to an agreement with trainers (coaches, whatever) that training is our tool to get good at stuff. Ya know… building skills.

And yet…

The biggest skill folks seem to be building in the gym is the ability to workout. There is no guarantee that anything you do in the gym transfers to that big chunk of life beyond the gym. That actually has be an important component of your programming. Yep, that’s right. You have to program potential strength into actual strength. And, from the observations from these cheap seats where my butt dwells, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of that.

bham C 10All the pulls, ups, downs, pushes, snaps, boings and kabooms we do in the gym are simply to create potential. Programming will decide the degree of usefulness, the amount of transfer, that potential has. Here’s a quick example…

A burpee. As I’ve often described, a burpee can be done as a floppy mess or it can be a well-tuned production between two major body alignments we call ‘shapes.’ Understanding and practicing the shape model will create an awareness, and a potential for embodiment, that has an easy transfer to other aspects of movement and athleticism, even if the numbers are small. The spasming worm style, on the other hand, has about as much potential for furthering other skills as learning to dance by watching John Hughes films. And adding more icky reps is, as mentioned many times before, practicing slop. Since practice makes permanent, where ya at here?

It doesn’t take a giant leap to see how your training might not actually help your ability to take a giant leap. Does an 800 pound squatter instantly have mad skills at the other foundations of movement? That squatter has probably taken his training beyond the point of usefulness, choosing instead to create potential in one thing. Standing up with a heavy bar on his back.

Irma squats 300 at a bodyweight of roughly 130. What else can she do? Her perpetual quest is to find out.

Irma squats 300 at a bodyweight of roughly 130. What else can she do? Her perpetual quest is to find out.

If strength is ability, he is actually fairly limited in his strength, whereas a 500 pound squatter who hasn’t squandered his time on an all-squat diet, but instead uses that squat as simply a tool for building potential at other strengths/skills, could be considered less limited in his strength. If we sum up our potential as usefulness, then the ‘weaker’ squatter would have more potential, therefore being more useful. More skilled. More able. In other words, stronger.

Let’s continue this game. A muscle-up is preschool for gymnasts. Sure, pretty challenging for mere mortals, but considered a very basic skill that is meant for one thing: To get up on something so you can then DO OTHER THINGS. Get up on bars or rings, so you can then create a greater movement palette.  So once you have the ability to do a few, if christopher 4you’re going to increase potential, ask yourself what’s next? The answer is not DO MORE OF THEM FASTER! Why? What potential are you building? Once ya got a handful under your belt, graduate. Move on. That’s their purpose as a movement… to get you to the BEGINNING of something. Turning the muscle-up into a high rep workout, or better yet, part of a sport, is like being a 8 year old in preschool. You’ve mastered step one into the ground. You’ve made a sport of the warm up from another sport. You’ve sucked the potential right out of it by giving it more importance than it should have. That’s an interesting programming decision to make.

We could play this game all day. Box jumps? Not as much a skill you need to build as it is an outcome from other skills. Getting good at high rep box jumps doesn’t make you particularly good at much else, while training other more potential-building skills will actually make you a pretty bad-ass box jumper. Anyone see the video of olympic weightlifters hopping up onto giant stacks of bumper plates almost as tall as they are? Don’t think for a minute they got there by practicing tons of box jumps. That’s an outcome of their potential, not the actual skill itself.bham E 5

I know, I know, you’re using box jumps as a conditioning tool, as a movement to build the skill of fighting fatigue. Who cares if it, in itself, is a skill worth building?

Aren’t there better choices? I bet you could find them, and your client’s shins (and morale) would appreciate it.

I get it. You covet power output as a skill. And it is, in fact, a pretty useful one. But the point of power output is to create a potential foundation of stamina to then be able to practice and improve  OTHER SKILLS. It, in itself, isn’t the key to potential. So when we reduce the potential of other skills by creating high rep, low load, speedy versions of them in the name of power output, we’re actually reducing the potential of our programming.

Here be some maths and some truths that might not agree with the maths…

Power output is measured by work over time. Do a bunch fast. Let’s take a famous example. In the CrossFit world, she’s called Fran.

If ya don’t know, Fran is a workout consisting of the following: Squat presses (called Thrusters in the CF world) and pull ups (and, let’s face it, for most these will be kip ups). With a rep scheme of 21/15/9, as fast as ya can.

Although the barbell is set at 95 pounds for men, let’s round up the weight to 100 pounds, just to make this math easy.  A decent Fran time is under 4 minutes, so 45 total reps at 100 pounds would be 4,500 pounds of work completed for that task. Qualifying the pull up is harder… let’s just use bodyweight of the person, in this case a 200 pounder, so 9000 pounds of pull up work. All done in 4 minutes, for this example.

So, to sum up, example 1:
4,500 pounds of thrusters
9,000 pounds of pull ups
all done in 4 minutes.

What if we doubled the load of the thruster? And simply changed the pull up by enforcing that it be strict? And we reduced the reps to 10/7/4. Here’s the maths:
4,100 pounds of thrusters.
4,100 pounds of pull ups… and they went slower.
In fact the whole thing takes 5 minutes.

So far, by formula, the power output is considerably lower.

I nominate Kalle Beck for the 400 pound squat press at under 200 pounds of bodyweight.

I nominate Kalle Beck for the 400 pound squat press at under 200 pounds of bodyweight.

But let’s double the load again for the thrusters. Yup, a 400-pound thruster. And we’ll add 100 pounds to the pull up by hanging  weight from our fictional character. Yet this isn’t far from reality. I’ve known at least a couple of folks who could probably pull this off at 200 pounds of bodyweight. Now let’s reduce their reps to 4/3/2.

Total pounds of thrusters: 3,600
Total pounds of pullups: 2,700
Let’s say it went slightly speedier, back to 4 minutes. That would still be a slow, much worse performance, according to the power output model.

Yet who would you you want on your team? To save your family from a hurricane? Heck, to hang out with as a person? The guy with the greatest potential here would be the final example, and if you see otherwise, remind me not to pick you for my dodgeball league.

See it this way: who can become the other the easiest? Guy number three can become guy number 1 easily. But guy number 1 has a heck of a lot of work to do to reach even Guy  #2’s status. So why would we put the majority of our training into a lower outcome of potential? Why would we train primarily like Guy #1 if we see that Guy #3 is more of an ideal of potential? Guy #3 sure didn’t get that way by following Guy #1’s programming.

In part 4 of this (coming soon… make sure to read part 3 now), we’ll start outlining a template for programming greater potential.

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Programming Strength, part 1: Organic versus Inorganic machines

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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.

tommy kono 1

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

crossing on log

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.

richmond 3 group

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), I’ve graduated from my early forties (41-43), and am steamrolling towards my late 40’s (47-49). August, as my birthday month, has traditionally also been my competition season, as in the last 15 or so years I’ve decided to take gravity to the mat and enter some weightlifting, powerlifting, or strongman meets to celebrate the new signifier in our human dance of chronology (Redwood Empire Open this weekend!). 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, so I am told 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 allows me to keep my chops sharp (an almost archaic turn of phrase these days). But strength athletics is simply part of the foundation of my movement skills. If ya know a thing or two about my programming, these skills 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. Just a few years ago 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 1Recently I’ve been to the island several times. Even through the winter I continued to swim regularly, 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 one of my biggest movement gift to myself in the past years. 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 46 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. 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 13 years of competitive weightlifting (16 years powerlifting), I’ve upped my total the sum of what the specialized youngins 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 46, 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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