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

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(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)

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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 selfies on Tumblr. 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 chosing 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 and a some sort of test at the end to achieve, a template that is still so successful you can legally own a franchise or affiliate gym in 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 personal training 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). 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. A certification is the kindergarten of understanding, maybe even the 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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The Glaring Flaws of Fitspiration

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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…
inspiration-sign

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, 2013

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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

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Primal versus Modern: what are we saying?

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There is actually little to suggest that we used to all swing from trees, crawl like other animals or climbed everything in site. The chance  that those things happened are quite high, but did we do it as a species, or were these the jobs of particular members of our tribes?

We have great potential for movement. In fact our bodies have two purposes…

1) stop our gooey center from falling out.

2) move.

It was either this or a picture of a Cannibal Corpse album cover... #playingitcute

And yes, it is a bummer we, as a culture, seem to only embrace the first one as important. We do all sorts of things to stop ourselves from leaking in whatever way.  If large amounts of stuff does start coming out, especially from unspecified openings, we get very worried and do everything we can to stop it.

pull up 7But only a small percentage of our culture lets the body pursue its second, very important, purpose. But was there a time when it was vastly different? Sure, pre-city life, we moseyed around more as a culture. Pre-desk, there was the squat. Pre-kitchen there was the hunt. Pre-TV there was the dance. And yes, movement was intrinsic to survival, making it, indeed, primal.

But did everyone crawl around like bears and monkeys? Did everyone climb, jump and dance? We actually don’t know. I dig the thought of an entire race of creatures moving for fun, for survival, for the very real expression and needs of the body. And there is no argument in my being that this is deeply encoded in our hardware and software.

Yes, the need to move, the desire of our organic machines to get some groove on, is as primal as our system gets. But let’s give a little credit to our modern exploration of movement as also something very human, but without discrediting some very here-and-now roots. The need to move might be primal, the expression of it can be very modern, for better or worse. Jason Brown, fellow movement-ologist and Mental Meat Head presenter, has some great things to say about it here.

deadlift tyler 1bwIn other words ‘primal’ might be both accurate and extremely limiting. I wrote a post years ago about the overuse of the word ‘Evolve’ after a plethora of rather un-evolved gyms began throwing the word around as the title of their program or space. Blatant hyperbole, trying to put a shine on the very common. ‘Primal’ is in danger of going the same way. Cliches bring shelf-lives to products and trends. You’ve built in obsolescence once you romanticize a label. Shit, ‘tribe’ is in my training concept’s name (and has been for almost 14 years, even before I opened a sanctuary under that name over 10 years ago). You’d be right to think that I’m a bit concerned about that word being used beyond it’s sustainable meaning these days.

rituals-sideSo consider this just opening some dialog about what we’re trying to say with the word ‘primal.’ I’d like to think we’re allowed to be proud of how some of us are aiming at achieving a homeostasis with this very real current dot in the human timeline, which is the human way. We can expand upon our primal roots, we can actually improve on our given hardware and software… that’s the beauty of the organic machine. You might want to call our potential ‘primal,’ and perhaps arguing the semantics of that is silly. But what do we call what we might create from that potential? Is it still primitive?

Or (ha) has it ‘evolved?’ Perhaps we should celebrate what we can do with our humanness, which we might want to consider beyond primal.

That’s it. My new philosophy… post-primitivism. I’m trademarking that as you read this! Meanwhile be the best You, whatever you want to call it.

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Major Skill Chunks

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I ain’t too bright. It’s been said that if something can’t be explained to a child, then its worth, heck, its existence, is questionable. I say Amen. Consider me that child.

And I say movement isn’t that complicated. In fact, here’s some groovy concepts to chew on…

1) Your body learns movement faster then your brain.

2) Your body wants to move. In more ways than your brain can imagine.

3) The body listens to the brain, even when the information is contrary to the body’s purpose. So sometimes the brain has to watch its mouth.

Tme asheville 3bwoo bad our brains work in many ways to jeopardize the body and what it is made for. One of those ways is to market movement and strength. Our brains seem to believe that to sell movement, we have to limit it and package it. Now this, in itself, isn’t always a bad thing. But then our brains crave a little validation. Suddenly we need to tell other brains that there should be no other options. Buy our package! The others don’t count. Recently this has been known as the Rippetoe ethic.

Or maybe the brain chooses a tool or program and simply ignores other options. Hey, we all have preferences for genres, and certain styles and gadgets can often dominate our attention.  We can all be seduced by something amazing. Just keep an eye out for that dogma biting your assma. Dig what ya wanna dig, but keep an eye out for the rest of the awesomeness that is out there. A great deal of it might even support what you love.

scar friday1bwThe Holistic Athlete understands that movement is what the body, this glorious organic machine we’re all given, is for, and that the point of that movement is to form a relationship with mind, soul, planet and tribe. Without waxing profoundly (read: boringly) about the deeper processes of this relationship, join me, will ya, in exploring what our machines do. I’ve discussed the Bodytribe ideas of Movement Groups before, so now lets see the ultimate point of any of those movements. The skill groups of the body (although, in recent discussions, we might change the name to the Major Skill Chunks).

This isn’t new thought, but often the skill lists that already exist are long. I think MovNat is up to 13 skills (and dismisses a bunch of stuff as “unnatural.” Unnatural? All movement generated by the body is completely natural. It might not all be productive or safe or beneficial, but it is STILL our body, our organic machine.).

Too much for my tiny noggin. Keeping things simple, all physical movement can be thought of as 6 general categories, which we’ve discussed before (Push, Pull, Hips, Spine, Overhead, and of the optional Spice category). But these movements all exist to allow us to build our skills. In other words movements in themselves are simply tools for increasing skills, not skills themselves. And the 5 Foundation Skill categories are…

 

How to…

Stand
Get up
Fall
Crawl
and Flow.

Stand: This takes care of movements of running, walking, carrying, overhead pressing… ya know. Where the body is upright, creating support, flux and stabilization from a standing, upright position (even if it is upside down).

Get up (formerly called ‘Sit’): The process of down to up or up to down, which might be the hinging and straightening of the knees and hips (if you guessed squatting, lunging, deadlift, etc… you win!), but also includes climbing… getting up or down off of something.

Fall: Oh, a brilliant category that is so often ignored. The skill of absorbing force. Landing, catching and, of course, actually falling. This might be the most forgotten category for adults. I recently had someone tell me that this category was superfluous because it was a muscle action, sometimes known as explosive or accelerated eccentric action, therefor not a skill. Not a skill? Two important things to consider… we all need to understand how to do it, and most folks can’t. Ask any marital arts instructor… I’ll bet they’ve got stories of how any beginner doesn’t know how to land or fall.

gorilla odessa 2bwCrawl: These days this category gets press with the recent focus on ‘primal’ movements. But labeling movement ‘primal’ just seems like a fancy way of selling ‘human,’ but with connection to a different chronology. Again, that just gets too confusing. Ya wouldn’t tell an eight year old that crawling, rolling and tumbling are primal. To them, that’s just what the body does, among other things. Crawling, as a skill category, is getting connected to the ground using as many body parts as you can. If all the limbs are involved in connecting to the ground, it falls in this category. From very real crawling, to pushups and a handful of asanas.

Flow: Moving with grace and mastery. Your strength is not complete if it doesn’t lead to good movement patterns. Your mobility is lacking, no matter how great your range of motion becomes, if there is no quality and beauty in the movements. Many folks I’ve had the honor of working with find that breathing seems to be an important skill on its own. Absolutely. I’d put it under this Flow header.

Flow is where we start as humans, yet it is the skill we will spend the rest of our lives attempting to master.

Oh yes, I’m sure your adult brain is creating all sorts of additional categories (chunks) already (“what about throw?” “There’s always jumping”). I’ll bet they’ll fit nicely as a subcategory of any of these 5 Major Chunks. If that just chaps your hide, if you crave stats and heavy analysis and the days when you memorized everything Gary Gygax ever wrote, then by all means, create your massive, cross-referenced and complicated skill list. But this is simple human movement. In fact this list is how we learn movement from day one, although backwards than how I list it here. Here’s what I’m on about…

baby-liftThe Human Experience, Day One: Ya can’t do much. Heck, you don’t have fully formed knee caps. But as a little bundle of humanness you still crave discovering your place on this planet. Walking and talking are so far away as to be unreal, but you will still participate, damn it! Your arms and legs and fingers and toes and feet and hands will go anywhere they can… in there, over there, around there, up there.

We begin our quest to experience life with movement, but the only skill we have is Flow. Taking what freedom we have and going with it. Experimenting with space and filling up as much of it as we can with the little we’ve got. It is a big bummer that as we gain the potential for so many more movement discovery options, we actually limit ourselves into adulthood. Not the body’s choice, these limitations, by the way. And let’s remember that.

Half way through the first year: Knees in, Flow on and muscles forming, this big blue party fun ball called earth has more to offer us. So we add direction to our Flow. Hands and feet are now our own personal wheels, and baby, we’re going for a ride. What’s over there? Under here? Around that? Who are you? We can start answering these questions. Movement is knowledge, damn it!

But… what’s up there? Crawl, grab, pull, struggle… and Fall. This allows the muscles to strengthen, and our bodies begin to understand directional relationships even more. Movement is wisdom… and Strength!

75% through the first year: Falling was fun and all, but having a bit more reliance on these two chubby planks under our butt seems important. If we bend them, we can hang out in this upright, seated position for a while. In a few decades we’ll look back with envy at these mad Get up and squat skills, but for now we’re still trying to  simply not fall over. And we’re beginning to dream of going somewhere on just 2 wheels instead of 4.

The first year ends with us in the upright boogie. Standing! Holy cow, have you seen what we accomplished in the first year? We’re up, and moving! Suck it, gravity. Who’s the boss now?

funston me planche 1It has been said that we learn more in the first 2-3 years of life than we will the rest of our lives combined. Movement, and acquiring the strength to move, is not just a big part of that process… it IS that process. Movement is the tactile experience of the planet. Let’s not let that go to waste as our chronology (and sometimes waistband) expands. Move and learn.

Let’s expand on that. Move WELL and learn well. Move poorly and learn poorly. Move productively… well, you get the idea. Your lessons will reflect your movement choices. If we’re busy just to be busy, as is quite common in the fitness world right now, then the lessons are minimal. But movement with purpose, strength with intent…your humanness becomes defined. You Become, not just exist.

So many choices! Get moving. Are you a collection of movements only, or are your movements improving your Major Skill Chunks?

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Your Snatch, Your Ass, and Everything in Between

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Tamara and Nick proselytizing the tao of the lockout

Tamara and Nick proselytizing the tao of the lockout

Your ass makes your snatch better. Your snatch makes the world better. And the world makes you ass better. Or something like that. That was the gist of our weekend at Asheville Strength and Conditioning where I taught with Nick Horton and Tamara Reynolds. Our quest was to Create the Holistic Weightlifter, showing the concept of hylomorphism, or Soul/Body, through the intensity of highly athletic movement. All while nailing down some fundamental weightlifting concepts.

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The studious reader will spot the trends of all my Holistic workshop – no yawning, please – and find the message as blatant as ever…

Intensity, the magic intangible fairy dust where transformation resides, is rampant through our brand of movement. But we ignore it. We ignore the bridge between mind and body, between flesh and spirit, even though it is a prime opportunity for them the have an amazing dialog.

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Neuroscience, that school of wacky, brilliant boys and girls with beautiful grand ideas of figuring out how our solid bits and our ethereal bits can see eye-to-eye (so to speak), is falling short in its current research by zeroing in on intensity through the focus of a relatively passive vehicle. All the work being done in awareness and in the name of ‘mind-body’ seems to involve a body at rest, or near rest. But a flesh packet at war with gravity, the brutal recess of sinew and nervous system both pushing each other’s limits, creates a parade of intensity. Use that ass to snap the hips to get that bar over our heads to change our lives. So why aren’t the lab geeks checking out our snatches?

asheville 15Let’s not wait for them. Instead we’ll discover the relationship ourselves. And that was the beginning of the work we did over the weekend in Asheville. Deciding to embrace positive change in our lives, and be ambassadors of movement and strength for the sake of our tribes. All while digging in deep to technique, and some foundational program design for the newly curious weightlifter. Did I mention the hip snap? Ass!

The take home message: both physical and metaphysical strength are the result of and the cause of anything we care to make the connection with. If we can embrace that dialog between body and spirit, then strength infects everything we do, and is also the outcome of our journeys. From previous workshops I used a graphic like this…

Movement icon 1

Now let’s leave the top blank. Fill it in yourself.

Movement icon3

maggie 6There is no – none, zelch, goose egg, absolute zero, Capone’s vault – good reason why we shouldn’t pursue strength.

That was this weekend. Learning to use our ass on the Snatch and changing the world with a good jerk. How, pray tell, can that be wrong?

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