Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why I train... and why I'm not writing as much

The header on this blog reads that I post two new entries a week. I don't know if my regular readers have noticed but for the past month or so, I haven't met my self-imposed goal for blog entries. Longer-term readers probably also notice that around this time of year, my blog output starts to drop off. This is my really busy time at work. This year, it's exacerbated by a key employee walking out at pretty much the worst possible time: right now. So, my life just got more chaotic, my free time shaved down, and my overall stress level elevated.

We all have these kind of times in our lives and especially in our training goals. A lot of strength trainers build their training around sports. Even those who don't do sports model their training around those who do. After all, goals are inherent in sports. Routines get crafted, equipment is acquired, training environment is established and modified to suit the goals.

I put up two goals for myself this year. The first one was to climb a 3" thick rope. The second was to complete Andy Patterson's and Michael Rideout's Magic 200 challenge. I finished off that one but the rope climb has been elusive. Basically, my ability to train with rope hinges on availability of finding someplace where I can hang a rope at least 14' off the ground. Or, more specifically, do I have a forklift available to hang my rope? That hasn't been a given this year.

I like challenges as much as any of us, don't get me wrong. Thing is, I can't afford to revolve my training around a fixed goal. If I hinged my ability to train towards a goal as the whole reason why I train in the first place...well... I might not be doing much of anything in the way of regimented, intense movement.

Still, there's a goal that I always keep in mind and I train towards: I want to keep the aging process away for as long as possible. Okay, I haven't even gotten to 30 yet but I'm still keeping it in mind. Looking ahead, I don't want to be that person who has the long, painful decline into death. I don't subscribe to the notion that such a life is an impossibility. That's why I look up to people like Jack Lalanne so much.

Oh... good article...along the same lines as what I'm talking about!

The nice thing about this goal is that I can always train towards it and keep it in sight, no matter how little I have to train with or how much my training environment is altered.

In the meantime, I'll try to get some more stuff posted soon. If you'll excuse me, I've got to get ready to head west to Sacramento...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You, the Caveman

Much of modern humanity has done something that's presumably unique in Earth's history. There are enclaves on this planet that have managed to bend nature to their will rather than the other way around. If you're reading this, then chances are good that you don't have to worry about killing, catching, digging up, or gathering your food. Chances are also good that many, many generations of your family tree haven't had to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The notion of living off the land is merely fodder for dreary, post-apocalyptic movies as far as you're concerned.
There's just one problem: our bodies haven't adapted to this new reality of this environment nearly as fast as we've managed to shape it. While the thoughts and worries of day-to-day survival drifts farther out of our minds, our body still operates on that premise. Where that becomes problematic is our lack of realization of this and how it relates to how we take care of our bodies. That's why I don't think that articles about how cavemen function are hype. If we're going figure out how to live, we need to understand the "why's" of how our body works.
We may not eat like him, but we still function like him!

I've read several articles in the past year and a half about how our we get fat. I've forgotten most of what I read but I didn't miss the bigger picture: our bodies have a lot of different ways to get fat. There's easily a half-dozen hormones that could be released that trigger the growth of blubber. Maybe more. The take-away lesson: Every body loves fat and it does anything it can to get it! That's why arguing about low calorie vs. low carb dieting is pointless. High calorie diets will make you fat. So will high carb diets. Fat is the body's energy bank account when the food runs away or dies off for the season. Look around outside if the leaves are falling off the trees where you live: every animal's doing everything it can to get fat! We used to have to do that too. Our body hasn't gotten the memo. It's still trying to do everything it can to get fat.

This also dispels another, bullshit notion: being fat is genetic. Well, not exactly. It might be genetic, yes. Thing is: WE'RE ALL DESIGNED TO GET FAT!

We can't leave out movement either. Face it: too many of us don't move enough. I guess the modern world assumed that after working ourselves to death (which we don't do these days... NOT BY A LONGSHOT!) by our mid 40's for the first 10,000 years of our existence, life would be heaven... if. we. barely. moved. at. all. We move so little that we seemed to have forgotten how to move properly. So, when the sedentary decide that it's a damn-good time to start moving, they turn to... I can understand why most people turn to some kind of long-slow distance running as a means of re-igniting the desire to move. It's one of the few activities that you don't really need anything to do. You don't need a machine or gear (although "they" have convinced a lot of people that they do!) to do it. There's just one problem: that's not what we were built to do! We've got two basic types of muscle: fast twitch and slow twitch. Many of us know this, and we know what they're all about. In case you don't...

Fast Twitch=powerful, intense, contractions. last no longer than 60 seconds
Slow Twitch=much less intense and powerful contractions. lasts for a long time.

There is no such thing as a medium twitch muscle fiber. When we were troglydtes, we journeyed over massive swaths of land over a period of days or weeks or we moved with great intensity for very brief periods of time. We weren't designed to move kinda fast for sort-of long periods of time. The first Marathon runner died after he finished. So, if you're new (again) to moving remember this when you exercise: move in a strong, intense manner or move very, very slowly. Forget the in-between shit!

While you're strength training keep this in mind too: if you're trying to get as strong as possible, you're failing. No, really... you're probably not even using a fraction of your muscle power. That's what you don't hear about much when discussing different types of strength: absolute strength. We only contract our muscles with a fraction of it's full-force potential. The mind only releases this extra power when it senses a life-or-death need to do so. Releasing this kind of power usually injures tendons and ligaments. This explains the mom picking up the car stories... or The Mighty Atom. Or, as so wonderfully chronicled in the Discovery Channel in The Human Body: Pushing the Limits(<----THIS IS A HINT...BUY THIS!!! ),the story of the guy who pushed a 1,000 lbs rock off his chest to avoid being simultaneously crushed and thrown off a cliff...

Let's just play devil's advocate for a moment: what if you could? When the mind senses a need, it will force the body to do it's bidding. That guy who threw the boulder off his chest tore some muscles up and gave himself the mother lode of tendinitis doing so. Compared to dying, that's a fair trade-off. Is getting a too-big weight off the ground, with the same results, for the sake of pride a worthwhile trade-off?

We can verify a lot of conclusions about how our body works by examining why it would need to work that way. Even as we advance our technology and modify the relationship between ourselves and our environment, we need to keep in mind that our past is still alive and well within our bodies, regardless of whether or not these adaptations serve a purpose or not anymore. One thing that we haven't been able to bend to our will is our body's function and regardless of what many say, science doesn't hold any promise of changing that. We still have to adapt our behavior to our bodies.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Death Walk

Is it called a duck walk or an elephant walk? Since I'm out here in the world, strength training usually not in a gym and almost always alone, I don't know what some people may have dubbed certain exercise moves. I figured someone must have grabbed onto the ends of a sandbag, picked it up, and walked with the bag at knee-level before I thought of it. I just had never heard of anyone doing it, or what they might call it. So, I figured that the elephant walk would be as good of a name as any. David Lemanczyk informed me that, in Strongman, it's referred to as the duck walk. He did agree with my thought that "elephant," sounded much more cool and tough tough than, "duck."

Dave's one of those guys you just don't want to believe when he shows up on a forum board. 6'3", 200-whatever pound guy who works out with a 170 lbs sandbag, can partially squat 1,000 lbs, and can do a one mile, 100 lbs sandbag carry in about 15 minutes? Yeah, WHATEVER... JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER, LYING, FUCKING GEEK 17 YEAR OLD WUSSY ON THE FORUMS! A closer review of his web site and his youtube page reveals...

Dave lemanczyk is a 6'3" 200-whatever-lbs guy who works out with a 170 lbs sand bag, can partially squat 1,000 lbs, and can carry a 100 lbs sandbag one mile in about 15 minutes. No keyboard-warrior here!

Anyway, Dave reported doing this on Rosstraining about a week ago and it really inspired me. As you've probably noticed, I've really gotten into working out with sandbags lately. I've done a lot of carry work with them but usually preceded by some sort of squat work, usually a Zercher squat to zercher carry. By the time I'm getting to walking with the sandbag, my upper back and arms are half-gone from holding the bag, cutting back on how far I can carry the sandbag. I usually only go 50-60 paces.

Dave put the idea in my head to do some sort of longer-distance carry work-only. If you haven't figured it out, I'm kind of opinionated and I'm a strong individualist who likes to do things my way. Besides, I couldn't decide HOW I wanted to do a long-distance sandbag, farmer's walk. There are a lot of ways to hold a sandbag. I have the problem with choosing ice cream flavors too. I decided to take the same route that I do with ice cream: all of them.

That's how I came up with this workout that decided to give an even-cooler appellation: the death walk. I do this workout on weekends when I'm killing time at work. The job site that I'm working on has a circular driveway that measures in at 210 paces, one time around. So, every time I went around, I did a different walk with the sandbag, alternating between the easier ones and the harder ones. This isn't too hard to determine: farmer's walks that place the weight over the spine, closer to the body, and don't use the arms and grip as much are easier. Here's the batting order:

Across the Shoulders
left shoulder
Elephant Walk
Right shoulder
Across the Shoulders
Bear Hug

Obviously, the three easier carries are pretty self-explanatory. In the event that I'm double-labeling some of these, I'll explain further...

This is probably the hardest of the bunch. Carrying a bag overhead really does a number on probably every muscle originating or inserting into the scapula. What's less obvious is the the incredible need for wrist and forearms stability while doing this. Plus, you can't get this one over with fast. Walk too fast and that bag gets harder to hold steady! No, you have to suck up the pain on this one and walk more deliberately.

Elephant Walk
While the Overhead might be the hardest, the Elephant is the most annoying. Trying to hold that bag at, or slightly above, the knee fries the biceps and the grip. Letting it fall below the knee dramatically shortens the length of your stride. Either way, the constant slam of your legs into the bag makes the bag move a lot, making your core work over-time. Did I say it was annoying? Too gentle of a description...IT'S FLAT-OUT MISERABLE!

I'm going to keep up the tradition of calling any exercise with this arm positioning the Zercher. That way, I'm pretty certain everyone will know what I'm talking about. Either way, this is a good one for the biceps and the Traps, UPPER, MID, AND LOWER!

Regardless of the way that the sandbag is carried, I find that I get the most out of any of them by trying my damnest to maintain proper posture as much as possible. This detail makes every sandbag walk, no matter how "easy"... hard work! No sagging shoulders, bent wrists, or slouching under the weight! It's also probably a good idea for your overall health. If posture can't be maintained, then a lightened sandbag might be in the order. In my not-humble, not-professional opinion, You should use a sandbag that's borderline-really-fucking-difficult to carry for two minutes.

This is the kind of conditioning work that I like doing the most. Carrying a heavy, awkward object has got to be the epitome of the often abused-misused term, "real world functional strength." I have to take my hat of to Dave-L for giving me the kick in the ass to realize that carry work with the sandbag can be an awesome workout, all on it's own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Best

Always be on the lookout for knowledge. You never know where you’re going to find it and it’s also surprising how you can find something useful about one issue when looking for answers to something entirely different. Several weeks ago, I was in church listening to the priest talk about the latest gospel. Among the things that he mentioned, he talked about being good enough for God’s standards and how the effort to be the best at earthly things often times ran contradictory to the goal of being the person that God wants us to be.

These words hit me quite differently two weeks later. My wife and I took my grandmother to see her sister in upstate New York. My wife felt like driving, which bored me to tears. Everyone was still tired from waking up so early so with nothing to do but sit silently and get car sick from my wife’s driving (no easy task), I picked up the latest issue of Muscle and Fitness out of sheer boredom. The latest issue discussed the training of the stars of the Expendables. Actually, it only discussed the physically largest stars of the Expendables: Stallone, Dolph Lundren, Randy Couture, and Terry Lewis. The writers of the article took the time to dead-pan the cast of “300” as merely 175 lbs actors with body paint.
Guys who look like they could kill 25 people
The next article afterwards was a very interesting juxtaposition: Real life war heroes. Real life “Expendables.” Of course, none of these Expendables looked liked the previous, fictional “Expendables.”
Guy who actually did kill 25 people!
That's when something occured to me. A lot of the training that people do is to be the best, or at least better. In theory, superlatives aren't subject to people's thoughts and feelings on the topic. That's not true though. We're unable to figure out for sure who was, or is, the best. Plus, defining the best would have to be based on criteria made by other people. There are a lot of man-made standards out there. Was Paul Anderson stronger than Matt Kroczaleski? Or is Ron Coleman way more powerful than both? It's hard to say since one was a powerlifter and the other did mostly Olympics lifting. Coleman is a bodybuilder.

That brings another question up: is that standard of strength that we're judged by worth meeting? Do we really want to take enough steroids to keep up with Coleman? Do warriors in battle need to be as imposing as Dolph Lundren to survive combat? Where does your health fit into this equation? Paul Anderson was a big, powerful man but live long enough to collect social security, something most people in the USA were. He was born with a kidney condition that doomed him but could he have hung around longer if he trained differently?

Being the best in these strength games are just that: games. I'm not trying to say that's a bad thing. Certainly I'd think it's a more constructive use of time to lift big, heavy shit than to waste time on the internet arrogantly talking-up how tough you are or playing GI Joe-like strongman comparison's. At the end of the day, it's all exercise, something that most in Western society sorely lack these days too.

Let's not confuse games' overall worth in our lives. The games we play, and the training we do, should be to fulfill ourselves, be it emotionally or physically. Things go wrong when we seek a sense of fulfillment from others.

..."and may the god of your choice bless you!"