Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's Wrong with McGymnasium, in a single-serving conversation

Henry Emilio, you need to stay inside of mother for a couple of more weeks. Dad's got a a week of traveling to do!

So, as of the first draft of this entry, I'm on an airplane over to Sacramento, which will be followed up by a week-long drive back across the United States. We've all got the same, three options when we jump on an airplane. We could:
1. Sleep
2. Read
3. Find a single-serving friend

Any Fight Club fans out there? Remember that reference? Single Serving friends (SSF) are those people that you meet on an airplane who are your friends for as long as you're on the flight. That's your time. So, I opted to order a single serving friend rather than bust out the scary book that makes people leave me alone. If only you could get away with reading books like this on an airplane these days...

Oh, and don't look stuff like this up at the airport either. It makes your computer act screwy. I can't imagine why...

Apparently, I have big muscles, according to my SSF. Naturally, we started talking about training. By my admission, as most of you know, I'm a very unconventional strength trainer. I'm not much of fan of the McGym world as it's (de)evolved in the past 40 years. Naturally, this perked said-SSF's interest. What was wrong?

Well, if you're a fan of my blog then chances are you agree with me that there's way too much wrong with the whole gym picture. Still, I had to think for a second. How do you prioritize, in a 20 minute conversation, what's all wrong with LA Planet GoldBally's-World-McGymnasium? Well, this conversation wrapped and moved onto another topic and I felt confident, even a little proud, that I felt like I had made a serious breakthrough in this woman's mind.

First of all, SSF was a woman, and like any other woman who enters a gym, was bombarded with the notion that anything resembling the weight of a tomato can is all women should ever lift. Apparently, this is the huge difference between men and women exercising.

Okay, breathe, Justin_P. Now answer...

I've got a pretty boiler-plate answer for this one: I told her, just like I tell every other woman, that doing real, so-called men's, strength training, won't make a woman big. To get big, it's necessary to combine big lifting with big eating. Unless anyone, man or woman, adds 1,000-3,000 calories to their diet, they won't get big.

Exhibit A, Friend Allyson: Typical bulked-up female weightlifter.

So, SSF was big into flexibility. I've been asked this a lot about what I do for flexibility. My masseuse certainly did, especially since while I had the usual calcium build-up in my muscles of guy who likes to strength train, I lacked the tell-tale inflexibility. The answer is: not too much. I'd much prefer to do lots of multi-jointed exercises through a full range of motion. I've never been a fan of stretching. I just never got anything out of it. I'm of the opinion that if you don't move in a lot of different ways, it's not long before you can't move in a lot of different ways. Use it or lose it!

While we were on the topic, I told her I was a huge fan of the notion of training movements, not muscles too.

To top it all off, probably to her biggest astonishment, I told her about how the bulk of my training was BW-only. I mentioned my traveling schedule and how I even managed to get big on BW-strength training only. That's always good for a dropped jaw. I explained, using the pull-up, how just a simple grip change can dramatically alter how difficult a pull-up becomes while the weight never changes. The love affair with the iron isn't the only option to get strong!

We moved on to talking about more important things, like my son who should be arriving at any moment now. Still, it felt good to pull back a few bullshit blinders that too many people wear about getting and staying fit.

So, let me ask you: if you had 20 or less minutes to explain what's screwed up about training as the world knows it, what would be on your list of stuff to bring up?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Because I want to make sense of functionality

It has to be the most annoying adjective posted to training out there, sure to roll eyeballs and ignite flame wars about how stupid the users of such a foolish description of a noun ever applied to strength training: F-U-C-T-I-O-N-A-L. There's a standard line parroted in response to such insolence and it goes something like this: There's no such thing as un-functional training. All training serve a function because it helps you reach a goal.

func·tion·al adj \ˈfəŋ(k)-shnəl, -shə-nəl\ Definition of FUNCTIONAL 1a : of, connected with, or being a function b : affecting physiological or psychological functions but not organic structure 2: used to contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole ; also : designed or developed chiefly from the point of view of use 3: performing or able to perform a regular function

It's spelled out right there. Functional is doing something towards a goal. If you're functional training, and you're training to do something, then the training is functional. Fabricated solution to a problem that didn't exist, right? I'M FUNCTIONAL, MOTHERFUCKER!
Or is this a case of bad wording? Is it kind of like calling skin cancer a blemish? Or, more to the point, is the outcome of the training, the goal of the training, good for anything other than the goal itself? I think that most of us can agree that too much of the training going on out there is too narrowly focused on achieving one facet of strength that it cuts into the body's ability to perform other tasks of differing strengths. It's all for the game that it's practiced for. It's been said before: strength is ability. The more able you are, the stronger you are. Heavily-myopic focus eventually makes a weaker person.

So, what is, um, functional training, so-to-say? Okay, I'll start using another term... when I think of something else to use. Just bear with me in the meantime. Back to training talk...

First of all, since I've supplemented BW training with lifting objects a year or so ago, I've lifted strange stuff, lifted stuff strange, and done strange lifts. I could give you a list of lifts that I use in real life but honestly, not a huge amount of what I do really imitates any lift by the numbers. Sure, I do a lot of deadlifting-like movement but it's usually odd-shaped object with an uneven-stance on uneven ground, sometimes back-rounded (I know, I know...) and nothing remotely nice to grab as a bar made for me to grip in the first place. Actually, since I spend a lot of time in water (of various stages of not-sewer-anymore) up to my knees, I lift stuff in a manner that looks more like a Goodmorning than it does a deadlift. I don't want to get my ass wet or water in my waders after all.

I've lost count of how many time's I've lifted stuff (sort of) like this!

If you're one of those that gets a little hairy about that round-back lift thing, sorry, sometimes there really isn't any other way. The other reason why some stuff in real life isn't duplicated in the gym is because it shouldn't be. Manual labor and sports alike have one thing in common: a lot of the shit that's done will, to varying degrees of speed, destroy the body. Training should focus on strengthening the body to withstand the abuse. It shouldn't be trained to do abusive stuff even more abusively.

I got a chuckle a while back when I first came in contact with the concept of eccentric lifting. That's yet another example of bad wording because that doesn't exist. Lifting is a concentric movement. eccentric movement puts something down under control. THAT'S NOT LIFTING! This is one of those training concepts that exists without a little bit of good sense. As far as I'm concerned, had most people been as concerned with putting whatever they're lifting down as they were about getting it up in the first place (and not dropping it), there would be no issue with eccentric training. In real life, the chances that you have to carefully put down whatever you lift are pretty high. If you pick up two or three bags of concrete (doesn't everybody?) you carefully place them on the ground! Nobody appreciates you dropping their boxes when you help them move either!

Oh, and about the max strength thing: it's nice but it's not always where it's at. More often than not, it's far more important to be strong over a long period of time than it is to be insanely strong for only 15-20 seconds. That doesn't get the snow shoveled faster any more than it gets all 10 bags of that concrete I mentioned above out of the pick-up truck that you're going to put down nicely. Hey, what about those 20 boxes of tiles?

That brings me to another point that I should have reiterated earlier: Most stuff gets picked up off the ground. Get good at doing that!

What I'm probably getting at is getting a body strong for doing more manual labor. Those of us who do a lot of it get a chuckle at watching those who train for strength games fail at being able to sustain any kind of any kind of serious, physical job for any longer than a few, fleeting moments. It seems wrong because it is wrong. We know imbalanced strength when we see it and once seen, it's hard to deny that it's a method of training that's flat-out wrong.

Then again, with the proliferation of desk work and people who hire others do to their dirty jobs for them, most people will never realize any of what I'm talking about. They'll probably be perfectly happy fractionalizing their strength, treating it like a game or a hobby with little or no bearing or carry-over into a physical life. As far as they're concerned, "functonality" will just be a marketing pitch with no other meaning beyond that. Yes, it's horribly mislabeled but I'd like to think that what people are taking about when they misuse the word is that they're trying to be as physically capable for anything as possible.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Come a little closer and I'll tell you the secret behind Kettlebells

Kettlebells are a great tool, but since the explosion of the kettlebell cults, dumbbells have taken a backseat in training. Funny, but no one ever takes a picture with a dumbbell, yet I see more shots every day of people carrying a kettlebell like it was his or her first-born.

I have nothing against kettlebells and use them in my training. I just wonder if the KB explosion would've ever happened without the Internet? Kettlebell shirts, kettlebell necklaces...

Poor dumbbells, I'll miss them.

Martin Rooney

You won't miss them for long, Martin. Pretty soon, someone, 15 years from now, will resurrect dumbbells as a long-lost training secret! Then, you'll feel even cooler knowing that you were ahead of the curve, doing DB's before they were cool! Hell, you'll have one even better: you'll have the training secrets behind dumbbells! Then, you're a millionaire!

Yeah, I jumped on the KB bandwagon almost two years ago myself, working out with them pretty steadily since. I have a practical consideration for my choice since I work out in low ceilings that really put a pinch on what I can press overhead with. Otherwise, I like working out with them.

They're kind of awkward.

Actually, that might be a significant and that might be a practical reason, outside of some legendary marketing, why they caught on. I've heard a lot about their history and a few explanations as to why they died out. Since that part is a little vague, I'm going to take the liberty of assuming that they died out because they were awkward, and therefore limited the amount of weight that could be lifted. If you could say one thing about strength training equipment, or fitness equipment in general, is that for a while (and in a way), it evolved to make training with it easier. Easier, that is, to move more weight. Most everything that's come out was geared to make it as easy as possible to move the most amount of metal.

Kettlebells turned out to be the first major reversal of that trend in the past half-century. If anything, equipment seems to have gone from high tech and machine- oriented to simple and odd.

Now, the one thing that kind of annoys me isn't the tool itself but the insanely cultish methodology that's caked up around them. As far as I'm concerned, there is no "kettlebell training." Just about everything that can be done with one can be done with a dumbbell. Maybe it's not the same feel, but frankly people need to stop being so damn picky. There's still a workout to be done there!

So, I understand the irritation surrounding the KB but that doesn't mean that the cult's methodology taints the tool irrepairably. Just because they don't go much over 100 lbs and everyone's doing strength-endurance style workouts doesn't mean that other, more sexy strength can't be built. After all, it's an odd-shaped object. It doesn't need to be heavy to make you strong! Find a different way to lift it, that's all!

So, yeah, they're awkward. That's cool. They might be your thing. If they are, then have fun with them and get some good work done! It's like every other tool that you can use to get into shape: it's what you put into it that gets the work done.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The magic potions never stop coming

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you'll know that I'm no fan of supplements. In fact, for the most part, I downright despise them. It's often a comforting thought to assume that our training has evolved way past the ancient Greeks in the sense that we don't believe that some magic potion mixed up by a crackpot pseudo-religious oracle-shyster will make you bigger, stronger and faster than the next guy. The reality is that we haven't and the snake-oil carbetbagging of the American Reconstructionist period probably settled in Utah and became the modern supplement industry as we know it.

There might be a pattern to the supplement industry. In fact, you could call it the unofficial business model. Ready for it? Here it is, in a nutshell:

1. Find a semi-edible waste product from somewhere.
2. Turn it into a supplement
3. Find a quack doctor or scientist to come up with a bunch of half-bullshit claims about it.
4. Hand it over to the bodybuilding world...

Seriously, some of the most popular supplements out there right now came to us from WASTE PRODUCTS!

Let's start with the most flagrant, possibly the most dangerous: soy protein products. The modern soy protein supplements came to us compliments of the peeps (namely Henry Ford, one of the biggest advocates of the American Eugenics movement, I might add) who used soybean oil for industrial lubricants and paints. Someone must have realized that the defatted soy meal could be sold as a food product, maybe after finding out that people in Asia ate a lot of soy. They live a long time... maybe we can feed this stuff we just soaked in solvents to people! Now, all that was needed was to find some doctors, scientists, and studies to back it up...

Okay, so much of soy ends up, somehow, as a food product, including the oil. Still, a lot of that oil is extracted with Hexane. Yum.

Well, at least whey is a bit less dubious in terms of its origins and safety. If you look up whey in Wikipedia, it doesn't take long to figure out where the idea of whey supplements came from...
Whey or milk plasma is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a by-product of the manufacture of cheese or casein and has several commercial uses. Sweet whey is manufactured during the making of rennet types of hard cheese like Cheddar or Swiss. Acid whey (also known as "sour whey") is obtained during the making of acid types of cheese such as cottage cheese.
Hey, look on the bright side: you may have been suckered into buying the left-overs of Velveta or cheese-whizz, but at least it came from food manufacturing rather than paint manufacturing. Okay, maybe it's not Velveta. Maybe you could pretend your Whey protein was left over from a more dignified cheese. Maybe it's Cabot Extra sharp, which is a really good cheese, I might add. Not Paleo, mind you but still very good!

The biggest joke of all might be fish oil supplements. If you want to pull your hair out, try finding out what fish they use to make most of these Omega-3 supplements (Did you REALLY think it was coming from tuna and salmon? ). I found out, years ago in a magazine. I'm sure whoever wrote that article got bitch-slapped pretty hard by the supplement makers because I can't find the name of that damned, little fish. I do remember this: IT'S A FUCKING GARBAGE FISH! Maybe it's this little guy!

Seriously, it's a tiny, little bony fish that's completely inedible because there's so little meat on it it's barely any good for bait! It does have one thing going for it though: it's oily as hell! So, these little shit-fish are rounded up, put in a screw press, and squeezed for all their worth: their oil. Then, they filter out the little bits of bone, eyeball and scale, put it in a capsule, and VOILA! Fish oil supplement! Pay your $15.00 a bottle now...

All of this crap brings back shades of the early 20th century's thought process that food is, somehow inadequate on it's own and that science is desperately needed to make it perfect, or at least better. Even with the explosion of the organic food market, there's still a healthy number of unhealthy people who think that health comes from pills. Even if that were true, it's NOT coming from these concoctions that I just described. Supplement makers don't have to prove to anyone that what they're making and selling will do anything that they say that it will. They even go one step farther in the intelligence-insult-assault by getting people who didn't build their bodies with these things to say that they did. I could keep going on but that should tell you all you need to know about the state of the supplement industry these days.