Friday, May 4, 2012

So, what is practical?

A while back, I mentioned that I'd love to get rid of the hideously over-abused adjective, "functional," in relation to any kind of physical training.  I still think that a far better term for the idea that everyone keeps getting at but uses this increasingly stupid term incorrectly is practical.  As far as I'm concerned, that implies that there's some good sense in doing whatever it is  you're doing. 

That last post zeroed in on that dumb-ass Nautilus Lat machine that worked that piece of meat-real estate without using the hands (oh, GREAT IDEA THERE).  Let's back that out a bit and ask ourselves what's practical to do in the gym that has some carry-over to real life?  That's a huge, loaded question that I'll break down into more posts in the future.  For now, I'm going to zero in on something that's crossing my grey matter at the moment:  rep range. 

What goes on in a gym and what goes on outside of it sometimes conflicts with each other more than it should.  Then again, with many people making a living sitting down most of the time, the practicality gap is understandable.  A lot of people don't make a living with physical labor. 

A little while back, we hired a guy who did a few years in jail and, in my experience, demonstrated the typical jail-house look:  massive upper body with modest (at best) lower body development.  When there was something that needed serious, upper body horsepower/max strength, this guy was impressive, so long as you didn't need to do anything with him afterwards.  He was as worthless as having a pair of tits in a gay bar afterwards.  In other words, he had nothing resembling strength endurance. 

Max Strength rules many places of strength as the undisputed best goal to maximize.  That's a little odd considering so much of what we do outside of the gym has little to do with max strength anyway.  I don't see manual labor as a total strength endurance proposition but the best workers are able to keep up something physically difficult for longer than most. 

While the gym might suffer from lack of carry-over into real life, real life has some carry-over into the gym.  Most of your max effort movement-arrangements are things that you might be able to do now but not later.  Today, maybe, but not tomorrow.  You really don't have total ownership of it if you can't readily duplicate it do you?  Isn't there something satisfying about conquering something to the point of being able to do it repetitively?  What's truly impressive is when you can do something really fucking hard over and over again!  As far as I'm concerned, that kind of mastery of an exercise is what's impressive...

...and practical. 

1 comment:

Afonin said...

Good post, as usual. Just to play devil's advocate, though:
This is pretty obvious, but not everyone trains just to be 'practical'. If your jailhouse man looked powerful up top and had the bench/overhead or whatever to match, he was probably pretty happy and didn't give a damn what he could do in terms of manual labor. Not everyone does. After all, most of the population doesn't have to lift anything heavier than a laptop so if you're in decent condition and look athletic, at least, you're attractive to the majority and way ahead of the pack performance wise.

Now, as for that nautilus machine. I've never got the chance to try one but I've always kinda wanted to. Enough bodybuilders use a pullover-type device, and speak highly of it that it must be pretty useful for its intended purpose--increasing lat size, with some side benefits of shoulder flexibility. Despite its stupid appearance, if it can make my lats bigger and stronger, it's useful. More size = more strength potential (for other exercises, if I want), and big lats are cool in my book. The movement itself does not have to be practical or functional, imo, for it to be useful. Same goes for exercises like the pjr pullover. If it can build size it can be useful. Just don't neglect the 'practical' movements if you want to be 'practical'.
Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who obsesses over pullups/chins and has for years. I just wouldn't throw something out the window because it doesn't look like a practical movement pattern.