Friday, February 5, 2016

That $500 T-Shirt

You knew it was only a matter of time.  Last weekend I had to re-up my Level 1 Certification, and I decided to go through with it mostly because I know how highly you all value my credentials and that the gym would simply be lost without them.  But all joking aside, there were some valuable takeaways from the 18-hour course slammed into a single weekend.  There were some great reminders and re-education on coaching techniques, with a much needed "back to basics" mentality.  I picked up a life-altering cue for the strict ring muscle-up, which I actually knew previously but simply forgot over the course of the last 5 years1.  And I got to listen to a guy with an English accent talk about intensity for two days, so that's always a plus.  

But as is always the case, the success of any undertaking hinges solely on one factor and one factor alone:  the quality of the T-Shirt.  I mean, essentially that's what we're really paying for, right?  And I must say that in this regard, it appears HQ has really stepped up their game with some high-quality blended-fabric Reebok apparel.  At my original cert in 2011, they handed out some of those crappy Hanes 100% cotton shirts.  You know, the ones you can get a 4-pack of at Wal-Mart for $1.99?  And they're so cheap because they can only be worn once, at which point you have wash them and render them useless by changing the fit and feel to roughly that of a cardboard box?  Yeah, those.  But what has struck me today is not the quality of the new shirts, but rather what is scrawled on the back of them.  Here it is:

Copyright CrossFit.  Trademark CrossFit.  All rights reserved.  CrossFit.  Please don't sue me.

For those of you lacking in higher education, this is what CF refers to as "The Theoretical Hierarchy of the Development of an Athlete."  This is fancy-talk for "A Pyramid of Important Workout Stuff."  The part I want to call your attention to today is the base.  This is where they place Nutrition, and on this point CF and I could not agree more.  Which totally explains why we spent the vast majority of last weekend's cert discussing the topic of nutrition in-depth, exploring with an open mind various types of nutritional approaches with their benefits and drawbacks, and discussing how to potentially implement these with our membership ... yet amazingly we only spent 20 minutes humping a PVC pipe during a very forgettable portion of just one of the days.  Oh wait, sorry.  Scratch that last sentence - and completely reverse it.

Nutrition might be the base of the hierarchy, but clearly the rungs and frame are all built out of Schedule 40.

 I kid CF, I kid!  But I think we all may be guilty here in some way2.  We know nutrition is the base, we know it's the foundation and the most important piece of the pyramid - yet we tend to push it to the bottom of our priority list or ignore it completely in many cases.  I don't know exactly why this is.  Maybe it's because nutrition is difficult; there's so much (bad) information out there right now, and everything you read conflicts with something else you read.  Maybe it's because eating is emotional; we share meals with friends and family and at social gatherings, and we don't always eat just because we're hungry.  Maybe it's because most people now defend their particular views on eating with a sort of religious veracity, as if their point-of-view on "clean eating"3 is the only one true path to health.  Or maybe it's simply because most of us have been met with nothing but incredible frustration whenever we try to implement changes in our diets.  Who really knows all the reasons why, but the fact is that it's a lot harder to change our eating habits than it is to do some squats or conditioning work.

Unless of course we're talking about Paused Overhead Squats, in which case I think we'd all rather chug a broccoli-kale smoothie.

All of these are pretty good reasons to just throw our hands up in the air, give up, and avoid the topic of nutrition and diet altogether.  That would surely be the easy way out.  We (BARx) have made some attempts in the past to focus on diet through a few "challenges" that we did over the course of 8-10 weeks at various points throughout the last 3 years.  I've analyzed the available data on those attempts, and spent many a sleepless night reflecting on them.  And today I have an important confession for you:  they were all failures.  Now, that doesn't mean there weren't some people who saw some success or positive outcomes from these challenges - it simply means that as a whole, we had a lot more people who didn't.  There were some high points and some good takeaways, but the vast majority of people saw no tangible benefit.  And that is unacceptable.  But the good news is that I typically only stumble onto my face 7 or 8 times before I figure out exactly what went wrong.  And after a lot of reflection and a lot of research into some unconventional topics that have little to do with diet and fitness, I think I've come up with a damn good solution.

So that's your reward for trudging through yet another one of my posts4:  you get to be the first to hear the news.  I am starting a nutrition program at BARx, and it's going to be unlike anything we've ever seen or tried.  There won’t be any goals laid out beforehand.  There won’t be some elaborate tracking system handed down to you on the first day.  We’re not even going to concern ourselves with what you’re eating and when you’re eating it for the first couple months.  We won't be weighing ourselves or our food every day, unless that’s a habit you already happen to have.  There will be no promise of results in 30, 60, or even 90 days.  This is not a diet “challenge”: this is training.  And hopefully we can build some habits that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

Please email me personally if you're interested in learning more.  Space will be limited for the first group, mostly because I want to make sure I get this off the ground properly.  I can't give away all the details just yet, but it's important that you know that this is open to anybody and everybody at our gym, regardless of past experiences, fitness level, or current diet regimen.  It's also important to remember up front that I have no real credentials:  I'm not a doctor, a trained nutritionist, or a scientist.  I don't have a 12-year degree to help me figure out that we shouldn't drink 7 Mountain Dew's every day.  I'm simply a coach with an idea, some good experience, a lot of passion for this particular topic, and a willingness to help ... Oh, and a $500 T-shirt.

I know you're wondering what the muscle-up cue is.  Get to work on your strict pull ups and dips and maybe I'll let you know one day.

 By using the term we in this context, I hope you realize that I'm referring to everybody except me.  So ... you.↩

 I'll probably give this a post all its own someday, but I have absolutely come to loathe the term clean eating.  You should join me in this, and every time you hear it feel free to go ahead and throat punch whoever said it.↩

 I purposefully embedded this very important announcement at the bottom of the post, to weed out those who don't have the attention span to read a 5-minute article.↩

Friday, January 29, 2016

Failing At The Margins

As a follow-up to my pancake1 post from last week, I had a thought the other day that I believe is worth sharing.  And the thought is this:  I am getting really good at making pancakes.  I mean, the last few days have been absolute works of art:  slightly crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, just the right size and consistency, with plenty of flavor.   One might assume that I started out this way, as a natural pancake-making expert, with a huge amount of innate talent and ability.  But upon closer examination, this isn't even close to true.  I've been making pancakes every day for about a month now, and I started to think back on some of those first experiences: one day they were too runny, one day too chunky, one day I burned them, one day I added too many blueberries and they fell apart, one day I didn't add enough cinnamon, one day I added so much cinnamon that it made my nostrils burn.  One day I even tried to make one massive 12" pancake ... that didn't turn out so well.  Some of those mistakes were even repeated several times in varying combinations.

Why is this?  Why did I suck so bad at making pancakes at first?  Well truth be told, this was the first time in my life that I had ever decided to make any.  All of the pancakes that I ate growing up were cooked for me, and after that I just never had the opportunity to make my own.  In fact, I probably took about a 12-year hiatus from pancakes altogether.  Part of this is probably due to the large chunk of my adult life that I spent avoiding grains and sugar because I didn't want heart disease, cancer, and my testicles to fall off2.  As CrossFit might put it, in those early attempts at pancakery I was failing at the margins of my experience.  Which is a really just a nice way of saying that we tend to suck badly at the things we never do.  My pancake skills were lacking simply because I'd never made pancakes before.  Practice may not necessarily make us perfect, but it sure as hell makes us a lot better than we were without it.  Astonishing revelations, I know.

I really struggle with the snatch, and I don't understand why.  I've been sitting on the couch for 8 years which is basically the same thing.  Where is the transfer??

Now I think we'd all agree that making pancakes is a pretty simple task.  After 3-4 weeks of consistent daily practice, even the dullest among us can make marked improvements (I've proved it).  But what about something more complex - like oh I don't know - a ring dip or a barbell front squat?  Or getting really good at fitness or sport in general?  Sure these are a bit more complex than buttery slabs of floury goodness, but they follow the same general rules.  Work on them, and we will get better - albeit at a much slower rate.  Practice.  Make mistakes.  Fail.  Then try again tomorrow.  Maybe we make the same mistakes again.  Maybe it takes a year or two to rid ourselves of them and move on.  But this is how progress is made, and it starts with simply showing up and trying.  There are few - if any - exceptions to this rule.

This is more than just practical advice on how to get better at something.  Rather, it's an attitude and a point of view that could quite possibly change the way we look at success and ability.  Let me give an example of what I'm talking about here.  When I took my first ever CrossFit intro class over 8 years ago, one of the movements we learned that day was the ring dip.  The instructor asked me to jump up on the rings and first test that I could do a static hold in the top of the dip position.  No problem there.  Then she asked me to see how many ring dips I could perform.  I did 7 or 8, much to the astonishment of the coach and the others in the class.  It's like my one claim to fame.  And I'd be willing to bet they were probably thinking the same thing that goes through a lot of our heads when we see somebody accomplishing something we can't yet do ourselves:  that's not fair.  Look at this jackass, just walks into his first CrossFit class and bangs out 8 ring dips?  I've been working my ass off for two years!  WTF!

Afterwards I did a couple with one arm, but at that point I was really just showing off.

 Maybe we should take a little closer look at what these people were probably at that moment justifying as "raw talent" or "luck."  Rewind about 10 years, and I couldn't do a single push up or pull up and had never lifted a weight in my life.  Then I lost a bunch of weight and suddenly I could do a few.  I was hooked.  Years after that, when I started going to an actual gym and graduated from simple body weight exercises in my parent's basement, movements like the bench press, dips, pull ups, and upper body accessory work made up the bulk of my training.   You know, because gainz.  And also because I didn't know any better.  Fast forward a few years from that, and I'd gotten pretty good at body weight movements involving the upper body.  Then I take a CrossFit intro class where I'm asked to do a slightly different variation of something that I've been doing for quite some time in one form or another.  And amazingly, I was pretty decent at them.  But the reality is that ring dips were not at the margins of my experience, not even close.  What appeared to be raw ability or a gift from above was actually a decade of work that culminated in a moment of glory in front of 3 people in a stinky CrossFit gym in St. Louis.  And really nobody should have been all that impressed.

I think there's an important lesson here for the next time we feel the urge to compare ourselves with someone else, and downplay their struggles and hard work in the process.  Upon closer examination, what we might find is that at one point in time the playing field was a lot more even than we like to think.  What has separated us and whoever we've decided to compare ourselves to is simply practice and experience accumulated over the course of many years.  The margins of individual experience have simply moved in different directions.

The primary difference between Wayne Gretzky and myself?  At age 2 he was learning to skate.  I was playing with toy horsies and eating baloney.

While we can't change the past and we certainly can't change our immediate capabilities, what we can change is our attitude.  Starting to realize that everybody has had to practice and work hard for what they've gained - including us - goes a very long way.  Then we can stop making excuses about genetics, age, talent and the flexibility of our hamstring bones.  We can stop comparing ourselves to others and instead focus on our own personal growth.  As humans, it seems so much easier for us to use terms like blessed or lucky or gifted to explain away someone else's success, or maybe even our own.  Oh, well he's just naturally strong or she's a born runner.  Uh, horsesh*t.  What is much more difficult is to take a deeper look and actually understand the reality of what's going on.  And in every case, I promise that everybody has to work their ass off to get where they're going ... some may just have a little head start.  Now how 'bout them pancakes??

I've been told on several occasions to stop using the term "flapjacks" because it makes me sound like a gangster from the 30s.  Message received, although I'm slightly disheartened.

 Actual results may vary slightly.  But a heartfelt thanks to Paleo for robbing me of many year's worth of yet another one of life's most delightful experiences.  For this and mashed potatoes, I may never forgive you.↩

Friday, January 22, 2016

Flapjacks With A Side of Psychology

I try not to use this blog to promote specific products too often.  Mostly this is because I consider myself quite indifferent to the brand of a product and it's really all the same to me.  Ask me what my favorite brand of T-Shirt is, I'll say extra large.  My favorite brand of coffee?  Black.  Favorite type of potato?  Mashed.  Favorite brand of pants?  Sweat.  Really the only barriers to entry for a product or brand to be a part of my life is whether or not 1) Costco carries it and 2) somebody gives it to me for free.

This is all good news for you, because it means that when I do finally endorse a product, I really freaking mean it.  I would only endorse something if I truly believed it had the power to change your life for the better, and I am in no way being compensated to do so.  I share such information in the sincere hope of improving your quality of life, without any ulterior motive.  Hopefully you've figured out by now that all those athletes you follow on Instagram and Facebook that are promoting their "favorite" headbands, supplements, booty shorts, man-kinis, and training programs are being paid handsomely1 to do so.  But not this guy.  No no.

My intentions:  as pure as this river.

The last time I promoted a product was over a year ago, and it resulted in an avalanche of dudes at the gym wearing the exact same shorts as me and all of us looking like collective tools.  Total backfire.  And the good folks at Hylete never even sent me any free stuff to reward me for my endorsement, probably because I didn't "hashtag" them in the post or some crap like that.  Stupid internet.  This time will be different though, because what I'm about to promote is something that can be enjoyed in the privacy of our own homes each and every day:  flapjacks baby.  More specifically a brand by the name of Kodiak Cakes.

I mean, there's an angry bear on the box.  What more do you really need to know?

 Kodiak Cakes were first mentioned to me by one of our most Canadian members over 6 months ago (I'm guessing).  As with most brilliant things that are said to me that didn't originate in my own head, I categorize the information as "not pertinent" and file it away in the recesses of my brain.  Then I wait.  And at some point in the future, something triggers the idea to the forefront - at which point I will then claim it as my own brilliant brainchild with maybe a vague memory of somebody else mentioning it in the past.  This time the trigger was the simple fact that Costco started carrying the product.  What's that?  You still don't have a Costco membership?  I guess I'm not the only one filing valuable information away as "not pertinent" ...

I really don't even want you reading my stuff if you're not a member.  Soon there will be card readers installed on every computer, and you'll have to slide your Costco card for access to this blog.

I'm sure at this point you're asking:  What makes Kodiak Cakes so special?  I mean after all, they're just flapjacks right?  Go ahead and smack yourself right in the face.  Yes, their best attribute is clearly the fact that they are first and foremost delicious flapjacks.  But the fun doesn't end there, because these are so much more than your standard run-of-the-mill Aunt Jemima flapjack mix.  These are in fact whole-grain protein-packed2 flapjacks!  It's important to make sure you fully understand the significance of that last statement.  What's happening here is roughly the equivalent of that one time somebody discovered that you can protein-pack bread by inserting delicious slices of various meats in between it.  And then we all lived happily ever after.

Except of course those with a gluten allergy.  Say a prayer for them.

To complete this post and ringing product endorsement, I compiled a list of what I predict will be the most frequently asked questions related to Kodiak Cakes.  I hope you find them helpful.

Will these flapjacks make me stronger?

Yes.  The other day I farmer carried 170 pounds in one hand and burst a blood vessel in my eye.  I couldn't pull that off before I ate Kodiak Cakes.  Coincidence?  I think not.

What if I'm following a Paleo Diet?

You should stop.

Will these flapjacks make me more attractive to the opposite sex?

Definitely.  My wife commented the other day on how much bulkier my calves were looking in the last few weeks, and that was already her favorite part of my physique.

What about my performance in the bathroom?  Will it improve?

Yes, unless you load a bunch of flax seed into the flapjack mix, or wrap them around a Fiber One bar.  Then no, definitely no.

Will these flapjacks fit my macros, bro?

Uh, would I endorse something that didn't?  Use your head.

Flapjacks are typically enjoyed with assorted jams and syrups.  Does this mean you're endorsing the use of sugary condiments?

As a matter of fact I am.  Drown those puppies if you so desire.  The extra protein makes up for all the sugar.

What's your favorite style of flapjack?

I've only been able to do a little experimenting so far, and honestly they taste wonderful all by themselves or with a little bit of fruit like blueberries.   However, the current winner is Peanut Butter Powder infused flapjacks, and that product probably deserves a post all its own.

Yeah, this exists.  I wonder what store carries it ...

I do have a final confession to make before I go.  My intentions for promoting this product are not as pure as I may have orginally made them out to be.  As with most things that come into our lives that we love so dearly, it's natural for our minds to skip ahead to how it's going to feel when tragedy strikes and we lose them, such as the way I feel when Costco discontinues carrying my favorite products.  Psychologists say this is perfectly natural in the culture of scarcity that we live in, and years later they will use this theory to explain why after I die someone inherits several warehouses full of unused Kirkland coconut oil, various bumper plates, and flapjack mix.  

The philosophers among us say the way around this feeling is gratitude; thankfulness for the time we've had.  But this can be hard to put into practice, so for now I'll stick with stockpiling and fear-mongering which I find far more useful.  So my real motivation here is to inspire you to head to your local Costco and purchase this product in bulk, so that the sales are strong enough that they never feel the need to discontinue it and I'm not left wanting.  Go forth and multiply.  Get them before they're gone, and all you're left with is regret.

Do you really want to look back on a life lived without protein-packed flapjacks?

Of course, handsomely is a relative term here.  We're not talking Nike and Michael Jordan kind of cash for some 19th place CrossFit Games finisher pushing the latest in self-butt-massage technology.

 For you macro enthusiasts out there, 1 serving of batter yields 2g of fat, 30g of Carbs, and 14g of Protein.  There is also 5g of Fiber per serving.  And 50g of delight.↩

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Slow Is Smooth and Smooth Is Fast"

I love this saying.  I first heard it many years ago at the CrossFit Weightlifting cert from head coach Mike Burgener.  This is one of his favorite sayings when teaching Olympic Weightlifting to his students.  Most people view the Snatch, the Clean, and the Jerk as violent, aggressive acts when they first see them.  This is probably because it's true:  speed on the bar is a necessary requirement for these lifts.  However the teaching embodied in this simple phrase is that you'll never achieve the type of speed - and more importantly precision - needed for successful weightlifting if you start off too fast.  Control, strength, and position are more critical both in the early stages of moving the bar off the floor and the early stages of learning the movements.

Coach Burgener.  If you don't know who he is I kinda don't like you anymore.

If you do a little research1 you'll find that this phrase did not get its origins in the world of weightlifting, but rather the military.  There are several interpretations, but the most relevant ones I've found are related to rushing into a battle and re-loading a rifle.  In both of these instances, charging in headlong may lead to sloppiness and potential mistakes that will not only slow your progress, but possibly get you killed.  Although I have exactly zero military experience, it's not hard to imagine myself as a soldier in the heat of battle needing to reload, but in my haste I drop the ammunition or fumble the gun leading to a very dangerous situation.

I did play quite a bit of Risk back in the day, if that earns me any street cred.

Now for the fun part:  we can apply this phrase to, oh I don't know, pretty much everything else in life.  Here goes.

The Diet

This is a mistake I've seen a lot of people make when trying to overhaul their diet: making too many changes all at once.  Seeing as I'm the current world champion of macros, people often ask me how I got to be so amazing at tracking and measuring my food2.  I've got news for you:  I didn't just wake up 497 days ago and decide to completely overhaul to the way I eat, make all the necessary adjustments that day, and never look back.  It has literally been a process of developing habits (and a neurosis3) over the course of the last 15 years.  Once again, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.  Next time you're thinking about making a massive change, why not just pick one easy thing and start with that?  Dip your toe in the water instead of that massive belly flop.  Then the next month, add on another easy thing.  Continue this way and you might eventually develop what you were hoping for without even realizing you've made a massive shift.

An example of this might be cutting back on your drinking habit, something I may or may not have found myself trying to do at certain points in my past.  Instead of just cutting it out of my life entirely starting tomorrow, why not begin with something a bit easier to handle like not drinking on Tuesdays?  Another real-life example would be adding flax seed into your diet.  Trust me when I say that this is best done one small teaspoon at a time.  Don't believe me?  Test it out.  Go on, I'll wait ... Are you back from the bathroom?  Okay good, now you see what I mean.

The Training

This is something I've covered in vast detail over the years, but I don't think it can ever be emphasized too much.  When it comes to training and exercise, there is no place where the phrase Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast holds more water.  This applies to adding more weight, incorporating new exercises, increasing total volume, everything.  Let's use the example of training for a marathon or triathlon, something I've heard a lot of people tossing around as we start to near the Spring and Summer months.  Which approach do you think will yield better results:  A) slamming 8 or 9 hours of extra endurance work into your week starting tomorrow, or B) starting slow with maybe 1 or 2 extra endurance activities a week and then gradually building upon that?  If you answered "A," you've clearly been watching me train for way too long.

Decided to train for a marathon, so yesterday I sold my car and now I'm running 16 miles to and from work every day.  You know why?  Because I'm a frickin' genius, that's why.

The Everything Else

Obviously nobody should be taking life advice from me under anything but the most desperate of circumstances.  But I like this example because it's a hilarious metaphor for the point I'm trying to make about diet and exercise.  Let's say I woke up tomorrow and decided that I hate everything about my life and it was time for change.  I wouldn't rush out that morning and quit my job, burn my house down, divorce my wife, crash my car, and send all my friends an email telling them we're through (from a public computer since mine was burned up).  This has the makings of a really crappy day and a catastrophic disaster that ends up with me in jail.  Not to mention some of those things take quite a bit of time so trying to cram them into a single day is just setting myself up for failure.

Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast.  Start small, deliberate, and focused and build slowly from there.  It can be a great strategy for everything from snatching to building a Lego castle to burning down your own house.

I always feel like when I use the word research, it makes it sound like a ton of work took place in a big fancy library somewhere with many leather-bound books.  On average my "research" consists of 20 seconds of Google searching.

 I'm paraphrasing quite liberally here.  Nobody has ever asked me this question in such a way, usually it's something more along the lines of "what the hell is wrong with you?" or "how did you get so messed up?"↩

Sometimes I look up big words to make sure I'm using them correctly.  Okay, I do this a lot.  This time I was quite relieved to see the definition (emphasis added):  "a relatively mild mental illness ... "

Friday, January 8, 2016

Goals: A Fresh Perspective

Just in time for the New Year, here's a hot new topic for you that I've only written about 40 or 50 times before.  I happened to be doing some overhead work on the jerk blocks the other day, and glanced over at the Boom Board and started admiring some of the items scrawled up there.  These are either tasks that people had recently accomplished or ones they aspired to in the future.  And it got me all revved up and thinking about goals, but probably not in the way you might think.  Today I want to discuss the possibility that - much like everything else we've ever read or been told - there's a good chance that all the stuff we think we know about setting goals is dead wrong.

I'm listening ....

To do this, let's dive into some of the generally accepted conventional wisdom1 about what constitutes a good goal:

Your Goal Should Be Specific, Measurable, and Time-Bound

Piss off!  What if I want to work towards a really ill-defined, immeasurable, infinite goal such as get really good looking2 or lift a lot of weight3?  Who are you to tell me that it's not good enough, that it's a fools errand to chase such ambiguity?  If you think about it, the more vague the goal the easier or harder it becomes to accomplish, completely depending on how you look at yourself.  Let's take the example of lifting a lot of weight.  After a few weeks of what I perceive to be very hard work, I evaluate my progress and decide one of two things:

1)  Wow, that was a lot of weight.  I did it!  Mission accomplished.  Time for a bigger and better goal.

2)  I think I can do more.  Better keep at it.

Either way, the outcome is ultimately the same.  Even if my goal was to No-Hook Hang Muscle Snatch a 3.3 kilo PR by the 3rd Sunday after the Winter Solstice, I'm still left with the same two eventual options:  celebrate and set a new goal, or keep trying.4

Your Goal Should Be Relevant

Uhhhh yeah.  I know.  That's why I picked it.  Aren't all goals, by default, relevant to the person who has chosen them?  I'm not even sure what an irrelevant goal would look like.  Maybe something along these lines:  this year I want it to rain 137 times.  But even then, maybe you're an experienced rain-dancer or Jesus or something.

Your Goal Should Be Attainable

Isn't this a bit counter-intuitive?  If the whole point of having goals is to keep me motivated, what's the value in having one achievable goal that I can reach pretty easily, only to be supplanted by another ... and another ... off into infinity?  Perhaps my mind doesn't work like that, and I'd rather just skip the middle-man and aim for something so far off in the distance that there's very little likelihood I'll ever reach it, no matter how many small steps I eventually take.  Yes, that's what I need to keep me moving.  In my mind, making a goal attainable simply means that we've defined it as an end.  So then this is the last thing I'm ever going to accomplish, at which point I'm going to do what?  Give up fitness and drown myself in cocaine and cheap bourbon talking about the good old days?

I mean, that's going to happen anyway so it's for the best that I not intentionally plan for it.

Obviously I'm poking fun at the accepted methodology here and being maybe just a bit facetious in the process, but I think there's good reason to do so.  These ideas and acronyms were originally created for business purposes, for companies and corporations.  These are by definition institutions where the results matter more than how you got there, and whether or not you enjoyed yourself or learned anything along the way is completely irrelevant.  I believe this line of thinking has no place in the world of health, strength, and fitness.  This is the type of mindset that leads to weight-watchers type diets and six week ab programs that are miserable failures more often than not.  And the reason for their downfall is primarily that they are solely focused on the end results, neglecting to teach us to love the process along the way.  This is by no means a revolutionary idea.

Yes, goals are important in strength and conditioning.  I'm not trying to say they aren't.  But what I am trying to say is that I don't think we should be so quick to label something as a "bad goal."  Nobody should be shamed because their goal is to simply get stronger (not specific enough), or look better naked (not measurable), or lose weight (not time-bound), or fart the alphabet (not relevant), or make the US Olympic Weightlifting Team at 47 years old (not attainable).  The only important aspect of a fitness-related goal is that it keeps you motivated enough to enjoy what you're doing in the gym each and every day, and changes your habits for the better.  If it keeps you coming back, then I say it's a damn good goal and well worth pursuing - no matter what it is.

This woman swam from Florida to Cuba without a shark cage at the ripe old age of 64, definitively proving that anybody who tells me I can't win Olympic gold in my 40s is a complete ass.

There's good reason to believe that successful goal achievement really comes down to the creation of habits anyway, and I think this lines up perfectly with what I'm saying here5.  Ultimately what you might find out is that the goal - and its eventual achievement - ends up leaving you with an empty feeling after that initial rush of adrenaline anyway.  This is because mentally you've already started to move on, and the goals have become secondary to your enjoyment of the process.  And I think that might just be one of the most beautiful things we can accomplish.

I am pulling all my information - as I always do - straight from the first website that pops up in a Google search: Wikipedia.  Apparently there are about 80 currently accepted definitions for this particular acronym.

2,3  I use these two very pertinent examples because they are both things I've already accomplished myself.

I intentionally left off the obvious option of giving up altogether, because I don't believe in such things and neither should you.

For an in-depth look at habits and their relation to goal achievement written by my new best friend, check this out:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Time For Reflection - Happy New Year Jackwagons

Yes it's true, I'm a bit of a scrooge and I don't like the holidays.  But that's not the entire story.  I do like parts of it.  The over-consumption, the exchange of products, the crowds, the lines, the inconveniences, the "let's make an exception to our diet every 30 minutes because it's the Holidays!" attitude ... all those things I could live without.  But there are some good parts.  For example, I like to use this time to reflect on the year that's passed and get angry with myself for all the things I didn't get accomplished.  And one of the things I happen to be reflecting upon right now is this blog.

So now he's writing about writing?  Things are getting desperate ...

This all started because I read a cool article1 that implied a simple question:  what's something that you did when you were a child that you enjoyed and did just for the hell of it?  It could be anything, like climbing trees, drawing, coloring, or torturing stray alley cats.  The author's answer was that he used to write stories.  Not for any reason, not to share with anyone, not because he was told to do it, but just because he wanted to.  And that made me wonder what motivates me to write these posts for an audience of roughly 68 mildly interested readers here in St. Louis and one guy in Florida2.  And I guess the simple conclusion I came to is this:  because I want to, and nobody's told me to stop yet.3

So as my mind tends to work, this led me down a rabbit hole filled with other rabbit holes.  As you may have noticed if you've been receiving my posts via email since the beginning, my production has dropped off drastically since I first started.  For the first several months of posting back in 2014, my goal was to get something up almost every day - no matter how useless and desperate it might be.  Obviously this was ill-fated and completely unsustainable, but I didn't know that at the time.  My reasons and motivation for posting were a bit different back then, but mainly it was just to sex up our lifeless website and add some content, even if it was complete crap.  My justification was hey, at least it's something.  And it got the occasional laugh or comment from the peanut gallery in the gym.

I quickly discovered that a well-timed pants pooping joke will endear you to just the right kind of person.

But then it began to evolve, almost by accident.  I started to hear from people that they liked some of what I wrote, maybe they found it a little entertaining, or that it was helping them in some way in the gym.  It turned into a place where I could communicate broad ideas to a good portion of BARx members at once.  And not just about the mundane things like upcoming events, dates, and times ... but about really deep, important stuff, like not putting the new Pendlay bars in the f***ing rack.  And part of this evolution meant that each post required a bit more thought, sometimes a few drafts, and more time to create.  It also meant that I started writing a lot of pure crap that never saw the light of day and never will.  Gone were the days where I could simply spend three minutes scouring the internet for a hilarious picture of a puppy bench pressing 225 or a cat licking its crotch, add some snarky comments, and move on to tomorrow's post.  This explains why I'm now lucky to make 4 or 5 posts in a month, but hopefully each one of them has a bit more impact and value than it used to.  

Perhaps the most important result of this evolution is that I now have a really hard time looking back on some of the junk I've posted in the past.  To be honest, I'm mortified by most of it.  This is either because it's halfhearted and useless, or because my views have changed so drastically over the last two years that I no longer consider those thoughts relevant or helpful in any way.  If you've never experienced this, it can be a bit terrifying to stumble across something written down that you completely disagree with ... And then realize that you were the author.

Ironically enough, this is the exact face I make when I read some of my old stuff.  But as for the self-indulgent overuse of this picture itself ... no regrets.

So as we near the bottom portion of this article (it's almost over, I promise) it's time for me to introduce what I'm driving at here, or how all of this rambling stream-of-consciousness gibberish might relate to you.  And here it is:  I've come to realize that looking back on some of the things we've done in the past with a little bit of embarrassment and disgust - though it can be painful - is actually a good thing.  This is true because it implies that there has been some growth and progress in our life.  And I think this can be applied to just about anything, inside the gym or out.  These are the old pictures, the first workouts, the demeaning stories, the months (or years) that maybe you're not so proud of and might like to forget.  In the gym, I get this same feeling when I look back at my programming and my coaching as well.  My God, what was I thinking?

But that means I'm learning.  No doubt there are people on this planet that have the ability to look back at themselves in their distant or more recent past and still think they were totally awesome.  And that could be a real shame, because it might just mean that they haven't grown, they're stuck or moving backwards and most likely don't realize it.  

Be a lot cooler if they did.

How does this apply to your New Year?  Hell if I know.  When you look back at where you were a year ago, have you progressed?  Are you fitter, stronger, faster, leaner ... whatever you aspired to be?  Are you closer to accomplishing any of your goals4, or are you just spinning your wheels?  Or perhaps you've gotten worse, inching yourself closer to sleeping at the bus stop talking about the cool sh*t you used to do?  And if you have been stuck or even devolving, does it necessarily make the time you've spent a total waste?  Well that's the point, because all of that is what got us here:  with here being the time to reflect, commit, and make a lasting change.  

Or maybe you're in the opposite camp, looking back at yourself in the past a little ashamed by who or what you used to be.  If that's the case then I think you're doing just fine, and should keep charging ahead.  Maybe that should simply be the goal: to look back at who we were in the past, feel a bit ashamed, and be okay with it.  Try to do that every year.

High on my personal regret list is the fact that I used to prescribe to the Paleo Diet.  Those were dark years in my life that I may never live down or mentally recover from.

This isn't a one size fits all proposition.  Maybe there are specific aspects of your fitness you are really proud of (got stronger this year) but others not so much (nutrition has suffered).  Personally, I look back at where I was from a strength perspective over a year ago and instead of being mortified, I find myself wishing I was back there, wanting to be the old me.  I guess I've taken one step closer to that bus stop, but unfortunately life and fitness are not linear equations.  The good news is that I won't let it happen again this year.  As for my "writing," I guess it's heading in a better direction.  But will I look back on this post a year from now and be a little embarrassed by it, knowing I can do better?  I sure as hell hope so.

The article I'm referencing can be found here:  Proceed with caution, this sh*t might change your life.

 I hope our bro from Florida is still with us, because I've been using him to claim that I have "international readership."  Yes, I'm well aware Florida is part of the continental United States, but it borders an ocean so I figure what the hell.

3 This is clearly a joke.  I would never stop doing something simply because someone told me to.  It would take a crowd of people at my door with pitchforks and burning torches,  and even then it's debatable I would listen.

Soon I'm going to attempt to flip our viewpoint on this topic on its head.  Stay tuned.  Crap, now I guess I really have to write it.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Brussels Sprouts and Sunshine

I've recently come across a cool concept that I think can help to answer one of the most common questions that I hear from people, both new and experienced at our gym:  how often and how hard should we be working out?  The problem with this question is that it has the same incredibly frustrating answer for everyone: it depends.  If you turn to the internet to help you answer this question, you'll find that most of the world is divided between "more is better" and "less is more."  So what's a girl to do?

One recently popular option is to start squatting heavy every single day.  It has like a 1% success rate.  Or maybe it's 100%, I always get those two confused.  You'll also notice that anybody that prescribes to this method has their knees wrapped to high hell .... I wonder why that is??

The concept here is - you guessed it - best visualized in a graph.  And the graph looks like an upside-down U with varying degrees of heights and widths.  The cool thing is that this can be applied to most things in life that are seemingly beneficial, such as brussels1 sprouts, sunshine, and exercise.  Some have even taken it as far as money and happiness.  But let's stick with the sprouts for our example.  Their graph probably looks something like this:

As you can see, the benefits continue to pile up anywhere from 1-6 servings per day, with the increased fiber, vitamin C, and multiple other important micro nutrients added in your diet.  But in the middle range of the graph around 7-8 servings, the benefits really start to level off:  there are only so many vitamins and fiber grams your body needs and can utilize in one day, and the rest is ... well .... a waste2.  And then we have the back side of the graph, which we'll say is 8+ servings a day.  This is where the harmful effects start to outweigh the benefits.  Maybe you crap your pants twice a day.  Maybe your skin turns purple.  Maybe your breath smells like a rotting carcass.  Whatever the result, it's become clear that you have taken things a bit too far.  Sunshine works much the same way.  A little bit is good for you, soon the benefits level off, and eventually you have skin cancer.

Or you could just join me under the cabana and say screw that whole sunlight business altogether.  They have vitamin D in pills now you know.

As you've probably figured out, exercise quantity falls into a very similar type of graph.  There's a point where more is better, then comes a point where more is just more, then finally the point where more becomes detrimental.  Obviously this is an oversimplification, and I'm sure scientists are diligently working as we speak on figuring out if you should add that extra cardio session on Sundays.  But until then, I guess you'll just have to settle for my rambling pseudo-science.  And things start to get pretty complex pretty quick when you think about all of the possible implications here.  For starters, everybody's graph is highly individual, not to mention variable over the course of time.  Some people have a very low tolerance for volume, whereas others seem to stretch off into infinity and still reap the benefits.  Some of this can be trained and controlled for, and some of it is genetic and set in stone.  Your individual graph will also depend on things like your training age3, biological age, external stress, eating and drinking habits .... the list goes on.

Too much of this turns your graph into a lopsided disaster zone.  In a good way, of course.

The good news is that you can take action to affect the shape and slope of your individual graph.  Here is a pretty succinct list4 that might help you if you're trying to flatten or elongate that curve just a bit:

- Intelligent programming and a gradual acclimation to volume.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Proper recovery outside of the gym, i.e. stretching and rolling.
- Managing life stress.
- Proper nutrition, with supplementation5 as necessary.
- Attitude and maintaining the psychological component.

So how do you figure out what your graph looks like?  Well, the answer is basically trial and error.  You have to make small incremental changes and take notice of their effect, essentially try to gradually toe the line so you can find out exactly where that line is.  Or you can just add in a sh*tload of volume with heavy weights next week and see if you get hurt, at which point you'll know that the problem starts to occur somewhere between 0 and 100 mph.  This is what's known as the "guardrail to guardrail" method, and it is not for the faint of heart.  If you need further elaboration on why it's a bad idea, please schedule a private consultation with either Ed or myself.

My ideal graph is like a good mullet:  pretty short up front but nice and long in the back.

1 It never ceases to piss me off that spell-check wants to capitalize Brussels because of the city in Belgium after which they are named. I refuse to participate.

2 Unfortunately I have recently decided to limit myself to one poop joke per post. However, it's important to me that know the opportunity did not go unrecognized.

3 Training age refers to how long you've been seriously training, as opposed to biological age which is how long you've been on this planet.

4 These concepts are borrowed from an awesome article by Matt Foreman of Catalyst Athletics that can be found here: His article is also the reason you now see me performing my own bastardized version of yoga for 20 minutes after every workout.  So thanks Matt, for making me look like a jackass.

5 Every time I write some form of the word "supplement," I feel the need to clarify that I'm talking about normal human stuff like Whey Protein, Fish Oil, and maybe some vitamins. This doesn't mean you should run out and get that new pre-workout powder that lights your hair on fire and makes your butt cheeks tingle, which doctors discover years from now renders you sterile ... unless of course you're into that sort of thing.