When teaching someone the kettlebell swing, there is such a thing as “too light”.
The kettlebell swing is an inherently explosive movement. It requires a powerful, almost violent extension of the hip to bring the weight through its full range of motion. Most of the movement, in fact, is simply the after-effect of that initial surge of energy: the gradual slowing of the bell as it reaches the apex of its swing, the brief moment of weightlessness at the top, and the acceleration as it drops back towards the legs. Yes, there is a degree of exertion in slowing the bell in preparation for the next repetition, but for the most part a successful swing depends on that first explosive movement. Once you start relying on another muscle group – once your shoulders start squeezing, or your biceps start flexing – you know your kettlebell is too light, and you rob yourself of most of the swing’s myriad benefits.
However it may look, the point of this entry isn’t to give a lecture on the kettlebell swing, but to note that sometimes, you need to have something push back to know you’re doing it right. Sometimes, realizing things are too light or too easy is a key indicator that something is wrong or can be improved. It is an oft-repeated mantra of this site that once in a while, you need to go hard to make a real difference.
Ease up on the running. Lighten the push presses if you’re not feeling it.
But if you’re going to swing a kettlebell, make it heavy.
5min Row @ progressive pace (worked up to 1:55/500m for the last minute or so)
10x Ring Row
10-1x, alternating between exercises
Bench Press @ 60kg
Bent-over Row @ 2x16kg
500m Row for time (1:45)
- I am forced by scheduling, medicinal side effects, and good old laziness to compress my training sessions. I don’t always get it right, but I feel this session was one of the more productive ones.
- I’m making it a point to finish each session with a sprint of rowing, biking, or burpees. The idea is that the accumulated effort will have some effect on my overall cardiorespiratory power and conditioning. Time will tell.
It’s always hard to start again.
I have been horribly, horribly slacking off on my fitness for the last five months. It has been terrible to realize how much everything – strength, power, endurance, etc. – has degraded. My strength endurance numbers, for example, have dropped from ten handstand push-ups cold to barely three all warmed up. It’s so bad that it feels like starting over again.
It feels like I’ve hit rock bottom, and that’s something I’ve been experiencing all too much lately.
But there’s also something vaguely encouraging about the realization of where you used to be, because it tells you how much you can rise again.
Perhaps it’s partially because I can look at it like a fairly experienced trainer: I already know the road map back to where I was, down to the number of reps per workout I would need to rebuild certain aspects. It’s almost a fun little puzzle, trying to recreate the path you once took while integrating everything you’ve learned since. This process creates a program that is even more personalized than the first run through, so to speak: you know how you will react to certain things and when and how to switch them in or out as necessary. There is less randomness, less uncertainty.
Of course, on the flip side, you know exactly how much it’s going to suck. It’s like every single time you strap into a Concept2 for another 500m row (which I just found out Michael Blevins refused to do for something like 9 years after his first one – that is kind of the same thing I want to do): you know you’re going to wind up sucking oxygen like a nearly-drowned man, and part of your brain is screaming at you to give up before you even begin. For me, the thought of rebuilding my foundation is more discouraging than exciting, precisely because you know exactly how much work has to go into it.
But it ties into how much you expect of yourself. As I’ve told many of my students/clients, you could just decide that you don’t give a single shit. But if you were willing to do that, you wouldn’t have gone to a trainer in the first place. Similarly, if I could decide to not care, it wouldn’t bother me so much that I have so much to do.
That, perhaps, is the nature of the reboot: you wouldn’t bother if you weren’t expecting more out of something, especially if that something is yourself.
30x 4-way JJ
10x KBS @ 24/28/32kg
10x TRX Row
2x Clean Pull @ 65kg per 30s for 5min
2x Power Clean @ 60kg per 30s for 5min
Kettlebell Swing @ 55#
5min stretching to cool down
- Power cleans and the attached accessory lifts (clean pulls, high pulls, hang cleans, etc.) have become my go-to for developing hip power. This is probably a little late – someone like Mark Rippetoe might have argued for their inclusion in an earlier phase – but I find that I’m mentally more prepared to take the move on nowadays.
- Originally the ladder was meant to be a more compound build including TRX push-ups. However, my shoulders haven’t recovered from yesterday’s bench pressing. Be honest with yourself when it comes to what you can and cannot do in the moment.
I was watching “The Amazons Workout” featurette on YouTube recently. As most things with Mark Twight (or one of his disciples) do, it made me look back at the roughly seven years I’ve been involved in the fitness industry as a trainer at varying levels. I realized that the best students I’ve had have been women: women of various backgrounds and abilities, women who consciously or otherwise chose to show just what they were made of. And I am more proud of them and of what they have done than of myself or anything I’ve ever achieved.
I can’t figure out exactly what it is that makes women – in my experience, at least – more receptive to coaching than men. Certainly one of the biggest factors is the lack of superficial ego: few women walk into a gym and think they’re the strongest, most amazing person there. Funny enough, not everyone is better because of that absence: Maita, for example, took on everything and anything thrown at her because she couldn’t conceive of herself doing any less than her very best. What she never did was assume she knew everything there was to know, which meant she was willing to learn even from someone with markedly fewer sports achievements than she.
Another factor is that women tend to be better listeners than men. The difference between someone waiting for a chance to brag and someone with genuine interest is the difference between a brick wall and a warm embrace. There is always something to be gained from someone with whom you can sit down and have a long, thoughtful conversation with. That aspect is one reason I enjoyed training Bai so much, perhaps almost as much as watching her achieve things she didn’t think possible.
Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these traits and my own luck in having found people who showcase them. It certainly hasn’t always been smooth sailing – I’ve had enough fights with trainees to know I can’t get along with everyone all the time. Whatever it is, I am constantly left in awe of the women who pass through my care.
Seeing someone do things they never thought possible is and has always been the greatest thing about being a coach. That always brings me a sense of wonder, as it would to any real coach. And I’m always grateful for the women who’ve shown me that.
5min Airbike @ progressive pace
5x10s hard / 50s easy Airbike
10x Pike Push-up
10x TRX Row
45s work / 15s rest
3 rounds / 60s rest
Press @ 2×25# – 19 / 26 / 24
Hammer Curl @ 2×25# – 12
Airbike – 4cal / 3.9cal / 3.7cal
10x30s Plank / 30s rest
- This is cribbed off the original “300” training program, though originally with an Arnold Press instead. I was looking for something that fits what I call Sns – Short ‘n’ Shitty. I found it with a hard Airbike at the end of each round.
- I might have to get around to reviewing my air bike some time. It isn’t an AirDyne or some equally well-known brand or model (an Inspire CB1), but it certainly gives everything I wanted. And it sucks.
I recently learned of the death of someone I would consider one of my first – and few – coaches. Turned out he’d passed almost two years ago, and of something I never would have imagined. He was best known as an adventurous climber, so I’d never have guessed he’d meet his end anywhere but on the lime and granite.
Reflecting on his being gone made me realize that while I couldn’t remember a single thing he’d ever said, I did have a very clear image of him as someone I would call a true coach. If his love for the mountains and the outdoors in general was matched by anything, it was by his passion for encouraging and teaching others. He was my mom and my first wall climbing instructor. A summer camp at which he was a master was the first place I got a taste of leadership.
In his own circle, he was also known more for his work than his words. His FA (first ascent) “Buffalo Soldier” (originally “The Wave of the Future”) remains one of his claims to fame, as do his energetic pursuits of other routes.
No one really thinks about what “Actions speak louder than words” means until moments like these. I hadn’t seen him in years, so his loss wasn’t as terrible to me as it might have been. Still, it was a shock. More than that, though, it was a lesson: Who we are will live on through what we do.
RIP Master Gax Ylanan (d. 2016)
5min Ride @ progressive pace
10x KB Swing @ 24/28/32kg
21/18/15/12/9/6/3x KB Swing @ 55#
20m Sled Push @ 96kg per rung
5min Stretching cooldown
- This was much harder than I expected. Which makes me feel stupid, because after months of mediocre-at-best training, I’m hardly on form with my fitness.
- Short, usually tough workouts are all I’ve been able to get in lately. It’s a mix of lack of time and laziness with what little I do have. I hope to remedy that soon.
I have been battling lethargy the last couple of weeks. My schedule has been so full of bank visits, meetings, and research that mustering the energy for a good workout – let alone a week’s worth of programmed sessions – has been almost impossible. Part of it is due to what feels like an onset of exhaustion more mental than physical: I haven’t really had a day off in a long time, so my brain hasn’t been able to recharge. Most days the thoughts spinning around in my skull are too numerous and too hectic for me to get a grasp. Although Headspace has been helpful in calming down, I’m still trying to get enough of a grip on the days to follow the program I’ve been playing around with for almost six months.
Instead of being frustrated at how little I’ve accomplished physically, I’ve decided to start making things more manageable. My goal is to complete four to six short workouts a week – ten to twenty minutes of focused, high-intensity effort. To do this, I keep my chosen exercises to a maximum of four and my rest periods only up to ninety seconds. Some days it’s ten sets of pull-ups and push-ups. Others it’s fifteen minutes of kettlebell swings, split jumps, and hanging leg raises. Once I was so lazy that I just decided to see how quickly I could finish a hundred kettlebell front squats.
The nice thing about these unplanned sessions is that while I haven’t exactly set new personal records and don’t expect to do so, I still manage to feel like I’m doing something good for myself. I’ve managed to hold onto a fair amount of muscle, and kept my body fat from spiraling out of control due to the stress eating I’ve been giving in to. My energy levels are brought and kept up, my appetite feels healthy, and I get a decent night’s sleep most of the time.
It isn’t perfect by any reasonable standards, let alone my exaggerated ones, but I’ve spent most of the last year learning to be okay with “enough”. And as I’ve preached often enough – especially to a close friend who has been having much the same problem – what matters is not that you don’t stop, but that you’re able to keep moving forward bit by bit.
30x 4-way JJ
5x Jump Squat
10x TRX Row
10-1x alternating ladders
10m Farmer Carry @ 2x28kg per rung
4 sets / 90s rest:
10x One-arm Bent-over Row @ 35/45/50/55#
3 sets / 60s rest:
10x Curl @ 2×25#
10x TRX W-Fly
- Burpee pull-ups suck. It is still amazing to me that someone looked at both exercises separately and said, “Gee, I bet these would go great together!” Still, I find them an excellent conditioning tool, particularly on back/pulling focused days like this.
- Assistance work like curls, raises, and flys have been appearing more and more in my workouts. Part of it is trying to bring up body parts I feel are lacking in function and aesthetic, while another part is curiosity about the overall effect on my performance. Mostly I have been enjoying how they add to the feeling of achievement after each session: by giving extra work to the smaller muscles while the exhausted bigger ones rest, I have a much more complete sense of effort.
A couple of months ago, FHM Philippines declared Jessy Mendiola the winner of a poll to crown the Sexiest Woman in the country. The announcement quickly turned controversial as people immediately began attacking her on the Internet, claiming she wasn’t remotely sexy, let alone deserve to win over the likes of Jennelyn Mercado and Nadine Lustre. Other criticisms thrown at her included accusations of being the reason behind a local love team’s break-up, and a big head (due to an admittedly dangerously-phrased comment).
To begin to address every single negative comment thrown at Jessy would be well beyond the scope of this blog, so I’d rather focus on Jessy’s rebuttal. I am one of those who made sure to log in every day to vote her up the ranks, and for what I consider good reason: if this doesn’t fit your definition of “sexy”, you need to rethink it. The interviews she gave after winning simply gave me more of a reason to love her: she focused on shutting down body shaming, and on being able to love yourself for what you are and can do.
As far as I am concerned, your body will never look better than when it can do everything you want it to. This is apparently something Jessy believes in as well: when asked about the “thunder thighs” insult people threw at her, she replied that they were the result of the training she took on, and that was what mattered.
I mean, they’re functional. I can walk, I can jump, I can sprint, I can even kick. I do pole dancing for crying out loud!” – Jessy Mendiola, FHM Philippines September 2016
Without even going into whether or not muscular legs are more your type – and I’m pretty sure other entries on this blog have made it clear that yes, they absolutely are mine – it’s hard to disagree with the logic of “They work, and therefore they’re beautiful”. I have always trained myself and others the same way: what’s important is what you can do, and that will always lead to something beautiful. It’s a principle I have been pushing ever since I started training, and I could not ask for a more excellent example.
Jessy also illustrates – and discusses – the stupidity of judging everyone by a single standard. That she was derided for not being skinny enough shows that many people still hold onto the idea of only certain body types being beautiful, and therefore only certain “health” (yes, I have a reason for those quotation marks) practices are acceptable. It’s the same battle fought by female weightlifters, for example, who apparently need to justify themselves to the world by something other than their sheer physical ability. Why is it so hard to accept that there are many kinds of beauty? Is our understanding of the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” really that terrible?
Underneath all the hatred, however, is something perhaps even more distressing. Some people have put forth the idea that the hatred for Jessy stems from an extreme form of insecurity, namely that – despite her spectacularly beautiful face (no criticisms I’ve seen there) – there isn’t anything particularly special about her. She isn’t very tall, doesn’t have a six-pack, and isn’t proportioned like a Greek statue. She is anatomically and physiologically a normal person, if aesthetically on the extreme end. People apparently cannot stand the idea of worshiping someone who doesn’t have anything they can’t have themselves.
This is the most disappointing thing to me (and believe me, it faced some stiff competition): that the absolute worst thing anyone sees in Jessy Mendiola is that she could easily be the girl next door. If her body is that much better than yours, it’s because you just don’t train as hard. If she is more popular than you, it’s because she works harder. As long as all the things that make her stand out are conceivably within reach, she makes people hate themselves for not trying as hard, which they twist into hating her for doing the opposite.
That is crap. That is one of the worst things about humans, and one of the things I really truly hate most. Bringing others down because of our own insecurities is the complete opposite of what we should do if we want society to progress. Resenting others for working hard when we won’t, is just sad. The point is perhaps even more obvious if like me you’ve been following Jessy’s progress over the last three or four years, watching her physique develop with every new sport she takes on. I would honestly say this year is the best she has ever looked, and that is saying something.
Admirably, Jessy has chosen not to ignore the hate, but to address and fight it. To her, the publicity has provided a new avenue to take on body shaming. It’s a worthy cause, to be sure, and an excellent champion.
That being said, there is one thing on which Jessy and I strongly disagree. In a video taken of the moment she was informed that she had won, Jessy said that if she could be seen as sexy, then everyone is. Jessy, there are several million men and women who would probably disagree.
3x Pull-up + 2x Chin-up (switch grip while hanging)
2x 30s Push Press / 30s OH Hold @ 2×15#
2x Pull-up + 3x Chin-up (switch grip while hanging)
2x30s Push Press / 30s OH Hold @ 2×20#
3x Pull-up + 2x Chin-up (switch grip while hanging)
Strength and Power
5 rounds / 2min rest between rounds
2x Grip-Switch Pull-up
5x Push Press @ 2×60#
20x Sledgehammer Slam
10x Wall Ball @ 10kg
5x 5m Rope Pull @ 2x28kg (KBs tied to rope)
Alternating 10-1 ladder
1h KB Press @ 16kg (left side only)
- I have been trying to incorporate more power training into my workouts lately. I am not yet quite at the level of athletic programming I used to work at, so it’s a factor that hasn’t been adequately addressed in a while.
Recent national events have been driving me insane, almost to the point of completely getting off the Internet and staying away from newspapers, radio, and television. A lot of things are wrong with the way people have been approaching these issues, and most of them fall well outside the scope of this blog.
One of the biggest problems, however, is the narrative. See, like most socio-political issues, the most recently argued one is on its own simple, but part of a far more complex problem that has been reduced – unfairly – to black and white:
You’re one of us, or you’re one of them.
And if you’re one of them, you are the enemy.
We want things simple. If they seem complicated, we try to dumb it down. If we can’t do it ourselves, we demand someone who can. It’s natural, if frustrating to those of us who know it isn’t that easy.
There is also nothing inherently wrong with conflict, whether of body or mind. Martial artists are judged by their ability under pressure, and debate – when properly conducted – produces new ideas and paths worth exploring.
Man is also social by nature: we seek groups to which we can belong as part of our development and ongoing existence. Consequently, we seek standards and guidelines by which we can measure ourselves and be considered part of the group. It is by a similar means that we identify others as not being part of the group.
The problem I see here is when joining a group is used as an excuse to stop questioning and start rabidly attacking anyone who doesn’t fit in the same circles.
This, I am sad to say, is something I’ve experienced plenty of times on my fitness journey. In fact, I recently had a long talk with a friend who confirmed what I felt: that the place at which we had both trained had become quietly hostile to people who didn’t throw themselves in with the endurance sport crowd. It never went as far as outright exclusion and overt conflict, but there was a clear preference for triathletes and an unspoken drive for everyone to become a runner. The value of workouts became defined by how useful they would be in a marathon, and people’s achievements were only recognized when measured by the kilometer.
It was why we – the cyclist / yogi and the general fitness enthusiast – eventually left to find places where people were more supportive of one another’s endeavors.
It’s something that happens on a much broader scale. The battle between endurance athletes and gym rats is about as old as the gym itself. There are also the rifts between athletes of various sports: the basketball players who think they have it rough on the hardcourt, the linebackers who bring up the danger they face, and the judokas who have to break bone for a medal, all argue that they have it rougher than that other guy.
They all have valid points, and in the best of times and places this leads to a beautiful meld of ideas. When they start fighting, however – hopefully not literally, given the obvious danger in having linebackers and judokas attack basketball players – things get rough. Excuses for mediocrity pile up as high as the accusations and put-downs.
There can be no growth in such a hostile place. It’s why the best coaches try to drag things together instead of set them apart. The best training plans incorporate the best of every world of fitness to produce the best result possible. The worst throw out everything that comes from beyond their comfort zones.
Runners can’t weight-train. Powerlifters shouldn’t run. It goes on and on, and gets worse and worse with every generation that espouses such beliefs.
At some point, we’re all just going to have to learn to get along.
40x Jumping Jacks
40x Front Jacks
40x Twist Jacks
40x Seal Jacks
10m Cross Zombies
10m Forward Walking Lunge
10m Reverse Walking Lunge
10m Jump Squat
20m High Knees
6×6 Bulgarian Split Squat @ 2x16kg / 2min rest
On a 10x1min timer
Odd minutes: 10x Goblet Squat @ 32kg, then rest
Even minutes: Woodchopper Sit-up the entire minute – 16 / 12 / 11 / 11 / 9 reps
- Single-leg work is underappreciated, even by me. I haven’t had much time or motivation to hit an actual gym lately, so there hasn’t been much in the way of deadlifting or barbell squatting. Pistols and now split squats are going to be my work horses for now.
- The circuit was originally much longer and harder, but I overestimated my strength. The BSS left me seriously debating the endurance of my legs, so I dialed it down. I’m glad I did – ten minutes left me plenty winded.
[I came up with this about two hours before I logged onto WordPress and saw today’s prompt for “Clock”. Funny how that works out.]
I finally got around to watching (well, listening to) Bobby Maximus’s appearance on the brUTE Strength Podcast. Not to take away from Maximus as a coach, but I generally find his published work to be laden with more testosterone than insight, and I doubted he’d be any different talking. It was a pleasant surprise to find that he had reigned in the machismo to focus more on discussing training philosophies.
The part I feel bears repeating the most was his discourse on recognizing the time and effort spent by elite athletes to become so. For instance, people look at Michael Phelps and claim his success is due to talent and genetics. Few remember – or choose to notice – that, as Maximus put it, Phelps has spent the equivalent of several years training. If that much work didn’t produce a fantastic swimmer, it wouldn’t make any sense. Similarly, CrossFitters might look at Rich Froning and cite his genetics, background, and education as reasons he dominated the CrossFit Games for 4 years, but conveniently ignore his legendary work ethic.
Something similar may be observed in the world of martial arts. In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, for instance, it takes about four years for someone to climb the 3 ranks from blue belt – the second adult belt – to black. That’s assuming the person has been competing or otherwise proving their increasing proficiency, without which the process would take much longer. The idea here is that as belts are meant to be indicators of skill – with black denoting an expert – practitioners should spend enough time at each level to truly develop their skill. Other martial arts have similar traditions about time-in-grade, with the same rationale.
Getting good at things takes time. That, more than anything, must be what you are most prepared to invest. No matter how advanced your program, expensive your machines, or certified your coach, you will not go from Gabe Newell to Chris Hemsworth overnight. There are numerous reasons behind this: your body can only burn so much fat and build so much muscle in a day, and your brain can only learn so many movements at one time. You also have to be aware of progression: no one is going to go from crunches to the dragon flag in their first session. Each step will take time to develop.
There are a couple of particularly good psychological benefits to obeying the clock.
First, being fully aware of the process of progression – the multiple steps leading to the goal – provides a more realistic view of the goal. You are less likely to be disappointed and discouraged from continuing if you know – really know – that you aren’t going to go from couch potato to Olympian in a month. Set high standards, yes, but realistic ones.
Second – and I know this seems almost self-explanatory – training actually gets easier in a sense the longer you do it. Pain and soreness become less scary, and psyching one’s self up to go hard and heavy becomes almost second-nature. This is one of the reasons athletes are able to perform on game day: they have become so accustomed to the rigor and pressures of training that the actual event almost seems like just another training session.
A final note: this does not mean you get to be lazy as long as you stick to it. All those other factors – programming, nutrition, recovery – are very important. It just so happens that time is the most critical factor. Without obedience to the time – without a degree of patience and respect for progression – you can’t reasonably expect anything but an empty wallet made worse by disappointment in yourself.
Find time. Obey it. Enjoy the trip.
30x each 4-way JJ
10x Close Squat
20m Cross Zombies
10x Side Lunge
20m High Knees
Pistol to Lunge Combo
10m @ body weight / 10lbs / 15lbs
8m @ 25lbs
3x6m @ 16kg
Kettlebell Swing @ 16kg
Goblet Squat @ 16kg
Burpee (no jump)
- I am so much worse at pistols now that it genuinely upsets me. A few months ago, I literally did that rep scheme with twice the weight. It is a hard-earned skill and hard-built strength that I now have to re-develop.
- The circuit is actually a modification of a workout Mark Twight used on the cast of 300 and on Henry Cavill for Man of Steel. The sledgehammer slams replaced jumping jacks because I find those too easy for real conditioning work, except in enormous amounts. Also, the original is meant to be done either for a single round of 25 reps (as a finisher) or four rounds of 25 reps each, which I am not currently conditioned enough to take on.
I was re-watching an interview Michael Blevins did for one of Henry Cavill’s fan sites. The great thing about Blevins (and his mentor Mark Twight) is that there’s always something new to take away from what he says, whether written on the Internet or given in an interview. This time my attention was drawn to how he answered the question of Henry’s diet.
In case you’re too lazy to watch the video – and you shouldn’t be, because it’s worth the time – Blevins focused on sustainability and longevity over minutiae like macro- and micronutrient counting, exclusion of sweets and sugar, and other details that people tend to obsess over. If allowing a client to have a beer every night kept the guy within his targeted calories, Blevins had zero problems handing him the bottle.
This is an approach that is hardly unique to Blevins, and one that isn’t limited to diet. Most sane trainers will happily tell their clients where to find a good pizza for a cheat meal, or that they can take a day or two off to relax. Deprivation is not a long-term plan, and being too strict eventually causes rebellion.
Sticking to a fitness program is, after all, a long-term investment. Any good investment will have latitude for dips and peaks so long as the general direction is maintained and the value is ultimately increased. If trying to adhere perfectly to the program and diet causes one to crash and burn, the goal will be missed and the mission failed.
Obviously this approach varies from client to client and even from week to week. For instance, during a leaning or cutting phase, a diet becomes absolute in its restrictions simply because there is a deadline to be met. Say goodbye to beer, sweets, and fat, because no one is going to take Superman or the Spartans seriously if they don’t have six-packs. Similarly, no one tells athletes cutting for a match that they’re making a mistake because the goal is to be amazing for a few minutes, not years. There’s time for laxity later.
But again, the general goal of fitness is long-term health and functionality. Whether you can ever bench double your bodyweight is not as important as whether twenty years from now, your shoulders aren’t so messed up that you can’t bench any more.
As a caveat, though: this isn’t an excuse to fuck around. You get a cheat day, not a cheat week. You can take a day off, not a month (barring injury, of course). The objective is to stay the course. Slipping off is almost as bad as being thrown off.
20x 4-way JJ
3×10 Jump Squat
1 round per 3min for 60min (i.e. 20 rounds)
2x Salmon Ladder Rungs (i.e. climb 2 rungs on the Salmon Ladder)
- This is a very informal workout conducted out on a cool day. The actual scheme is 2 rungs every new song, which works out to roughly every 3 minutes. It makes the rest periods feel longer and less intense. Obviously my forearms were left nearly non-functional for the next two days.
The line between passion and obsession is blurry, and for the most intense personalities it very quickly disappears with each passing moment. There comes a point where everything is surrendered in the name of achievement, of desperate success. The fire burns you, but you fear losing it lest nothing remain to light your way.
But at some point, you will be forced to choose between an obsession that is steadily destroying you, or a life less consumed and more fully lived.
Mark Twight fled to the mountains as a crucible, seeking the clarity that comes from either succeeding in an attempt to summit difficult routes or dying on the snow-covered slopes. Many of his achievements remain untouched – the Reality Bath, for instance, remains unrepeated, although many argue this is due to the route’s suicidal nature rather than any significant difficulty – but he has also documented perhaps more than his fair share of failures.
In 1987, Twight and climbing partner Jeff Lowe failed an attempt on the South Pillar of Nuptse in the Nepalese Himalayas. Despite their best efforts, the pair was forced to concede defeat, starting back down without having hit the summit. In spite of his desperate drive to reach a peak that had already beaten him earlier that year, Twight “gave way to fear, trading [his] dreams for the bland taste of survival.” It was a difficult choice, and one seemingly at odds with his philosophy of success or death.
It wasn’t the last time he made it. “Glitter and Despair”, the article in which he details the failed climb, is not the last piece in Kiss or Kill containing one of Twight’s failures. Faced with the very real possibility of the end, even the cynic nicknamed Dr. Doom chose to give up and save himself for another day.
Five years have passed since the last time I handed in a letter saying I was forced to make a difficult call. Another uniform, another dream, another life I thought I could live – gone because I knew it was destroying me. Whether it was the nature of the job – the hours, the numbers – my hellbent personality, or simply poor timing, a career as a personal trainer at Fitness First simply wasn’t the right thing to chase. I could not separate the drive to succeed from the reality that it simply wouldn’t happen overnight or day after day.
It began to cost too much: the expense of the hospitalization is almost insignificant next to the expressions of the loved ones forced to watch as I tried to explain myself over and over again. The price of the bottle of brandy paled next to hearing someone describe their fear at finding me face-down in the garage next to it.
And so in the face of the storm, I chose to survive. I chose to cut my losses and live with the disappointment rather than die trying to summit an impossible peak.
There are other mountains. Other routes. I tend to lose track of that when I’m in a particularly intense mood – which, as a full-time trainer, was basically every day of every week.
I was a cadet officer for three months. I was a trainer for six. Maybe some day it’ll be a year, then two, then four. I have to believe that some day I’ll be whoever and wherever I’m supposed to be.
For now, I can breathe. Regroup. Recover. And one day – maybe not too far off – I will have to rise again.
30x each 4-way JJ
1×6 each @ 35/40/45kg
3×20 Back Squat @ 50% 1RM
Avoid setting bar down during rest
15x20s Thruster @ 35kg / 10s rest
- This is from Day 2, Week 3 of the Gym Jones Man of Steel training plan’s Leaning Phase. It quickly became the worst workout of my life when, partway through the fourth round of thrusters, I realized I was barely able to breathe. I was sure I was going to pass out, but the fear of dropping the barbell on my head in an empty gym kept me going. Afterwards, I lay there for an hour before finally locking up. It was quite an experience.