Steps

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.

 


 

Workout

30x 4-way JJ

3 rounds:

5x Jump Squat

10x TRX Row

15x Push-up

Circuit

10-1x alternating ladders

Burpee Pull-up

Ring Row

10m Farmer Carry @ 2x28kg per rung

Additional Work

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

 

Notes:

  • 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. 
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Knowing Your Worth

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.

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Research material.

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.

 

 


 

Workout

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#

Circuit

5 rounds

20x Sledgehammer Slam

10x Wall Ball @ 10kg

5x 5m Rope Pull @ 2x28kg (KBs tied to rope)

Final Work

Alternating 10-1 ladder

Feet-to-Hands

1h KB Press @ 16kg (left side only)

 

Notes:

  • 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. 

Us Versus Them

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.

 


 

Workout

40x Jumping Jacks

40x Front Jacks

40x Twist Jacks

40x Seal Jacks

10x Squat

10m Zombies

10m Cross Zombies

10m Forward Walking Lunge

10m Reverse Walking Lunge

20m Buttkicks

10m Jump Squat

20m High Knees

Single-leg Work

6×6 Bulgarian Split Squat @ 2x16kg / 2min rest

Circuit

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

Cooldown

10min Stretch

Notes:

  • 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. 

Obey the Clock

[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.

v up

Maita makes the V-Up look easy because she spent time getting better at the exercises leading up to it.

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.

 


 

Workout

30x each 4-way JJ

10x Close Squat

20m Zombies

20m Cross Zombies

10x Side Lunge

20m Buttkick

20m High Knees

10x Lunge

Pistol to Lunge Combo

10m @ body weight / 10lbs / 15lbs

8m @ 25lbs

3x6m @ 16kg

Circuit

25-20-15-10-5x each

Kettlebell Swing @ 16kg

Goblet Squat @ 16kg

Sledgehammer Slam

Burpee (no jump)

 

Notes:

  • 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. 

The Long Haul

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.

 


Workout

20x 4-way JJ

3×5 Pull-up

3×10 Jump Squat

Rep Interval

1 round per 3min for 60min (i.e. 20 rounds)

2x Salmon Ladder Rungs (i.e. climb 2 rungs on the Salmon Ladder)

 

Notes:

  • 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.

Choose To Kiss

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. 95172

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.

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Workout

 

30x each 4-way JJ

BB Complex

1×6 each @ 35/40/45kg

Push-up

Deadlift

Bent-over Row

Hang Clean

Front Squat

Push Press

Back Squat

Squat Work

3×20 Back Squat @ 50% 1RM

Interval

Avoid setting bar down during rest

15x20s Thruster @ 35kg / 10s rest

Cooldown

10-1x Feet-to-Hands

Notes

  • 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.

Push, Be Pushed

It’s easy to quit in the middle of a workout.

Sure, you have fitness goals. Sure, you know that if you finish it, you’ll come out better for it. Sure, you probably could do it too, especially if it’s something a trainer gave you – after all, he wouldn’t have made you do it unless he was confident in your abilities.

But the weight’s too much. The cold iron is pressing down on your shoulders. Your legs are starting to buckle. Your breath is catching in your throat. It hurts too much to continue, to finish your current rep, let alone another one.

Suddenly you don’t care about your goals or your potential or what people think – you just want the goddamn barbell off you.

This is the most crucial moment of the most demanding workouts. Arguably it’s more important even than the race or the beach trip or the movie: you have to decide that what’s waiting for you on the other side of the crucible is more important than ridding yourself of the pain, or you aren’t going to get there.

Sometimes the voice inside is loud enough to spur you on. Sometimes that goal is so embedded in you that you can – for just a little longer – bear the weight and force yourself to keep moving.

And sometimes – perhaps in the worst of times – you need someone else there to drive you on. You need someone who understands how hard it is, but believes you’re still harder. It can’t be a pithy “I believe in you” – it works only when it is a true, honest proclamation of faith in the process that has led you to this point. They aren’t telling you something you don’t know – they’re reminding you of what you can do.

I have written repeatedly about Mark Twight and the Man of Steel training process because of my admiration for what Twight did for Henry Cavill and the rest of the cast. In particular, I draw inspiration from this video, in which Henry says one of the great things about Mark was how he helped Henry do things he didn’t think possible.

 

In the absence of a multi-million dollar movie or a clear career goal, I could use a Mark Twight right about now. Not necessarily to drive me through difficult training sessions – I can manage those well enough, amusingly – but to remind me that, yes, the circumstances are far less than ideal, and it feels like shit some days, but it’s nothing you cannot handle.

It isn’t that no one’s told me. It’s that I need them to make me believe.


Workout

5min Row @ progressive pace

5x10s hard / 50s light Row

2×10 Squat

5x Goblet Squat @ 20/25/30kg

BB Complex

1 set each @ 35/40/45/50kg

2min rest

Push-up

Deadlift

Bent-over Row

Hang Clean

Front Squat

Push Press

Back Squat

Challenge

100x Back Squat @ body weight

20x Burpee Pull-up per drop / rack

Final Work

10-1x Toes-to-Bar

Notes:

  • This may seem familiar to anyone who’s read my post on challenge workouts. It’s taken from the Mass Gain phase of Gym Jones’s Man of Steel training program, meant to be attacked in the sixth week. By this point you will have been training for about four months – plenty of time to develop your strength endurance, especially in the squat. When I took this on, I weighed 185lbs. That’s a lot of iron to load on your back for 100 reps, and I was unable to make it through without having to pay the penalty. 
  • The really hard part about dropping the barbell isn’t the penalty; it’s psyching yourself up to put it back and keep going, even if you’re barely 10 reps away from the end. 

Over and Over

I haven’t had much reflection on the fitness world lately.

Truth be told, I haven’t had much reflection on anything but one very dark topic lately. For whatever reason – and my therapist came up with a couple of good ones – my depression has chosen to rear its head and start ruining things again. That discussion is for another time and place – I mention it only to provide context.

The hardest part about a mental illness is that there is no cure. You just have to accept that you’re going to have to learn to live with it. You will have to get used to the pitfalls, learn to navigate the roadblocks, and become accustomed to dragging yourself out of the holes your mind digs for you. It’s a daunting realization, and becomes more and more so every time it reappears.

Sometimes – more often than I am comfortable admitting – it’s all too tempting to just lie there and give up.

Now, what does this have to do with a fitness blog?

This may be just me and my experiences, but fitness – strength – is much the same way. You will have to work at it to keep it. You will have to slog away even when you don’t feel you have the energy. And sometimes it will fail you, and you will be sorely disappointed.

You don’t know why you finished that race three minutes slow – you beat your previous best on a training run!

You don’t know why you couldn’t hit that deadlift – last week you pulled ten kilos heavier.

You don’t understand why, despite all the hard work – all the dieting, all the training, all the deprivation and sacrifice and effort – you aren’t everything you wanted to be.

And you want to quit.

I can’t say I’d blame you. I can’t say I blame any of the people who give up on gym memberships after a year of little or no result. I can’t say I blame people who refuse to take on new trainers because their last one barely did anything for them. I get why you’d rather sleep in than get up early to hit the iron: what’s the use if it’s barely working, right?

I’m going to keep getting fat. I’m going to keep getting tired. I’m going to keep watching my performance numbers yoyo unless I slog through the muck day after day after fucking day, and I don’t know why I should bother.

That feeling of despair is me every day. And every day I once again have to decide to haul everything together for a few hours – just a few hours until I can disappear into my dark room and the safety of sleep.

The challenge, then, is to hope that you will come out better.

It isn’t easy. Your trainer says it’ll take six months to lose that excess weight. Your coach says you’ll need to work on your lifts for a year before you can consider competing.

Your therapist says it could be decades before you’ve even come close to everything you think you should be.

Possibly my favorite scene in Man of Steel was the one where Clark learns to fly. He doesn’t manage it on his first try, which ends with him crawling out of a crater. If he had successfully flown right away, it would have taken away a very real – if painful – factor sorely needed by the Superman mythos.

Superman failed, too. He tried to be everything, but couldn’t. Not at once. Not right away.

And maybe that’s the message we need to hold on to.

It’s a struggle to keep rising. I feel like I’ve hit those fucking mountains more times than is fair.

But as long as I can find a reason – even a small one – I will crawl out of that goddamn crater at least one more time.

I may not be a hero. I may not learn to fly. You won’t ever look like Stephen Amell. You may never hit a thousand-pound squat.

But that doesn’t mean it’s over.


Workout

3-5 rounds

10x Handstand Push-up

10x Pull-up

10x Decline Push-up

Notes:

  • This is by no means a formal workout. It’s something I did this morning to force myself to get energized to go to work. If I hadn’t, I don’t know that I might have made it – although the thought of someone there certainly helped.

I Am Not Relevant Except To You

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Having anxiety and depression together is locking yourself in a room on the 43rd floor with a six-pack of beer and staring out the open window thinking, “I want to jump, but I have someone who has finally saved up enough to become a client, and I can’t let him down.”

Having anxiety and depression together is working on other people’s problems so you don’t have to deal with yours.

Having anxiety and depression together is the worst and best way to be a trainer – or at least the only way that I know.

 

At some point I’ll have a less sad post on that…

Beyond Looks

I stumbled upon a striking post from someone who has suffered from anorexia at least in part due to relatives criticizing her weight. There is no shortage of posts on the Internet about body-shaming, but this one stood out specifically because of how it began by describing an all too familiar situation: that of a relative calling you fat.

Now, this hasn’t happened to me in a very long time. If anyone comments on my weight, it’s to say that I’m looking thinner. This isn’t surprising, given my increased power endurance work, but it’s a bit disappointing to hear people tell me that I should stay thin because it’s a good look for me. Leaner, yes – I want my body fat down to around 15% – but personally I dislike being on the slim side. I think it looks weird on my broad shoulders, and I don’t like the look of loosely hanging sleeves on myself.

Mainly  I dislike looking anything like I used to feel: powerless.

That’s what being unfit was like. I felt incompetent, incapable of anything significant. I couldn’t run ten minutes without risking an asthma attack, and the thought of ten push-ups was downright terrifying. There are many other things I could say about that time in my life, but it should suffice for me to say that one of the reasons I value the roughly 58 kilos of muscle I have so much is that the process of developing it, strengthened my mind as much as my body.

Being fit is about more than looking good. It’s about feeling good, whatever that may mean to you. If fitting into a size 0 – and I call bullshit on that being a thing – actually makes you feel good, hey, who am I to say it’s wrong? So long as you don’t push it on others – so long as you don’t force them to accept that everyone should be the same – then more power to you.

The thing is, I think very few people fully appreciate what it means to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t just mean that we accept others have different physical standards of beauty, but that others also find different meaning in those standards. The common ground is hard to find and often narrow, which is why appearance is such a controversial topic in the world of fitness.

Personally, my appearance is only important insofar as it is representative of what I can do. I associate my relative muscularity with the things I can do: one-arm push-ups, pistol squats, 300+ pound deadlifts, and 2000m rows are within my abilities, and I am glad to look like it. Thus, I dislike being told to get thinner or lose more weight because I refuse to sacrifice these things for the sake of someone else. I can do 10 handstand push-ups, and that’s more important to me than your approval.

Similarly, I find athletic women far more attractive than thin ones. Melissa Benoist on Supergirl, for example, has wonderfully muscled arms and legs. Her physique is undoubtedly feminine, but still projects strength, power, and capability. I would say the same about certain females I’ve trained and worked with – not that they were thin enough for the catwalk, but that they understood strength and hard work, and it showed. It’s the same thing I keep trying to tell a certain co-worker with concerns about her physique: women with muscular arms and legs can be quite attractive, as she is.

But guess what? You don’t have to give a single shit about what I think regarding your looks. If you’re healthy and comfortable with what you look like and what you can do, honestly, you’re a step above me. If I have a problem with body-shaming, it isn’t so much because it’s unrealistic, as because it assumes standards that have no place existing and wouldn’t be agreed on by everyone anyway. It’s especially ridiculous because the fittest people on the planet – the ones who presumably have the best reasons to look the way they do – would fall well outside the “normal” standards of beauty. Female runners would disagree with the desirability of a thigh gap. Men who squat think skinny jeans are stupid. And if you’re one of those designers who thinks everyone should have tiny shoulders and be rake thin, you’re dumb and I hate you.

But I digress.

I realize that I sort of turned this into a rant about how fit people shouldn’t have to justify how they look to anyone, but what I have (perhaps poorly) been trying to say is that we will always be most comfortable when we understand why we look or act a certain way. I don’t worry about people who tell me to be thinner because I know what’s important. Similarly, the blogger I mentioned at the start of this post, learned to love herself because she realized that arbitrary numbers don’t equal happiness.

 


 

Workout – Skill + Strength / Power Endurance

60x each Jumping Jacks, Front Jacks, Twist Jacks, Seal Jacks

Superset

2 rounds

2/4/6/8x Dip

2/4/6/8x Pull-up

Skill

6×6 Ring Dip – focus on depth and control

Circuit

For time – finished in 14:34

10x DB Bench Press @ 2x60lbs

30x Burpee Pull-up

20x DB Bench Press @ 2x50lbs

20x Burpee Pull-up

30x DB Bench Press @ 2x40lbs

10x Burpee Pull-up

Core Work

10x 30s Plank / 30s Rest*

* Hands on TRX every other round

Notes

  • I need to improve my dipping strength if I want to clean up my muscle-up. 
  • The open circuit turned out much harder than I thought it would be. The bench press weights aren’t anything special, but bench pressing anything even remotely heavy is far worse when you’re still trying to recover your breath. I wound up breaking those into sets of 10, giving me more time to breathe. Fucking burpee pull-ups.
  • My isometric core work tends to be neglected due to the glamor of toes-to-bar and similar strength-oriented ab work. I can’t help but wonder how much of my deficiency in the front squat is due to a weaker core than the one with which I squatted 120kg, about two years ago.