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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. 

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…

Know Thyself

Note: I’ve just finished a five-day training course as a pre-requisite for starting as a trainer at Fitness First. All that’s left is to take the exam on Monday (and re-take on Wednesday if I should fail), and boom.

This is yesterday’s reflection.


I don’t like group exercise.

I don’t like having to crowd into a room with people I don’t know while trying to follow shouted instructions that no one can perfectly follow.

I especially dislike classes with music, particularly loud, booming beats that add to the difficulty in listening to the instructor.

But most of all, I dislike group classes because I know from experience that they are at best of limited efficiency in developing high levels of physical capability.

Now this is obviously subjective. I know many people who are perfectly happy with group exercise and the results. Positive is positive, after all. Many are also there not for the exercise, but for the sense of community. They don’t need to watch their numbers improve week after week, or feel their physical capacity growing, so long as they have fun.

These are the points made by my classmates when I said I disliked teaching group classes.

The main difference I see, then, is what kind of trainer you want to be. Or more accurately, what kind of trainer you can be.

I am an introvert by nature. I dislike crowds, am tired by long interactions with people unless I get along with them very well, and am quite happy to be alone at home or in the gym on a Friday night. I don’t look for a sense of belonging from a community when I think about what kind of training or work I want.

When I look at fitness, I think of it as a personal journey of progression. I couldn’t care less how many people are with me, and I won’t be put off by doing the work alone. What I want is not a trainer who gives basic instruction and cursory corrections, but one who will stand over me and fix every little issue. I want a customized plan made by someone whose attention is, at least for that session, entirely on me. I want improvement, not new friends.

I’m not saying people who prefer to teach group classes are necessarily worse than those who prefer conducting personal training sessions. A sharp eye and excellent communication skills are important to both, and certainly either way there will be clients. An excellent point in favor of group classes is that it’s much easier to earn off them; unless you’re Dan John, you’d have to take on five or six clients a day to maintain a decent income stream.

I am, however, a personal trainer. I do my best work in intimate, controlled sessions with people who trust me enough to place their personal development in my hands, just as I did in the summer of 2010. I prefer seeing a single incredible transformation to multiple decent improvements mixed with disappointment. Maybe it’s because I have high expectations, and group classes simply prevent the level of control necessary to meet those. Maybe it’s because I don’t like being in big groups and just don’t get how people can prefer it.

Whatever the reason, it’s useful to know what you’re good at. It’s not a question of skill or even comfort, but one of efficiency and effectiveness. Yes, you can improve by working on your weak points – but if the challenge is contribution, then you meet it best by throwing yourself into situations where your strengths are in play.


Workout

30x 4-way Jumping Jacks

Circuit

5 rounds

5x Pull-up

5x Divebomber Push-up

5x Jump Squat

5x Roll-up

Ladder

15-1x Burpee

5x Pull-up per rung

Plank Series

30s each / 3s transition

2 total blocks / 2min rest between blocks

Plank

Side Plank

Plank

Side Plank

Notes: It’s been just over a year since I returned from France. There was a gym in town, but it had weird operating hours and was closed on weekends. Thus, I did a fair bit of training in my room or out and about – a nearby playground had some nice monkey bars. This particular workout was done on a cool Saturday morning when I was feeling twitchy but wanted an excuse to gorge on a kebab platter.

Plank

Failure to Communicate

Note: I am currently taking a 5-day course as a pre-requisite for starting as a fitness trainer at Fitness First. I was too tired and annoyed at the end of the first day, but I would like to prepare journal entries for each day about my observations of my classmates, the instructors, and the training itself.


Before this job, I had never had any formal medical training. Everything I know about biomechanics, anatomy, nutrition, and all that, came from books, magazines, the Internet, and my coach’s notes. Thus, I was nervous about going to a class that contains at least four people with medical education. I was not surprised, therefore, when today’s session on muscular and skeletal anatomy involved a Physical Therapy graduate speaking up throughout most of it.

Eventually we were split into groups and told to prepare a short presentation on certain muscle groups. My group included Mr. PT, who energetically took up the challenge of explaining the assigned muscle groups and movements to those in the group who still couldn’t grasp the lesson.

What followed was a strong reminder that knowing something doesn’t mean you can actually explain it.

Communication is a key part of any relationship, and therefore a necessary skill for an educator. Coaches must be able to quickly convey information and instruction to their charges. Movement and postural corrections must be instantaneously absorbed and reacted upon for the sake of safety. Comprehension is necessary to minimize disagreements. The bottom line is that everything you know is worth nothing if you can’t articulate it in a way that your client understands.

I watched for several minutes as Mr. PT recited every muscle and movement related to the shoulder and elbow while my poor classmate stared hopelessly. Mr PT would conclude his spiel with, “Did you understand?” When she shook her head in dismay, he happily – and pointlessly – repeated the entire thing nearly word for word. There was no attempt to rephrase the explanation in anything but the technical terminology he’d memorized. There didn’t even seem to be any realization that he simply wasn’t making anything any clearer with his continuous stream of scientific gibberish.

My old coach once told me that if you really know something, you can explain it in ten seconds. I think that’s a very tight time frame, but I definitely believe that being able to make yourself understood is at least as important as being a repository of information. In a coach-client relationship in particular, it’s a safe assumption that your client’s knowledge, skills, and abilities aren’t approaching yours, and that you will need to bridge the gap as carefully as possible. The ability to do so – to summarize information and simplify it as much as possible – is crucial to a good relationship. It must be honed at every possible opportunity, because there are so many ways to rephrase “You need to do more reps.”

You may sound like a genius if you can recite the name of every bone from the skull to the metatarsals and phalanges, but you will be a completely useless coach if your client doesn’t understand how any of that will help him.

I usually follow a three-step process when I have to answer a client’s question:

  1. Condense: Identify the main idea. Leave out all extra information.
  2. Simplify: If you had to explain this to a three-year old, how would you phrase it? Would it help if you gave a practical demonstration?
  3. Re-Think: If they don’t get it, revisit the first two steps. Did you properly identify the main idea? Is there a simpler way you could phrase it without sacrificing accuracy?

Thus, if an uninitiated person asked you to explain elbow flexion as simply as possible, you wouldn’t say, “Elbow flexion is the result of contraction of the biceps brachii, decreasing the distance between the muscle’s origin and insertion points.” You are 100% correct and just as incapable of helping the poor girl. You’d point to your arm and bend it. (Incidentally, full biceps contraction actually involves lifting the arm a little, since the muscle group’s origin is actually on the scapula). 

My lesson today? Knowing a lot doesn’t mean you know anything useful. That sounds harsh, yes – and I’m sure Mr PT would contest that – but the confused expression on our classmate’s face said all I needed to know about exactly how much all that medical knowledge was worth.


Workout

30x 4-way Jumping Jacks

Superset Ladder

2×1-5, alternating exercises

Dip

Pull-up

Supersets

1 round per 2.5min for 12.5min (i.e. 5 rounds)

Rnd 1: 8x Pull-up + 5x Ring Dip

Rnd 2: 6x Chin-up + 4x Ring Dip

Rnd 3: 5x Pull-up + 5x Ring Dip

Rnd 4: 6x Chin-up + 4x Ring Dip

Rnd 5: 2x Wide Pull-up + 3x Ring Dip

“Big 55”

Use 2x35lbs

Close-grip DB Bench Press

Bent-over Row

Push Press

Final

5x Feet-to-Hands per min for 10min (i.e. 10×5)

5min Stretching

Back to Basics

I’ve been resting my left shoulder for the last two weeks after a sharp pain while attempting some moderate incline bench pressing. When my shoulder still felt odd after the first week, I manned up and went to an internist. Thankfully there was nothing seriously wrong: I had strained my rotator cuff and wouldn’t need more than additional rest and an anti-inflammatory gel. The doctor also advised that I carefully work my way back into pressing movements – light push-ups and dumbbell work, perhaps. Strained tendons, he said, occur in people who either don’t have any fitness experience or haven’t spent much time lately keeping the shoulders “warm”.

I fall into the latter category, and truth be told it’s something I’ve known and been bothered by for a while. I used to pride myself on having strong, flexible shoulders. I used to be able to bang out push-ups all day and go through ten sets of ten presses without losing the ability to raise my arms. As I began rebuilding the base I allowed to slip, I told myself I’d take it slow – but I was still pretty ambitious. I wanted my handstand push-up numbers back up. I wanted my jerks and push presses to get back to where they were. I wanted to feel like I could do it all again.

Thus, my training saw an increase of overhead movements. I began doing overhead squats up to thrice a week, and dedicated at least an hour every Sunday to training the jerk and its variations. Other days saw heavy kettlebell work – jerks, snatches, and presses were alternated with weighted pull-ups and added onto handstand push-ups. I also began benching heavy, something I’ve never really paid much attention to.

What I forgot was the carefully planned volume and support training I put in to develop that strength in the first place. Back in college, I’d put in up to twenty sets of ten push-ups throughout the course of a day. I’d spend thirty minutes training pike push-ups, getting the muscles and tendons used to the motion and volume. In fact, I was mainly a strength-endurance athlete for over a year before I started looking at increasing pure strength and power. Even once I started including heavy overhead presses and jerks to my training, assistance work (mainly in the form of lateral and front raises) along with continued bodyweight exercise kept my shoulders free of pain, if not soreness. Without the benefit of all that progression – or more accurately, having gone too long and too light without it – it was only a matter of time before problems appeared. I am in fact lucky that a strain is all I got.

When developing a training plan – and adjusting on the fly, as is always necessary – you need to be able to see how everything is connected and on what levels. Movement proficiency and endurance must always come before maximum effort, lest it cause the pedestal of sticks to collapse. This is why the concepts of foundations and a pyramid of fitness are so crucial: it is impossible to achieve peak capacity without a solid base.

So while seven minutes of going up and down a rep ladder of pike push-ups may feel grinding and lack the awe factor of a heavy jerk every minute for ten minutes, the former is far more beneficial from short to long term. Stability and proficiency are very basic aspects of fitness – and all the more important for it.


Workout

30x 4-way JJ

10x KB Swing @ 16/20/24/28/32kg

2×5 Jump Squat

2×5 Box Jump @ 24″

Power

1 round per minute for 10min (i.e. 10 rounds) using 2x28kg KBs

2x Double KB Clean

1x KB Front Squat

3min rest

AMRAP

Max rounds in 7min

2x Double KB Clean @ 2x16kg + 2 reps per round (finished round of 12)

2x Feet-to-Hands + 2 reps per round (finished round of 12)

3min rest

AMRAP

Max rounds in 7min

3x KB Swing @ 32kg + 3 reps per round (finished round of 18)

3x Leg Grab + 3 reps per round (finished round of 18)

3min rest

AMRAP

Max rounds in 7min

4x KB Swing @ 24kg + 4 reps per round (finished round of 24)

4x Roll-up + 4 reps per round (time cut off with 8 reps left in round of 24, finished anyway)

Notes:

  • I hate heavy double cleans. I’m also not entirely sure that the exercise is beneficial to power output; my main issue is the size and unwieldiness of the weights rather than the kilos being shifted. While this is one of the reasons kettlebells are considered by some to be superior to dumbbells and barbells, it’s a point that merits examination. 
  • The first AMRAP would have gone better if I had been paying attention to grip in the last few weeks. I think I would have had to start breaking up the FTH sets a lot had I gone any longer.
  • The final AMRAP missed in terms of what I wanted from it – I should have changed it to rounds of 4 without ascending reps to maintain a power endurance requirement. Instead, it turned into a slow grind after the round of 16. I can practically do roll-ups all day, so I should have left them low. Oh well. You live and learn.

Taking Responsibility

Two very different things happened to me within the last week. The first is that I came upon and read Michael Blevins’ article/rant on where the responsibility of success or failure in training lies. Blevins made the point that many of the widely used training programs in the world are the result of hours, even years of research and experimentation, and thus none of them are inherently “bad” or “wrong”. The problem he sees with them is that they are all too often blindly followed and consecutively either held up as the golden standard or demonized as being without value by people who are incapable of either seeking out a mentor or learning to train themselves properly.

The second thing I experienced was heavy traffic, in part due to a recent storm and the resulting flash floods. It took me over an hour to travel about 7.5km on mostly straight roads – and based on Facebook, that wasn’t even a huge delay.

However annoying that one hour was, it was the reaction of people – mostly on social media – that caught my interest. As has been the case recently – perhaps through most of the country’s history – much of the blame was heaped on the government. People complained of unresolved garbage problems clogging the drainage systems, untouched proposals for improving infrastructure throughout the metropolis, and poorly maintained trains that could have kept hundreds out of the buses and flooded highways.

Now, I grant that there are some valid complaints there. I will, however, make a couple of points. First, while the government could theoretically try harder to clean the streets and unclog the drains, they didn’t put the trash there in the first place. Second, while government agencies are responsible for maintaining order on the road, they aren’t the bus drivers who maniacally cut through traffic and stop on a dime two lanes from the sidewalk to squeeze an extra five people onboard.

In other words, responsibility for the horrendous traffic in Metro Manila doesn’t lie solely on the government. If you’ve ever chucked a cigarette butt into the sewer or swerved into an intersection to save precious milliseconds at the cost of screwing over people you decided you’d never have to care about, then part of the problem is you.

You drive like an ass. You throw garbage anywhere you find convenient. You have a complete and utter disregard for every other human being sharing the city with you. Why aren’t you just as mad at yourself?

Now I understand that this is a bit beside Blevins’ main point of the value of finding a good coach. This is where I find the connection: poor gains from perfect adherence to one training program doesn’t automatically mean the program was bad. Similarly, if floods strand you on the national highway for over two hours, it doesn’t mean the people who built and maintain the highway automatically screwed up somehow. It could mean those things, and sometimes it does.

Frequently, however, you could – if you were willing – point the blame at someone else. And I guarantee that you won’t like it.


Workout

30x 4-way Jumping Jacks

3 rounds

5x Ring Pull-up

5x Double Clean and Press @ 2x25lbs

5x Side Lunge

Pistol Work

4x Pistol (L) + 3x Pistol (R) per minute for 5min

3x Pistol (L) + 2x Pistol (R) with 25lbs per minute for 5min

3min rest

Strength Ladder

3 total superset ladders

1-3x KB Clean and Press @ 55lbs

1-3x Pull-up @ 10kg vest

5min rest

“Cindy”

Max rounds in 20min

5x Pull-up

10x Push-up

15x Squat

Honesty

At some point, you need to be honest with yourself.

Sometimes it’s about goals. Sometimes it’s about the extent to which you will push yourself to attain them. Sometimes it’s just admitting that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. These kinds of honesty – which I would say are actually rare, and more often used to disguise the fear I generally rail against – can be painful because they may involve admitting that you simply aren’t as good as you thought. It’s a serious blow to the ego to not only have to drop 5kg off a planned work weight, but to modify a workout halfway through because your jerk fails, just doesn’t feel good. It’s especially frustrating to remember the days of 10-minute clean and jerk EMOMs and realize I couldn’t start one of those and expect to finish safely. Every excuse I can come up with, kind of falls short against the simple fact that trying to jerk 60kg in a tired state nearly caused me a serious injury. The lift is probably going to have to stay out of programming for a while – at least until I can rebuild my shoulder stability and hip power.

It was unrealistic to walk after a couple of weeks without power work and expect my Olympic lifts to be where they were last month, let alone where they were last year when I was doing barbell work two or three times a week. I was having difficulty jumping the weight off my thighs in the clean, which indicates a drop of power that was also evidenced by my poor jerk attempt. Part of it, I’m sure, is due to my degraded technique, but the power issue is probably more important. With my changing schedule, it’s unclear how much time I’ll have to rebuild the base I developed over the last couple of years.

Knowing where I am, though, is extremely useful. It helps that the Olympic lifts are brutally honest about any deficiencies you may have – if you can’t jerk 65kg, you’ll know instantly. There’s no way to disguise it from anyone, let alone yourself. Every truth – no matter how depressing or seemingly insignificant – is crucial to proper programming towards your goals. With a clear end in mind and a good understanding of how to progress, it becomes easier to decide what, how, and when to train and progress.

If you want to get better at the Olympic lifts, you need to realize just where you are. There’s no way around the fact that you need to be working more with barbells and progressing in weights; technique and power take time to develop (or re-develop, as the case may be).

Honesty must overcome ego. Ego can drive you to achieve great things, but honesty is what lays the foundation for these acts in the first place: honesty about your capabilities, where you want them to be, and how hard you must work to close the gap.

It would be nice if life were that easy to figure out.


Workout

5min Row @ progressive pace (work to 2:00/500m)

5x10s hard / 50s recovery row

2×10 Squat

2×5 Goblet Squat @ 20-25kg

2×5 Overhead Squat @ 20kg (empty bar)

2×5 Jump Squat

Round Interval

1 round per 30s for 10min @ 60kg (i.e. 20 sets)

1x Power Clean

1x Front Squat

Back Squat Work

3x @ 85kg

2x @ 90kg

1x @ 95/100/105kg

5×3 @ 90kg / 90s rest

EMOM

One round per minute for 10min (i.e. 10 sets)

I started at 40kg, but bumped it to 50kg halfway through.

1x Power Clean

1x Hang Clean

1x Front Squat

Final

5×25 Seated Calf Raise @ 85kg

Stretch to cool down and be sad

Excuses, Excuses III: Rationalizing Mediocrity

There are numerous articles circulating the Internet that remind – or should I say, teach – people that despite the massive popularity of CrossFit and similar boot camp gyms and programs, exercise should not be treated as “an all-out war on the body.” The mantra of “no pain, no gain” and its iterations are attacked almost as frequently as they are trumpeted, and it’s nowhere near uncommon to see both popping up all over one’s Facebook feed.

Now, I am in complete agreement with the idea that you aren’t supposed to feel like you were physically abused at the end of each training session. The body and mind cannot handle constant destructive efforts without an eventual breakdown, which is why rest and recovery days are always programmed into any smart training cycle. Most even include a deload week wherein the loads (read: weights) used are set far lower than might be expected in order to allow the CNS and muscles to properly recover without detraining.

The problem is when this perfectly valid reasoning is misused to defend outright avoidance of hard work in the gym or on the road.

Improvement means adaptation to discomfort. Discomfort can sometimes be painful. For example, muscle growth is the result of myofibrillar microtears that are repaired by nutrient flow during rest periods. Before recovery can begin, however, there must be that moment of stress that causes the microtears in the first place. This is why bodybuilders, strongmen, and weightlifters alike must all lift heavy: there will be no increase in size and strength without forcing the body to proactively prepare itself for greater stress. Similar principles are why runners train in intervals at race pace and why a sprinter should know her best 100m time.

If you never feel any kind of discomfort whatsoever, then you have no idea what your maximum capabilities are, and your body – and mind – will feel no need for the process of adaptation. Once in a while, you need to step into the gym ready to discover how far you can go without breaking down. You need to realize just how heavy a 265lbs. front squat is, or how terrible a 2km row can get, before you can start working towards improving them. And along the way, you will have to push yourself right up to the precipice before smartly stepping back. That’s the idea behind 5 sets of 2 reps at 80% of your 1-rep max, or 4 100m sprints at ~3s less than your PR. You will adapt with each trip to the edge, and by doing so push it just a little bit farther.

It always hurts to go all-out. Coming close will be almost as bad, and about as terrifying for all that you know about what the edge is like. You can’t avoid it forever if you’re serious about pursuing excellence, and it always pays off to know just how far and how hard you can go.

To reiterate, I don’t think you should destroy yourself every single day. Believe me, I know perfectly well how bad things will get if you do that to yourself. Get some sleep. Take a day off every week or so. Throw in some light recovery days, especially if you’re feeling wasted. First and foremost, however, you have to work hard to have something to rest and recover from. Pressure produces diamonds. It can be strategically applied and carefully managed, especially if you’ve had a good coach, but it must exist. Be ready to go in hard every now and then, and don’t use the words of others to disguise your fear. Face it, accept it, and overcome it.


Workout

5min Ride @ progressive pace (work to ~30kmph)

5x10s hard / 50s easy pace

Circuit

20s work / 20s rest

3 rounds

Step-up

Push Press @ 2x20lbs

TRX Row

Strength Work

3x Pistol Squat per minute for 10min (i.e. 10 sets)

KB Circuit

8 rounds @ 2x25lbs / 30-60s rest

Don’t set the kettlebells down between exercises.

6x Double Swing

6x Double High Pull

6x Double Clean

6x Front Squat

6x Double Jerk

Focus

Lately I’ve had to repeatedly face the challenge of focusing my training time. It began when a former client started asking me a few months ago how to properly integrate all aspects of fitness into her schedule, which lead to interesting discourses on training in general. This coincided with my own realization of just how much time I had to micromanage if I were to achieve all my goals simultaneously. The result is that I’ve been revisiting and reviewing the issue of focus and my stance thereon.

Until about this time last year, I was training twice a day, six days a week. Sessions lasted 30 to 90 minutes and covered just about everything I could imagine needing to cover: lower body strength and power, upper body strength endurance, general power endurance, flexibility, cardiorespiratory endurance, and skill work were all incorporated somehow. This meant a lot of time, a lot of different exercises, and a lot of writing and calculating. At the time I didn’t think too much about cutting down my training time because I was improving everything – building a wide, solid foundation of fitness, which is what I want. Now, though, I find that not only is it more difficult to manage my daily schedule, I am less certain that everything I was doing was entirely necessary to achieve that level of general physical capacity. For instance, I used to put in roughly three hours of running a week. Now, however, I’ve effectively removed running from my programming simply because – other than preparing for a race – I don’t see how the health benefits of running cannot be achieved by another exercise that I might enjoy more. Rowing may not burn as many calories per hour, for instance, but I enjoy it more and find it more beneficial to respiratory training and recovery efforts.

I have also been studying the length of each workout. I realized last month that my main workouts – as opposed to short, focused sessions that usually last around fifteen to twenty minutes – take about ninety minutes to two hours. Early Sunday morning, this isn’t a big deal because I have the entire day. At six in the evening on a Tuesday, though – with eight hours of work the next day – ninety minutes seems like a lot of time to spend not eating or sleeping.

The logical conclusion seems to be that I should dedicate more effort to trimming down workout time. Cut rests, remove non-essential exercises, etc. However, this raises the issue of whether I would then have to accept lower standards in certain areas.

The old journeyman standard of 10, 000 hours was meant to ensure sufficient time and effort had been put into learning one’s chosen trade. While no one is quite as strict with counting hours nowadays, it still stands to reason that developing proficiency means a lot of practice. Consequently, if you want to become proficient in multiple areas, you need to spend even more time training. Can I – as someone with a very wide range of fitness goals – actually reach my target proficiency if I reduce the time I spend working on each one?

The issue of focus cannot be easily resolved. While the beginning of this post may have made it seem that I was resolved to lower training time, I remain uncertain that doing so will not have any negative effects – at least not negative effects that I can accept. A more detailed analysis is in order.

For now, I suppose that one of my catchphrases will have to suffice: “Figure out your life.”


Today’s workout is a power endurance fuckfest I dreamed up the other day, based on the Gym Jones workout of the same name. It replaced yesterday’s scheduled recovery work because I was feeling pretty good and kind of ornery. I did not feel so at the end.

Workout

5min Row @ progressive pace

2×5 Wall Squat

2×5 Overhead Squat @ 30lbs

2×5 Jump Squat

“The Triathlon”

For time.

50x Burpees

5km Ride

500m Row

Cooldown

300s Plank

5-10min Stretching

Learning to Train

A former client has been frequently getting in touch with me for advice on her training. From what I can tell, she is trying to build what I would consider a foundational fitness base – that is, a general degree of fitness across multiple aspects, with some work on yoga and gymnastic skills. I’m happy to help, mostly because I kind of miss being a trainer and because this particular person is someone I was hoping to work with.

Anyway, I have been pleasantly surprised and impressed with her questions, especially in comparison to another person who has asked me for fitness advice. The latter – someone I’ve previously criticized, both on this blog and in person – prefers to ask “Yes or no” questions, having a tendency to try shoving things into his program with little critical analysis. The former tends to begin questions with “How” or “Why”, which leads to a longer line of inquiry that ultimately leaves room for reflection. This, I feel, is the right way to gather information.

First, asking a “Yes or no” question tends to hand off responsibility. For instance, if someone asked whether he should foam roll and instantly added it to his regime because I said yes, he could – should it fail to produce any improvements – claim it was my faulty advice that caused him to waste time. He himself made no mistake except to listen to someone who was wrong. On the other hand, asking questions such as “What are the benefits?” and “How would this help me?” eventually, if properly answered and analyzed, lead to the trainee himself being forced to answer the question of whether he should do it. In this case, responsibility falls where it should: on the person who actually benefits if he’s right.

Now, I understand that this might seem counter to the point of having a coach or someone similar to guide you in any way. I contend that a coach’s job is not to order you around, but to advise you on your options and help you along. Similarly, when you ask for advice, you should not be trying to get someone to tell you exactly what to do. You should be asking someone to help you gather enough information and be critical enough of it to make the right choice.

Second, pursuing a line of questioning displays curiosity and a willingness to self-analyze, both of which are crucial to developing a successful training program. Each aspect of the program should be geared towards the individual’s objectives, which entails careful study of both existing and prospective components. If you think you should learn to power clean, you should be ready to ask yourself why you would need to do so and whether the time and effort in learning and improving the lift could better be spent on something else. Moreover, you should be ready to ask others to help you answer those questions.

Third, what would you do if you asked a simple “Yes or no” question of ten people and received different answers? This is one way in which deciding to answer the final question yourself is vastly superior to fobbing off responsibility. While it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of conflicting information, being inquisitive instead of outright subservient narrows the questions down to what you, personally, think you should do, and whether you trust yourself. You aren’t trying to decide whether this person or that is more reliable, but whether you did enough that you think you can make a good decision. Generally, if you’ve done your due diligence, you can rest easy with your choice, knowing it was the result of a comprehensive study and is ultimately for your benefit.

If we accept that what separates training from simply working out is the pursuit of a goal, then we should also insist that we treat it as an educational process. Asking whether you should learn a new lift or integrate a new training tool should never be a simple question; it is a micro indicator of the entire training process and the trainee’s willingness to seek out the best option. By all means, go to a coach and ask a friend. They can guide you along and hopefully teach you everything you need to learn. In the end, though, it’s your success that hangs in the balance, and you should be willing and able to lead the chase.

Workout

4-way Jumping Jacks, 30x each

Alternating Ladder

1-5-1

Pull-up

Uneven Push-up (hand on medicine ball)

Goblet Squat @ 5kg

Unilateral Work

5 sets of One-arm Push-ups. (Rep count: 4/6/4/4/8 on right, 6/8/6/6/10 on left. 90s rest.)

Endurance Intervals

3x20s work / 20s rest per exercise

3 rounds

Chin-up

KB Front Squat @ 2x16kg

TRX Row