Why Aren’t Why Here?

Posted: May 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

Why are we here?

 

I seriously contemplated just having a blog post pose this question so I could leave the comments open and have you guys essentially write this thing for me.  Alas, that’s probably not why I’m here.  To be honest, I’m not really sure why any of us are here on earth, and I’m not even going to attempt to answer that question.  So if you came here looking for the answers to life, shame on you for assuming anyone, never mind a two-bit hack writer with a blog, has the answers to life.

 

But, maybe I can point you in the right direction at least by one hundredth of a degree and we can all it even?  Cool?  Cool.

 "PUNK: Chaos To Couture" Costume Institute Gala

See, up until yesterday when I found out that Miley Cyrus is now the queen of Maxim’s top 100, I thought I had a few answers for you.  Now, I have no idea what’s going on and I might very well just be a rooster illusion… whatever that means.  (To be honest, there was a time when I thought Kristin Kreuk was the meaning of life, so maybe you shouldn’t take me that seriously)

 

What I can provide you with today is at least one reason why we aren’t on this planet.  And that, my friends, is to compare ourselves to other people.

 

That might sound a bit ridiculous seeing as how there are so many people on this planet that we are more or less stacked on each other.  Looking over to see how the next person is doing compared to us seems pretty much inevitable.  Kind of like a urinal lineup in the men’s room.  But I’m not sure that’s really why we exist.  To compete against one another until we’re six feet under.  I mean, of course that’s not what I think, my LAST POST was about doing things authentically for yourself, regardless of external factors.

 

We spend so much time measuring ourselves against other people, and a lot of times it makes us unsure of where we’re actually supposed to be in life.  However, the truth is probably closer to the idea that we are where we’re supposed to be at all times in our lives.

 

It might help to look at it this way:  Every person is more or less the star of their own movie.  So we have something like 9 billion movies going on at one time on the planet.  So each person you encounter in the world is at a different point in their respective movies, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all at the exact same point in our own movies.

 Nor does it mean you’re right or wrong for being ahead or behind in the timeline of your movie compared to where someone else is.  It just means that you may be at the point when you’ve just been bitten by a radioactive spider and are starting to become aware of your powers;  whereas, someone else has already realized their powers and is now living in a mansion owned by some dude named Charles Xavier.

 

So the point is that you can definitely find your own X-men, or Avengers, or Super Friends or whatever, but hawkeyeit’s going to happen in your own movie.  Not someone else’s.  Sure, you can be a part of someone else’s movie, and that takes a bit of planning and some pretty good writing.  But you need to get to the point in your own movie where you’re ready for this.  Case in point:  Jeremy Renner would be no good to the Avengers if a Hawkeye movie was made and it cut off right when he learns how to hold a bow, but not how to fire it.

 

Remember when you played in little league and that kid that sucked was always stuck out in right field while you were the star shortstop?  And then fast forward 10 years later, he’s an All-State player in high school and you haven’t touched a ball in 5 years?  Yeah.  His movie is playing out a little differently than yours.  That doesn’t mean his movie is better, and yours worse.  Just different.  But it seems like we have a hard time getting past that.

 

And like all movies, not every story is created equal.  You might look at where someone is in their story and think that they got there because of the help they received from others and special circumstances.  And that may be absolutely true.  But it doesn’t change the fact that you still have to live out your movie.  And the fact that you are ultimately the writer of your movie means that you have the opportunity to find help and means, too.

Is it going to be as easy as it seemed for that other guy?  Probably not.  But the key here is that it seems easy for other people.  But the truth is that we have no idea how many Christian Bale-like meltdowns he had behind the scenes of his movie to make it happen, either.  Keep in mind that we only catch glimpses of each others movies.  Even with people that we think we know exceedingly well, we can’t read any of their thoughts yet so we can’t assume that we know what’s going on with them at all times.

 

Back to the main point:  Stop comparing yourself to others.  That’s not what matters.  What matters is that you’re okay with where you are in your life/movie.  If you’re not okay with that, then I suggest you start putting together your own “getting stuff done” montage to get to where you want to be.  Can you take cues from people who seem to be in a bit better spot in their movies?  Sure.  Just make sure you don’t get too caught up in their movies and forget that you actually have your own plot twists to tackle.

 

One last point before we go.  One of the harder things about this is to accept the fact that regardless of where we are at a certain moment, there may not always be a solid cause and effect explanation as to why we’re there.  At least one that we’re aware of at the time.  And no matter what we could have done differently or what chips could have fallen our way, what happened, happened and it is what it is.  You just have to be able to cut to the next scene.

 

And if all else fails, remember that you alone can rewrite your movie whenever you please.  Just make sure it’s the movie you want to make, and not what someone else wants you to make.  Otherwise, you might turn out to be the next Nicholas Cage, and well… yeah.  Just don’t.  Please.

Unless, of course, you’re making more National Treasure movies.

 

Thanks for reading.

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Monday morning.  I’m sitting in one of my favorite cafes while people slowly trudge by outside trying to shake off the euphoria of their weekends.  Inside, the smell of coffee and breakfast foods encases me in a blanket of home cooked security.  In my mind, there’s nothing.  Actually, it’s more like, everything.  A million different thoughts sardine themselves in my head, but not a single one chooses to distinguish itself from its electrically identical brothers and sisters.

As my self allotted time ticks down, I can’t help but notice the lone TV showing “Tin Cup” on the Golf Network.  Weird choice for a coffee shop, unless you knew that Tiger was on the prowl a mere 24 hours earlier only to give way to an Angel and an Aussie.

 If you’re not familiar with the movie, don’t fret because I’m not either.  I honestly only know one scene from the whole movie and its one that I’ve seen over and over again.  I’m sure I’ve seen the whole movie at one point, but one particular scene has always separated itself from the rest of the movie.  For me, at least.

 

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6ghtv_tin-cup-golf-big-finish_shortfilms


Yeah, I know.  It’s a bit ridiculous and over the top.  No one in their right mind would subject themselves to that type of torture on that stage.  At least, we don’t think anyone would.  But, you never really know.  So what makes this scene so appealing if its over the top and not at all like what someone would do in real life?  For me, it always brings up the question, what if winning isn’t everything?  What would it be like to perform without fear of failure?  I mean yeah, Roy Mcavoy lost miserably going for a magnificent shot on the final hole of the US open when all he needed to do was play it safe.  But, still.  What if?

 

I guess one could argue that Kevin Costner’s character is just a stubborn guy.  Maybe it was just a shot he knew he could make and he never let it get past that.  Sure going into that first attempt he knew what the stakes were.  But the point is that once he hit the first ball, all the illusions about the shot were lifted.  And it definitely helped that after a certain point he knew he wasn’t going to win, so it was easy to just keep trying to hit that shot.  After all that, it just seemed like something that he could do and he wanted prove to himself that he could do it regardless of the stakes.

 

And I suppose that comes down to being able to strip everything away.  To take all the illusions, the accolades and admiration you could possibly get, and completely ignore them.  To make that US Open shot mean the same to you as any one shot in a practice round or the driving range.  And do it because you just want to find out if you can achieve excellence in every aspect you find important.

 

But that’s the kicker.

 

It has to be excellent in only the ways you decide.  Not the ways that anyone else does.  Can some of those factors be the same on a basic level as anyone else?  Sure.  But only you really know what those things mean to you.  And only under those circumstances will the act be truly authentic.

 

In Roy’s case, he thought he hit a great shot on his first try and he thought the wind had kept him from staying on the green.  For some people, they would stop at that and consider it bad luck.  Not Roy.  He knew he had it in him to duplicate that effort.  Now, to be honest I’m not sure what his character was like in the rest of the movie, but anyone can relate to trying to creating the perfect moment.  Whether its the perfect golf swing, painting, song or note, or the perfect line to say to that girl that walked into the bar 20 minutes ago and has had every guy’s attention from the first bat of her eyelashes.  When it feels right, no one can take that away from you.  The trick is figuring out how to consistently create those great moments for yourself and those around you, regardless of what else is at stake.

 

To get to my ultimate and longwinded point, let me introduce you to Miyamoto Musashi.  He was legendary swordsman in feudal MiyamotoMusashiJapan.  He was also known for never being defeated in dozens of duels with other swordsman.  Seeing as how a fair number of these duels ended in death, that is a major accomplishment.  He went on to retire from sword fighting and wrote down some of his teachings in a book called, The Book of Five Rings.

 

In it, he describes his approach to combat which he calls, The Way.  He writes that we all can learn The Way, but that it doesn’t necessarily have to be through sword fighting (He also practiced other arts such as calligraphy and painting).  The book is mostly Musashi’s teachings on strategy and combat but one particular line seems to echo how he viewed everything in life:

 

“If you know The Way broadly, you will see it in all things.”

 

Now, The Way he refers to is more or less his skill in combat.  The way that most people seemed to have interpreted this is that, if you can figure out how to learn and eventually master a particular craft to the point that it is an extension of you and only you; that same method can be applied to all walks of life and in ways that are authentic to who you are.  You could even do this with say, a golf swing.  If you try to achieve that mastery and authenticity each time you swing your club, each swing becomes the most important swing you can make.

 

So imagine putting that much focus into each and every swing of your club.  In theory this should make the meaning of every swing identical, whether its on the driving range or on the last hole of the US Open.  That is at least, from your perspective.  Cameras, sponsors and spectators can definitely give the shot more meaning outside of your approach, but that is all out of your control.  If we can harness that type of intensity and focus and put it into as many aspects of our lives possible, we can begin to create moments that are a pure representation of ourselves.

I know I know.  This one seriously has a little bit of “woo woo” to it, but let it simmer a little.  Think about the ways in which you’ve become great at your craft or passion.  There’s something that we all do well and we just have to understand how we got there.  Then think about how you can apply that to another aspect of your life.

Find your Way.  Then figure out how it applies to everything else.  Simple.  But not easy.  Definitely not easy.  Be patient and observe what goes on around you with all of this in mind.  You may be pleasantly surprised to find that there are many similarities in the world and that your Way may indeed be in all things.

… And once you find that, you’ll also realize that your Way is not The Way of all things, either.  But more on that another time.  Thanks for reading guys.

Editor’s Note:  Well.  This is already dumb seeing as how I am the editor (and a terrible one, to boot).  So this is really just a note from me.  Anyway, I would like to apologize for the amount of time it has taken me to put this particular piece together.  I have talked to some of you who read this blog and you have expressed interest in what I present here. I try, to the best of my abilities, to give the people (by “people” I mean all 8 of you that read this regularly) what they want.  However, the subject matter of this article proved to be much more dense, broad, and far reaching than I initially thought and I felt it demanded a lot more time and “research” than I usually allow myself.  The ideas expressed in the subject article are not completely quantifiable and can’t really be discussed with any type of certainty.  I ask questions more than I provide answers simply because I have no answers.  It’s up to us to decide the right questions for ourselves and to seek out the answers to those questions.  As always, I encourage you to keep an open mind, but there’s also a chance that I’m full of shit.  Henceforth, a match and salt shaker may be necessary.  Enjoy.


———-

A little over a month ago, I happened to catch this piece about Royce White written by Chuck Klosterman for Grantland.com and decided I wanted to blog about it.  It turned out to be a much more complicated topic than I thought, so I decided to run it as my monthly-ish (bi-monthly for the time being) gimmick: In Case You Didn’t Notice…

 

So… In Case You Didn’t Notice:  Royce White know’s he’s crazy and that might actually make him brilliant… or not.

 

For those unfamiliar with the story and that didn’t do the assigned reading, Royce White was drafted by the leon-sandcastle-roger-goodell_crop_exactHouston Rockets in the first round of last year’s NBA Draft.  While this pick was not as controversial as Leon Sandcastle going number one on Super Bowl Sunday, there were some reasons for concern around drafting White.

 

See, Royce White has a fear of flying and expected the team that drafted him to provide assistance to his condition in some way.  At the time I was not aware of what his demands really were, or if he even had any demands.  I only really knew that the dude didn’t like to fly and that was going to be a problem for the team that ended up drafting him.

 

Fast forward to the day this article was published, he still hasn’t seen a minute of playing time with the Rockets.  Up to this point I pretty much didn’t care at all about a guy that I thought, for lack of a better phrase, was too much of a wuss to get on a plane.

 

Boy was I wrong.

 

What is that saying we always have about not judging people?  Don’t judge someone until you’ve snorted a mile of cocaine in their shoes?  No.  No, that’s not right at all.  Huh.  I’m stumped.  Sorry, I’ll figure it out, but you get the point.  Open proverbial mouth, insert proverbial foot.

 

As it turns out, Royce White thinks the majority of us are mentally ill.  Now, I understand how someone can take offense to being called mentally ill, but just take a second to think about what he’s saying here.  He says that its purely on a basis of chemical imbalance within the brain.  While we don’t entirely understand all the functions of the brain and its inner workings, we do know that chemicals in the brain determine a lot, if not all, of our behaviors.

 

For instance, some people need assistance falling asleep at night.  Usually this comes in the form of an over the counter supplement, prescription medication, or any combination of those two with alcohol and narcotics.  White’s argument comes into play when we assume the need for such assistance is due to some type of chemical imbalance in the brain.  Before we invented artificial light, our brains were more or less alerted when it was time to sleep by the lack of light outside.  Presently, we’re signaled when its time to sleep by us realizing that we’ve been on YouTube since 10 pm and the clock tells us that its 3am.

 

So, we have light and other distractions basically off setting our brain’s sleep patterns.  We no longer sleep solely because we need it.  A lot of times, we sleep when we run out of things to do.  It may be true that we had fewer things to distract us from sleeping when all we had was a cave to sleep in, but the fact remains that people don’t sleep like they should.  This change in behavior could suggest a change in brain chemistry, or an “imbalance” in the brain, if you will.  So whether it’s caused by life stresses, the invention of artificial light or the fact that you literally can’t wait till May 24th, there seems to be, on the surface at least, some sort of created imbalance.

Life’s stresses.  That’s also an interesting thing to ponder.  At one point in time as members of hunter gatherer tribes, our thoughts revolved around food, shelter, water, procreation and not much else.  Whether or not we were going to be attacked in the middle of the night by some wild beast might cross our minds from time to time too.  In today’s world we are constantly bombarded by other thoughts and questions from the second we wake up.  Do I have enough time to snooze?  Am I going to run into traffic?  Is this enough to eat for breakfast, my trainer said I need to eat more?  What is work going to be like today?  Is this article going to make sense to anyone but myself?

 

On and on and on.  Even things that try to tie us back to our hunter gatherer roots like the paleo diet leave a lot to be desired in terms of our reward systems.  The majority of us don’t hunt or gather any of the food we buy from Whole Foods, which might suggest that huge parts of our primitive reward systems are still being ignored.  I don’t know what the exact ramifications of these reward systems not being fulfilled are, but this leads me to believe that either they remain unfulfilled or we seek that fulfillment elsewhere.  And that too may be an example of this so called imbalance.

 

In all honesty, I can’t even say for sure what we as humans processed in our minds while we were evolving into what we are today.  But I can say for sure that the natural world around us has changed.  The introduction of currency and private ownership of property, along with our inclination to be an alpha species on the planet, has turned a simple hunter gatherer society into what modern society is today.

 

And this is where we come back to White and the article.  He argues that the struggle to maintain a decent living in modern society is the source of most, if not all of this stress.  However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we can go back to our roots as a whole, either  It seems like a forgone conclusion that society as we know it will continue to move in the direction we have set.  Well… barring some sort of major near-extinction apocalyptic event, of course.

 

I do think White has a point in simply acknowledging that this was all a choice and that our continued acceptance to live in modern society is also a choice.  It’s true that I did not chose to be born in the United States of America, and I can choose to move to a more primitive locale if I felt it suited me.  But not a lot of us really want to do that.  And I’m not saying that it would be any easier, either.  It would, perhaps, be better for us in terms of our rewards systems as humans and we could get a certain sense of satisfaction from that type of lifestyle that we couldn’t from living in modern civilization.  But, I mean,  have you seen Game of Thrones and the 300px-Gumbleinternet and Gumbel to Gumbel??  There’s a certain sense of satisfaction from having those things in our lives as well.  So on that same note, it would be ridiculous to say that modern society isn’t awesome in it’s own right.

 

I suppose the point I’m getting at is that if there were ever a time when our mental faculties were in low demand, it would be now.  Sure, we have brilliant people creating amazing things to make our lives easier, and there are amazing people creating art like we’ve never seen.  But that’s not really what I mean.  Most of us reading this live under a blanket of comfort.  There is no constant threat of death or the need to always keep our minds and consciousness sharp as a means of physical survival.  We can be on autopilot for days on end and not really be in any danger.  There is very little demand for our animal instincts and to display such awareness nowadays might even be frowned upon.

 

However, one thing that we are threatened with is poverty.  Especially if you live in a first world country.  But that doesn’t seem to be what the human brain was wired for.  A daily task that generally does not interface with the natural world (read: a job) usually leads us away from poverty, but not much else.  And maybe it’s this perversion of the mind’s (assumed) intended use that allows us room to quarrel over trivial things and worry about things that ultimately don’t matter.  It allows us to neglect our most prized assets, our minds and bodies, in exchange for more material pursuits.  All this may lead to the very real possibility of us ending up like the humans in Wall-E.  Sure, you can laugh at the comparison if you want, but the truth is that a lot of us might not be that far from that existence.

WALL-E-humans_320

 

So, what if all this went away and we really only had our minds to rely on and not our devices or even modern civilization itself?  How advanced would our mental faculties be?  How much would we be able to expand our minds and consciousness if life wasn’t just about learning one trade in order to stay out of poverty?  Somewhere along the line, people in that very same predicament started creating what we have today.  So I suppose we can say its all a natural process, and that this would have happened eventually.  I don’t know and I’m not sure if anyone can really answer that question.  But it doesn’t mean that trying to get more in touch with our ancestral minds is a waste of time, either.

 

I’ll leave you guys with this:  It seems that there is far too much input in our lives nowadays that makes it hard to determine what is really important to us and what is not.  While we still need to worry about the essentials like food, shelter and water, we also have to be cognizant of the other aspects of modern life.  Bills, rent, mortgages, The Voice and the like are all things that add to the current human experience, but seem to take away from some of our more primitive needs.

 

Some of us function with constant distraction whether it be a TV or music constantly blaring in our ears and whatever we need to keep us entertained.  It’s hard to say how much of this adds to our experience and what exactly it takes from us.  Maybe you can start to figure this out on your own.  Does anyone know what its like to go an entire day without their ipod and to only have our own thoughts confront us anymore?

 

I’m not sure if I see mental illness everywhere like Royce White does.  And I’m not sure if the solution lies in changing the healthcare system as it exists.  Not initially, at least.  Life is very unpredictable, and the closer we get to thinking we have it all under control, the closer we get to having it all spiral out of control by something we never saw coming.  At the same time, we can’t live our lives in constant fear of things we can’t control or predict.  Perhaps this is when frequent and honest introspection comes into play.  If we are more or less in touch with what goes on in our minds, we may be more prepared to act accordingly to whatever happens around us.

 

It does seem like people get distracted by things that seem somewhat insignificant in the journey of life.  But the truth is that those things matter, too.   Everything matters, but at the same time, everything doesn’t matter.  The amount of information we receive on a daily basis far exceeds anything we were ever made for, but we somehow have to decipher it all.  There’s just no other way to live off the grid if you live in the first world.  The factors which we as individuals determine the most important are usually what dictates the rest of our lives.

 

In order to change a lot of the problems that White sees, we may need to start placing a little more value on what our primitive selves once held in such high regard and a little less value on what the modern world does.  In light of what I see around me, this is a very real possibility.  It might just take more people like Royce White to alert us to the fact that there really is a problem.

The Art of Intercepting Gravity

Posted: February 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

In this entry last month about our body’s battle with gravity, I stated that I would follow up with an in depth djangoexplanation of exactly how we’re supposed to approach this so called battle.  In all honesty, I made that statement thinking the Mayans were going to let me off the hook.  Needless to say, nothing happened.  At least, I think nothing happened.  But after the release of “Django”, the world might actually be set on fire, I’m not totally sure.  Anyway, the lesson as always, never trust an ancient civilization that used human heads to play a game that Dr. James Naismith may or may not have been influenced by.  All told, I suppose I owe you guys yet another follow up post.

When it comes to gravity, one of the first things people tend to overlook is that it is a constant force.  While we may understand that gravity keeps us glued to this planet’s surface, we may not be completely aware of the effect this has on our bodies.  One glance around a crowded gym can clue us into the individuals that successfully fight gravity.

It all starts with a person’s posture.  I mentioned in this post that one of the most common postural defects is “forward head posture.”  If you don’t look like an Egyptian hieroglyph carrying a vase on your head, chances are you suffer from this to some degree.  While postural deficiencies may not always result in chronic pain or massive injury, you must understand that the chances of something bad happening are increased.  However, this doesn’t mean that having good posture will make you indestructable either.  It’s all about giving yourself a better chance to consistently and effectively ward off gravity.

Without going into too much detail, poor posture will cause your body to become unbalanced.  To prevent your face from eventually dragging on the ground while you walk, your body will activate certain muscles to keep that from happening.  This can manifest into situations like tight shoulders, backs, hamstrings and calves.  So stretching your tight hamstrings may only be a temporary fix.  Getting them to turn off when not needed (ie. to offset the fact that your head is 3 inches off center) may be more of a long term solution.

Ok, so I get why we should have good posture, but what does battling gravity have to do with, well… everything else?

Like I said a few paragraphs ago, gravity is a constant force.  And while having great standing posture is the first step, gravity will act on us no matter what we’re doing.  For instance, what happens to our body when we land after grabbing a rebound?  Gravity wants to collapse us into the earth’s surface in accordion like fashion.  Having the right muscles and structures performing the proper tasks keeps this from happening.

The challenge here is to get our body to align itself so that it can remain rigid enough to keep itself from collapsing under the weight of the landing (or the bar if you’re in the weightroom).  When we can maintain that proper alignment, our bodies act as a conductor of sorts.  Much like a lightning rod will absorb a bolt of lightning, a properly segmented body will absorb the forces created when we land from a jump or keeping a weighted bar from flattening us like The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in a ridiculous cameo.

That last part is important to the equation.  No.  I’m not telling you to jump off a roof into non-existent bushes.  I’m talking about keeping a weighted bar from smashing us into the ground.  Or any other type of exercise that deals with applying force into the ground.  Remember from the physics classes you slept through that when we apply force into an object, it applies an equal and opposite force into us.  That force that is applied into us is the same force we feel when landing from a jump and is the lightning bolt that we have to absorb properly in order to avoid excess wear and tear on our bodies.

The core of this process starts, well, at our “core.”  Now, I’m sure you’ve all seen this term thrown around enough, so let me just break down how I choose to view it.  The core of our bodies is the column that involves our hips, ribcage, and shoulder blades.  It also involves our spine, but I tend to use those three components to ensure that the spine is in it’s proper position.  Think about trying to pull your ribcage up as far away from your hips as possible.  You should simultaneously feel you shoulder blades drop down towards your hips.  By separating our ribcage from our hips, then actively flexing our the lats (which attaches to our shoulder blades and the highest point of our hips) and abs at the same time, we create a stable column through the middle of our bodies.

It should be noted that this is an effect you want to achieve primarily during exercise.  When at rest, excess tension may lead to over compensations.  It’s best to just make sure you get some elevation in the ribcage and separation from your hips (think long through your midsection) to achieve resting good posture.

Now, the last part of this process is making sure we channel all the forces acting on our body through this column.  This can be practiced in the gym by making sure we base our movements around the components of the column.

What. The hell. Does that. Mean…. ?

Lets say you’re squatting with a bar on your back.  Assuming you listened to me and have braced your core in the above fashion, the first point of movement should be from something that’s part of this column.  Since the shoulders and rib cage need to be stable in order for the bar to stay stable, that leaves your hips.  If you move your hips first in a squat, everything will line up through your core and your squat will be efficient.  It’s true that this also depends on your foot placement and how your knees track in relation to your toes.  But if you don’t move through your hips first all that won’t matter anyway.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, but they mostly apply to olympic lifters that use shoes with elevated heels.  This allows them to break from the knees first and keeps their torsos vertical in order to catch a heavy bar  in front of them more effectively.  But for the most part, if you’re using the gym to prepare yourself for physical activity that’s not olympic lifting, breaking at your hips first is going to be ideal.

The same goes for upper body movements.  We need treat our arms and shoulders like our legs and hips.  It’s important to make sure that our shoulder blades and rib cage move first or are stable in the context of core bracing before our elbows bend to perform movements like rows or presses.

I’ve mentioned before how movement in the gym and movement outside the gym are two different things.  Most movements in the gym should be geared around the practice channeling everything through our core.  Yes,  Mr. Iverson, I’m talkin ‘bout practice.  The key is to practice this as much as you can in the gym so that allen-iverson-practiceyou don’t have to think about it on the field or trail or wherever.  It should also suffice to say that in the world of bodybuilding and stepping on stage smeared with a rub on tan, these rules may change a bit.  In this case, the focus is on the aesthetics of the body and individual muscles and not the body’s overall ability to perform.

So, there you have it.  The art of intercepting gravity explained in a bit more detail.  Hopefully that was enough to satisfy your appetites for now.  As always, please email me or leave comments with any questions you might have if this is not the case.  Thanks for reading and I’ll be back sooner rather than later.


Is Crossfit Right For You?

Posted: January 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

Happy-New-YearIf I haven’t said it to you already, Happy New Year!  I’m not one to get too into the whole fresh new start to a new year (obviously, since its already 13 days into the year), so I’ll just get right into it.  I got a question the other day about my thoughts on crossfit and similar workouts.  Ask and ye shall receive, interwebz, ask and ye shall receive.

First off, let me just say that I have never actually performed or coached crossfit, but will attempt to give it a fair shake anyway.  That being said, if you feel like my opinion carries no weight, I completely understand.  For the rest of you, I can say that I have done research into the sport and have determined that it never appeared to be able aid my current fitness goal.

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But do not make the mistake of thinking that crossfit holds no value.  A lot of people in fitness circles like to shit on Crossfit for various reasons and those are completely their own.  While I may disagree with some of their methods, that doesn’t rule out crossfit’s value for someone with different goals than my own.  My meanderings today will try to get to what Crossfit’s main objective is.  In your search for Crossfit gyms, you will find that this gets interpreted in different ways, so it will ultimately be up to you to sort out which approach, if any, is best for you.

And when I say that it was never able to aid me in my goals, I mean that Crossfit never seemed to be the most effective way.  Would Crossfit have gotten me to a better level of fitness in some way, shape, or form?  I have no doubt.  I just felt there was a more direct path to my goal.  So I can’t say that the method is completely useless to that degree.

For this article’s sake, we need a loose definition of what Crossfit’s pursuit of fitness is.  As defined on their website, Crossfit’s goal is to “forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness,” and that their “specialty is not specializing.”  In this video from the Crossfit website, founder Greg Glassman states that his commitment is to improving human performance and to whatever methods will get him there.  So, essentially Glassman is saying that Crossfit is whatever method you choose that can improve human performance, based on their chosen form of measurement.  The measurement he uses is work capacity, or as he defines it, the ability to produce power over an extended amount of time.

A quick review of physics reminds us that power is determined by the force you can produce and how fast you can produce it (velocity).  In terms of exercise, force is what we use to produce movement, whether it be a squat or vertical jump or pull up.  So to sum it all up, Crossfit is a methodology that seeks to improve your ability to quickly produce force over a specified amount of time.  And if you’re reading this with a different idea of what Crossfit should be, I’m not saying you’re wrong.  This is just what I pulled from the big boss, himself.

As you can see, this is not a very specific definition at all.  And in fact, this definition is not much different than many other programs that exist.  This could explain why Crossfit is made up of many different modalities taken from disciplines ranging from gymnastics to powerlifting and olympic lifting to jogging.

So in terms of that definition alone, would I recommend Crossfit to a friend?  Of course, seeing as that’s exactly how I try to train my own clients.  I am always looking to improve their ability to produce force with their bodies.  It doesn’t always look the same for everyone, as people come to me at different points in their training lives, but that’s more or less the route we take regardless of the overall goal.

Ok that’s great and all, but I feel a “but” coming on here….

You’re right, there is, and that “but” is that it depends on exactly what your goals are.

I’ll give you two points of view on the matter.  From an athlete’s perspective and someone interested in just being in shape.  Most people will be able to fit themselves into one category or the other.  For the rest of this post’s sake consider yourself an athlete if you play a sport at any level (runners you count too) and everyone else trying to get into some type of workout pattern would fall into the other category.

For athletes, assuming you want to better conditioned for your sport, you first need to determine what the Johnny-Football-Manziel-450x600needs of your sport are.  The one thing that most people overlook when training for a sport is the energy demands of that sport.  For example, the average football play lasts about 5 seconds.  Unless you’re playing Johnny Football, then you need to increase that number by 67 seconds apparently.  So for those that don’t have Texas A&M on your schedules, you have plays that last about 5 seconds with anywhere between 10 to 35 seconds between plays.  So do you need to be doing a workout that requires constant submaximal movement for 20 minutes?  Maybe.  And maybe not.

Most coaches find it hard to recreate this scenario in a gym and find that the easiest way to recreate this is to just let their athletes play the sport.  This conditions the athlete with all the specific variables they need to account for when playing a sport.  Does this mean that it can’t be done in a Crossfit gym or any other gym?  Not necessarily.  However, if you’re at a box that favors random workouts of the day versus focusing on maximum strength development, you may be leaving a really big factor out.  More on that in a second.

Now for the person just trying to get into some kind of shape, my only real requirements for the program you choose are that they be safe and progressive.  Having a safe program would mean that movement patterns are assessed and corrected accordingly, and that large compound movements are used.  I find it hard to keep someone balanced in their movement without using compound movements that teach large muscle groups to work together.

Having a progressive program means that you can track progress over a period of time.  Some coaches will argue that you can only measure progress while your exercise selection is constant over a period of time because work capacity is specific to the activity.  Say you squat every Monday for four weeks and track your progress every week.  This is more or less the periodization method.  What Crossfit practitioners like to do is a workout with a squat one week then do other things for the next two weeks, and come back to a workout (not necessarily the exact same workout) with a squat in it on week 4.  Their reasoning is that everything they do in weeks 2 and 3 should make your squat better in week 4.

This has been the biggest hang up with Crossfit’s seemingly random workouts.  The notion that you can’t track progress when seemingly no constant variables exist from week to week appears to go against the scientific method to some degree.  To be honest I don’t really know who’s right in the matter and I just say that different people improve in different ways and that perceived improvement can also go a long way for someone’s self esteem and willingness to stick to a program.


So all that is great and all but.. what?  Is Crossfit for me or not?

Look, the reason I wrote this article was because there is a lot being said about Crossfit.  Some find it valuable for the reasons I mentioned and some find it worthless for the exact same reasons.  The truth is that there are a lot of people out there that do great things with Crossfit and there are equally as many people that misuse it’s principles.  The only way to know for sure if Crossfit is for you is to try it.  And hopefully I’ve given you an idea of what to look for when stacking up your own goals to the Crossfit methodology.

The last thing to understand is that not every Crossfit gym (or box or whatever) is the same.  I would recommend you look for a gym that works maximum strength development into its programming at some point.  Maximum strength is one of those factors that affects all aspects of your fitness with maybe the exception of flexibility.  Think of it like giving your car a bigger engine.  If they don’t do some kind of movement screen (read: not just a fitness test) before putting you into a program, I would go somewhere else that does.

And if they try to correct your form or movement patterns by manually creating movement like a physical therapist or chiropractor would, and they’re not licensed manual therapists, kindly ask for your money back and leave immediately.  That will probably get your hurt sooner than you would like.  Other than that, it’s really up to you.  As I’ve said before: your body, your decision.

I realize that I’ve really only covered what Crossfit should be at it’s core according to what their founder has said and this in no way covers all of what you see under the Crossfit banner.  It has been a highly debatable topic since it’s creation and you may have more questions on things other than what I covered here.  Feel free to comment or email them to me and I’ll try to answer to the best of my abilities and as always, thanks for reading.

kingOh this crazy game we play called life.  Sometimes we feel like life is a never ending conveyor belt of belt-high, 80 mph fastballs.  Sometimes we feel like we’re trying to sink 40 foot putts to save triple bogey (that’s bad right?).*  But we’ve got things under control most of the time.  For the most part, anyway.

However, there are a couple of things that are completely undefeated when stacked up against every person who has ever participated in the game.  Time and gravity.  Everyone dies and no one lives forever.  At least in their physical bodies.  And gravity is the invisible force that imposes its will upon us constantly until the day Father Time claims his victory.  And if we’re lucky enough to live in a country that still takes the time to bury their dead, we end up six feet under.  So i guess gravity gets the last laugh there.

Is there a better candidate for a real live Father Time?

Is there a better candidate for a real live Father Time?

Time marches forward, ongoing, never ceasing, and never waiting for anyone to catch up.  And to a degree this makes it predictable.  It will always travel in one direction and will rarely deceive us, so we’ll leave it to its own devices for now.  Unless you know of a hot tub that Pierce Hawthorne owns.  In which case, please, point out the way.

Gravity, on the other hand, can play its tricks on us in ways we never expect.  Much like resistance, it shows up in unexpected places and exerts its forces on not only our bodies, but our lives as well.  Its what pulls us away from the directions we should be going.  It comes in the form of negative friends, bad habits, terrible relationships and many others.

Are there ways for us to combat this unstoppable force so that it can’t just ravish us at will?  Of course.  You can look at anything that we would consider productive in our lives as resisting the proverbial pull of gravity and making the most of our time in this world.  But what to do about the actual physical pull of gravity?

Well.  This is a fitness blog afterall so… of course I have a exercise and fitness take on the matter.  Of course.  Stop that.  Stop rolling your eyes.

Before we get to that, recall for me if you will, perhaps the greatest on-screen martial artist of all time.  Brucebruce Lee.  As much as he’s come to be known for his on-screen heroics and general bad-assery, his legend as a philosopher has grown to equal his star power.  His biggest contribution to the martial arts and philosophical communities was probably his own form of martial arts, Jeet Kune Do.  The art of absorbing what is useful and rejecting what is not.  He also advocated not adopting one particular “style,” citing that this closed your mind off to the advantages of other “styles.”  This was by no means a new concept when he practiced it, but it was still was met with a lot of resistance in the martial arts community.

Much like the martial arts community, the fitness community is a plethora of different styles of training.  But the problem is no one method is totally complete on its own.  Most of the time you see things ranging from rehab work to olympic lifting in one single program.  But the key to a successful program isn’t about putting yourself into a style of training and expecting it to work.  Quite the contrary, the key is finding out what works for you.  Your needs.  Your style.  Not someone else’s.

So what does this have to do with gravity and wait… sorry, what?

Hold on, I’m almost there.  One more thing.

Charlie Weingroff is a strength coach and physical therapist who has a DVD series called “Training = Rehab Rehab = Training.”  Nevermind the before and after title, in it there is a question which sums up what I think the entire base of exercise should be.  “How do we beat gravity?”

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To help answer that, let’s bring our attention back to Mr. Lee.  The literal translation of Jeet Kune Do is, to my knowledge, “the way of the intercepting fist.”  The basic concept of which was to use an efficient offense as a suitable defense.  In essence, he wanted to intercept your attack with his own attack, thereby neutralizing your advance and dealing damage at the same time..  The artist uses subtle cues given off by the opponent to interpret intended attacks.  This gives the artist a path in which to attack, stopping the opponent with relative ease.**

Now, we bring this back to gravity (see I told you).  If the basis of exercise is in combating gravity, why not take a fighting approach to it?  We can call this concept “the art of intercepting gravity.”  I don’t wish to offend anyone so I won’t even try to translate that into Cantonese.  But if anyone wants to do that, then come up with a logo and start marketing it, please do.  That would be awesome.  Just don’t give me any credit, since you know, this is not a novel concept.

So how does this work?  Essentially, we want to learn to use our bodies to sense how gravity is physically attacking us.  We then want to create force accordingly with our own skeletal-muscular system in order to stave off the attack (pull) of gravity.  In being able to merely stand, we have to have the proper muscles producing the minimal amount of force in order to keep gravity from collapsing us like an accordion.  If we think of this force production as our own attacks on gravity, we are therefore intercepting gravity with our arsenal of muscle contractions.

And look, if this doesn’t really make sense to you, don’t worry.  It’s not going to look or feel the same for everyone.  One of the key concepts of Lee’s style is analyzing our own experiences as a form of self experimentation.  Just know that gravity is acting on you regardless of if you’re sprinting, jumping, squatting, pressing, pulling or anything else on the planet earth.  In this blogger’s opinion, minimizing these effects on your body should always be a staple in your exercise program.  If you can’t beat gravity relatively unscathed, you can forget about doing anything else.  Well.  Let me rephrase that.  You can forget about doing anything else efficiently, at least.

If the concept of beating gravity doesn’t quite make sense to you yet, don’t worry.  Just give yourself time to be aware of your body and feel what it does when you’re moving or standing or what have you.

That being said, some of you may want more detail on how to really apply this.  Part 2 is in production, stay tuned.

*Ok ok ok.  These are by professional standards.  If I tried to hit an 80 mph fastball, you’d need a 14 foot flat-head screwdriver to unscrew me from the ground.  And the only time I’m ever on the green with a shot at triple bogey is when I shank a ball towards the previous green and decide to just play that hole again.

**Again, this is one of those theoretical things.  I have no idea how to do this as a martial artist.  Any attempt on my part would result in, well you’ve heard of awesome right?   Yeah, the complete opposite of that.

Are We Really Ready For More?

Posted: November 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ok, so having taken almost 2 weeks off thanks to the Thanksgiving holidays and cocaine being one hell of a drug.  Sorry, did I say cocaine?  I meant tryptophan.  Don’t look at me like that.  You’ve confused the two before, don’t lie.  You haven’t?  Well then, sorry.  Apparently I’m a little crazy, but you’ve probably figured that out by now.

A couple of videos popped up over the long weekend that got me thinking about proper progression as it applies to exercise.  More specifically, how do we determine if someone is ready for something more advanced?  In the present day, the fitness landscape is a hodgepodge of activities ranging from powerlifting to whatever this is and literally everything in between.

The question I want to pose today is:  do we really need or even deserve all this variety?

The short answer:  No.

The long answer:  Hell no.

Well, actually…  The real answer is, it depends.  But we’ll get to that later.  And before you fire up the email account and blast me with run-on sentences composed solely of four letter words, hear me out.  I’m not saying that we don’t have the right to choose to do whatever we want when it comes to fitness.  Quite the contrary, I think you should be able to do whatever you want when it comes to your body.  It is afterall, yours and not mine.

But, there is a catch.

What people may not stop to consider is if they’ve actually earned the right to do certain forms of exercise.  Here’s what I mean:  Someone finally decides its time for them to get in shape, so they jump into the nearest boot camp or class or whatever it is that they can find.  The problem here is that some of these entities don’t have great assessment protocols and people end up doing things they’re not really ready to handle.  And if you just sign up at a gym and follow what everyone else is doing, well… good luck with that.

This happens more often than people think and usually ends up with someone getting hurt.  Or sometimes people just get lucky and escape injury.  This doesn’t change the fact that they put themselves at risk rather unnecessarily.

To give you a better idea of what I mean, here’s a Exhibit A:  This video is responsible for leaving me in the fetal position trying to gouge my eyes out with a splinter-laden wooden spoon.  DISCLAIMER:  You may end up doing the same.  Proceed with caution.

Understand that this wasn’t to rip on Crossfit in any way, shape, or form.  This can happen at any kind of gym.  Good things can come out of Crossfit, too.

Here’s Exhibit B:  Um.  Yeah.

And here’s Xzibit:

There’s a reason that girl can do what she does.  She understands how to move properly and probably had a pretty good sense of body awareness before entering Crossfit.  In the previous video, the poor suckers looked like wet noodles just trying to stand.  Should they be doing the same movement that the other girl destroyed?  Sorry, but the answer is hell to the no.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that everyone should have the opportunity to learn a power clean.  It’s a phenomenal exercise.  But it requires a certain knowledge of using your posterior chain (back, glutes, hamstrings) and great levels of stability and mobility.  Even to the untrained eye, it’s fair to say the people in the first video looked like, for lack of a better word, shit.  So I’m sorry, they don’t get to learn the power clean, yet.  That’s not to say with proper coaching and progression that they can get there someday.  However, the fact remains that they definitely aren’t there yet and probably won’t get there with who ever was coaching them in that video.

And one more thing about knowing how to activate the posterior chain.  In my very short time as a trainer and strength coach, I’d say 90% of the people I’ve seen in gyms (that I’ve been in at least) don’t know how to do this.  Yet, these people continually force their way through squats and deadlifts and the ilk without knowing how to use some of the biggest muscles in their bodies.

So what’s my point?

My point is that the amount of weight on the bar, or the number of reps you do, or how fast you can do ‘Molly’ (not that Molly, put the glo-sticks away) is not the only factor when it comes to progression.  Why?  Refer to the previous paragraph.  People are performing exercises without actually knowing the finer points about proper movement.  Then they try to do even harder and more complicated movements.  You’ve all heard that building a house on sand is not a good idea.  Well, adding more weight to the bar when you shouldn’t even be squatting the bar itself is the fitness equivalent of that.

Even elite level athletes who need rather extreme methods of training to improve performance are no exception.  If they leave their movement patterns unchecked, they could develop problems without really knowing it.  And at the level these athletes push themselves, it greatly increases their risk of injury.  If the right muscles aren’t working at the right time with the proper amount of strength, chaos will be just around the corner.

So who are they aforementioned exceptions?  Those who take the time to get their movement patterns evaluated and make sure they keep them in check have earned the right to try bigger and better things.  It’s really that simple.  Walk before you run.

I’ll say one last thing for now.  If you are in competition and the stakes are high enough, you can tell me to screw off and that its all about the ‘W’.  I get that.  You just have to know where to draw the line for yourself.  If you take into account everything we’ve covered thus far and actually practice those things, chances are you’ll be less injury prone in competition.  If you’re going for a personal best in the deadlift, you get some leeway.  What I say here strictly applies to exercise for the sake of improvement, and not in competition.  Yes, that means you Crossfit, who is now a sport.  Way to find a loophole there.

Ok.  I tried to stay away from an all out rant, so I hope I succeeded.  And since I’ve been harping on this movement stuff so much, it would probably be wise for me to go into more detail on the specific movements.  So, stay tuned for now.  The cocaine er… turkey leftoevers should wear off in the next few days and I’ll be back with more for you guys.  And as always, thanks for stopping by, Whale’s Vagina.