Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Nobody's Fault but Mine




It’s obviously been a long ass time since I’ve written anything on this blog.  And despite concerns for the legions of surely distraught fans, I’m going to take a navel-gazey approach here and only focus on myself.  And the fact is that it’s entirely my own fault for not establishing a more regular regimen of writing.  It’s not for lack of ideas, because a lot of them cross my mind as potential topics.  It’s not for lack of time, because I manage to find the time to do a bunch of other shit.  It’s not because of kids, work, other commitments, etc.  It’s simply my own fault that I haven’t made it a priority.

I’ve been listening to and reading a lot of Jocko Willink’s stuff recently.  He emphasizes the concept of Extreme Ownership in his book of the same name.  There’s also a TED talk where he speaks about the same situation as described in the book – a friendly fire incident during the Battle of Ramadi in Iraq.  The book goes into a lot of detail (worth reading) but the essence is this – that despite the fact that a lot of people in the situation made mistakes, it was his duty as commanding officer to take the full blame for the situation.  Willink extrapolates that battlefield situation to all aspects of life:

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world.  There is no one else to blame.  The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”

I love this idea.  Carrying it down from a team/organization to the level of the individual, it says a lot about the idea of personal responsibility.  Since we’re all leaders of our own minds and bodies, even if not everyone is leader of a corporation or SEAL team, it stands to reason that we should be taking extreme ownership of our words and actions rather than deflecting blame onto any other external factors.


As far as I can tell, it’s always pointless to blame the external, for the very pragmatic reason that it does one absolutely no good.  External circumstances are always changing, both for good and for bad (although even those value judgements are largely matters of perspective, and may change with time – There’s an old Chinese parable about an old man and a horse that deals with that idea…).  The only thing we are able to control is our response to those externals.  Ryan Holliday’s book on Stoicism, The Obstacle is the Way, talks about this.  Quoting Epictetus he writes:

“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control.  Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.”

It’s our choices that we can, and must, take full responsibility for and ownership of.  Instead of looking outward, which is often the temptation, we really should be focusing within. What have I done to help create the current situation?  What can I do right now to make it better?  How can I act in future situations to get a better outcome?  The idea is not far removed from a passage in Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings:

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

There’s a massive amount of power that comes with taking absolute ownership and responsibility for everything that happens in your life. As Jordan Peterson so eloquently puts it, there’s real profound meaning in carrying a heavy load and taking on responsibility.  He criticizes, appropriately so I would say, the focus that we seem to place on rights and the relatively little focus that is placed on responsibilities.




People often rise to the occasion when they are given responsibility.  I find this especially true of kids.  When I give my kids responsibility for a task or a level of behaviour, more often than not they diligently rise to that expectation.  That’s not to say that they don’t slip up, as we all do.  But they try harder.  It’s like when you play a sport, you often rise to the level of your competition.  When you play against someone less skilled, oftentimes your performance suffers, likely a result of taking it less seriously.


On a very visceral level, there’s a feeling of meaning and satisfaction that comes alongside massive responsibility.  I’m often struck by the feeling when I’m home late at night with my family.  I’m a bit of a night owl so it’s sometimes the case that my spouse and four kids are all sleeping peacefully upstairs and I’m still finishing up one thing or another.  The house is quiet, still, and suddenly I’m struck by the fact that the safety and well-being of all of these little lives is completely on my shoulders. If anything happens, it’s on me to solve the problem…to protect them…to keep them all safe and warm and fed.  It’s a feeling that’s equal parts terrifying and wonderful.  I’m sure most parents feel it.  It’s ever-present at some level but sometimes it takes those moments of stillness to really feel the profundity of it.


So what on earth does this all have to do with health and fitness, the subject with which this blog is still ostensibly deals?  A lot, I would say.  It’s very common, and I’m guilty of it myself, to always look to the external barriers to fitness…to come up with excuses…to focus on the limitations.


Shitty food is everywhere and tastes good…

My job is too busy right now…

I have no place to train…

Gyms are too expensive…

Once I get better at (insert whatever skill here), then I’ll start really training…I’m not ready yet…

I didn’t perform as well as I could because of x, y, z…..


These are all appeals to external conditions.  They turn a person into a passive victim rather than an active owner of all that is happening.  In a way, they are all ways of feeling sorry for oneself.


I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

 – D.H. Lawrence, Self-Pity


In fitness, and in life more generally, there is always someone else who has it far, far worse and is doing it anyway. So why complain?  Why focus on all of those things that, as Epictetus would say, are beyond your control?  Why not instead focus on all of things (and they are many) that a person can control, however large or small they may initially seem.


The temptation is ever-present though to look outside for excuses.  It has to be fought against daily.  I lapsed into it myself last weekend in the middle of a half-marathon.  The first 10-12 kilometers were going great, I felt strong and on a good pace.  Then by about the 14/15 km mark, I started to really slow down and feel the aches and pains of the longer distance.  The temptation was there to blame the externals…the heat, the old injuries, the lack of time to properly train for a longer distance than I’m used to, blah, blah blah.  But the fact is that the fault of my sub-par performance was squarely on me, and not on any external factors.  I should have prioritized my time to schedule in more longer-distance training sessions. I should have done more massage and mobility work on my hips and hamstrings leading up to the event to minimize tightness. I should have gone to bed earlier and gotten up earlier so that I had more time to recover between my bike ride in to the event and the start of the race itself.  These were all things over which I did have control and which I failed to execute properly.


But there’s no reason for self-immolation or beating oneself up over it.  We’re all highly fallible monkeys stumbling around pressing keys on a typewriter hoping to write the next Hamlet.  Nobody has it all figured out.  But we can aim to be a little bit better every day – and the only way to do that is to realize where and how you blew it in the past.  In my mind, that should be a constant process of self-examination (and self-destruction, so to speak) of all of the shitty habits and mistakes that have brought us to the point we’re at.  There’s no sense waiting for some figurative baptism on the death bed whereby you can just say sorry all at once.  Say sorry as you go (it’s very Canadian anyway, eh), and then do better immediately.


Not to get into politics but I think that's the single largest flaw of Trump...his apparent inability to admit blame or responsibility for anything.  I think it's a fairly common trait among politicians but seems to have reached its apex in the current US president.  Everything is a deflection, everything is someone else's fault....there's absolutely no willingness to accept that you've made an error, to apologize for it and then to endeavor to improve.


And responsibility extends beyond actions to words as well. I fully support free speech and the right to say almost anything, but more often these days it seems that internet provocateurs are willing to say a bunch of almost unjustifiable nonsense without taking any responsibility for it. Oftentimes it seems acceptable to spout hyperbolic click-bait bullshit just to garner interest in one's more sober and thought-out views.  Or just look through the comments sections of almost any article, podcast or video....The shit that people are willing to say from a position of relative anonymity is breathtaking.  And that all comes back to not having to take responsibility for one's words....at least not in person.

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

                                ― Robert E. Howard

A few weeks ago, my eldest child got in trouble at school for mouthing off to a teacher.  She may or may not have been justified for feeling slighted, but we had to really hammer home the idea of taking responsibility for the words she said.  Her initial defence was, "It's not my fault...it just came out".  Which is of course bullshit.  She's not some Delphic oracle that spontaneous utters the thoughts of the cosmos.  She, like everyone, needed to own the responsibility for the words coming out of her mouth and be prepared to face the consequences.

I've certainly made the mistake of saying or doing things in anger that I don't really mean.  We all do of course.  But that mistake is multiplied many times over when we're unable, or unwilling, to accept responsibility. In hindsight though, it's our behaviour that is memorable....not the external conditions or context on which we may try to place blame.  As an example, many years later I can remember vividly certain unkind words I said to my ex-wife, whereas the actual context (i.e. the specific reason I was upset or the 'cause' of the argument) is completely forgotten.  It's my own words or behaviour that I remember, not the external circumstances that seemed so relevant in the moment but that evaporate with the passage of time.  Those are the things that weaken us over time.  Those situations where we know that we could have done better and didn't.  The only hope is to learn from them.


Getting back to the title of this post, "Fault" is maybe too pejorative. According to various sources, Blind Willie Johnson, who wrote Nobody's Fault but Mine (my suggested musical accompaniment to these long-winded ramblings) was blinded at age 7 when his stepmother, in an argument with his father splashed Willie with a caustic solution of lye water.  Was that Willie's fault?  Of course not.  But his response to it was not to wallow in the misery of his misfortune but rather to persevere and eventually become one of the best slide guitarists of all time.  Unfortunately, the world is full of situations where horrible things happen to good people, to innocent children, to the undeserving.  And I am of course writing from a position of extreme privilege, relatively speaking.  Most of us are, if we really consider it...how fortunate we are. 

So this is all easy for me to say.  I'm not some parent-less refugee child drifting on a raft in the middle of the Mediterranean.  It would be wise if we all took a bit more time to consider that old proverb, there, but for the grace of God, go I.  Fate and chance affect us all differently.  But some people find a way, even if those worst possible situations, to look within, to take responsibility for themselves and for what they can change and control.  While some, in a position of absolute privilege and good fortune, choose to focus on the faults of others, the unfairness, the obstacles and excuses.  There's no way that we can control all of the externals.  Not even close. But we can do everything in our power to set up conditions for the externals to matter less....building resiliency, so to speak.  And that's a responsibility that everyone has to themselves.






Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Esther

My last remaining grandparent passed away last month. She was 93. Led a good strong life. Of all of my grandparents, I was closest to her by far. She taught me innumerable things during the time I got to spend with her. Some of my best childhood memories are of her....pulling weeds together in the garden, the carrots she always had cut up in the fridge when I'd come over. She was old school, grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. Played baseball with all of the boys. She was proud of her biceps. She loved butter and strong coffee and cigarettes (not too many). She walked outside every day she could, loved flowers and growing things, appreciated artistry and music. Was an amazing potter. More than anything, in a very subtle way, she inspired me to always do whatever the fuck I wanted to do...for the sheer interest of it. She never judged or demeaned anything....always accepted and loved unconditionally. I'm so grateful for the years I had with her. I wrote this poem a few months ago, perhaps as some way of coming to terms with the fact that she was dying. On the surface it probably seems like  nothing to do with the subject of this blog. But when I really think about it, all of the themes that I try to allude to....simplicity, vitality, authenticity, frugality, personal responsibility....those are all things that she exemplified. And as a result probably, things that I aspire to. So here it is.

Cigarettes smoking, green glass,

Kitchen table, porcelain figures

Of aged Chinese sages,

And the coffee pot bubbling behind it all.

The little house on Hessford street,

Amber light winking from the windows

At midnight, sore from the road,

I’d stack my giant motorcycle boots

Beside her tiny slippers.

She’d lead me downstairs,

show me the new pots she’d spun,

Clay drying beneath sheets of white gauze,

Like corpses.

Geraniums by the window,

Intertwined with the bitter scent

Of strong coffee,

The gossiping of Betty next door

And the peregrinations of the benevolent racist

across the street.

Drifting tales of mad Vikings on the prairie,

Brothers gone off to war in Italy,

The sister who strangled her ducklings,

Pet badger cubs nestled in the bed,

and skinned coyotes nailed to the wood shed.

One brother had built wind turbines

from the axles of an old Ford van,

that once twirled in the Saskatchewan sunset

like La Mancha reimagined,

conjured out of dust and tumbleweed.

All thirteen dead now,

And her the last,

Succumbing slowly to poisoned kidneys,

A country’s breadth away and out of reach.

That warm kitchen, faded now

To an exit sign on the 401,

That slips past with a crippling haste.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Jumping In

This is a bit of a sequel I think to the last post I wrote about uncertainty.  This one is about operationalizing that idea in training, and perhaps life in general.  It takes as a proviso that life is inherently uncertain and uses that as a jumping off point for, well…jumping off.

I’ve tried to get at this before in other ways, and maybe it’s at the root of why I began writing this blog in the first place.  It seems to me that many people are always waiting.  Waiting until the time is right to finally get fit, finally start a new exercise program, finally start eating better, etc.  Waiting until all the stars align and all the ducks are in a row.  There’s a reassurance to that sort of procrastination because it wards off any opportunity to fail.  If you’re waiting until your job/schedule calms down a bit before you start incorporating a daily running habit, you can’t fail at running ….because you haven’t started yet.  Same goes if you wait until you can afford all of the ‘necessary’ gear and equipment to start a new sport or activity that interests you.  You can’t look like an idiot because you never have the wherewithal to just start and see what happens.  Any number of excuses can be seen this way.  If I only had a coach or trainer to show me; if I only had an extra hour in the day; if only I lived closer to a gym; if only I had a bit more money to take a course in whatever….

I’ve recently been reading the book, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, which is all about the power of embracing vulnerability. And to me, all of these delays stem from the avoidance of vulnerability.  They are all about avoiding the potential of looking like an idiot, or of failing at what we set out to do, or of not being good enough at something, or of getting hurt.  Brown defines vulnerability as risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure.  It’s not weakness at all, and in fact is a source of strength.

See, the thing is, conditions will NEVER be ideal.  You will never be 100% prepared.  You will never have 100% of yourself to devote to something.  You will never have 100% of the resources required to start a project or a new endeavour.  And if you wait for the ideal moment to materialize, you will end up missing all of the opportunities to just jump in and make the best of the situation…to try your best and see where that leads.

“The Perfect is the greatest enemy of the Good” - Voltaire

Giving 80% all of the time is better than giving 100% none of the time.  I see this kind of ‘perfectionist’ thinking all over the place.  People overwhelmed by dietary minutiae, so concerned that they get everything just right, that they end up throwing in the towel and eating like shit.  Why not just try to get it mostly right all of the time?  I can tell you from 20 years of self-experimentation that I look and perform consistently better when I allow myself the leeway to eat 80% great and 20% not so great…or thereabouts…the numerical details aren’t important.  The stress of trying to get everything perfect is far more of a killer than allowing yourself some flexibility and leniency once and awhile to be less than ideal.

It’s the same with training protocols.  Who do you think gets better results? The keyboard/forum warriors who quibble over ideal rep ranges and periodization schemes, equipment choices, free weights vs. machines, etc.?  Or the guy that gets up and gets out there consistently and does SOMEthing, ANYthing to move, to push, to struggle?  My money is on the latter…whether or not he has the latest fitness tracking gadget or the coolest gear or the best equipment.  He just jumps in and makes a go of it the best way he can.

But there’s great vulnerability in that approach.  If you try out a new sport, maybe you look like an idiot and someone laughs at you.  If you try some new type of training and you’re not quite ready for it, maybe you get a little bit hurt.  If you’re out for a hike and take some old overgrown path that no one uses, maybe you get lost.  But the possibility also exists that that path leads to some new vista that you (or anyone) has never seen before.

So this approach has a lot of risks inherent.  In training and fitness it probably means that you’ll occasionally get hurt and look foolish, but you’ll also excel in ways that few others will.  Taken into other spheres such as personal relationships, it likely means you’ll get your heart broken a few times, but it also means that you’ll meet some interesting people and have some good stories to tell your grandkids.  In business or professional life, you’ll likely make some mistakes and suffer some setbacks, but you may discover opportunities and talents that others would miss.

I’m not saying it’s easy, or that I make the daring choices all the time myself.  There is a seductive power in waiting and taking the safest approach…biding one’s time until all the conditions are ideal.  But there’s real beauty in failure.  There’s beauty in fucking up.  There’s beauty in the courage to let go of all the reasons why something might not work and instead just jump in and make it work as best you can.


Great song - not one that's gonna get you fired up for a set of deadlifts - but a damn good message nonetheless.  Listen to it after your workout with a cup of chamomile tea or some shit

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Certainty

Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it, they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science -- by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans -- teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us. 

—Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

It’s funny how susceptible we are to overinflating our sense of control and understanding.  We think we have everything all figured out…right up until the point when we realize that we don’t.  These sorts of epistemological crossroads occur throughout a person’s life, sometimes small and other times larger, and I suppose we have a choice as to how we respond.  The first choice is to ignore the feedback and basically maintain one’s default position by explaining away the dissonance…either through externalizing the cause or inventing some sort of fable to explain how the input still fits our established worldview.  The second choice seems the more appealing one…that is, to accept the fact that we may have been wrong all along.  And perhaps ‘wrong’ is too harsh.  Maybe a better characterization would be ‘fallible’.  It’s the more mature acknowledgment that, at the end of the day, our understanding of why and how things turn out the way they do is feeble at best.

I suppose this is all in line with that famous Socratic assertion of being the wisest man in Athens precisely due to the fact that he was the only one to acknowledge his own ignorance.  Similarly, I had a brilliant philosophy professor once say, “I am a fallibilist before all else”.  In plainer speech, it’s simply the injunction that, even when things are going just as you planned, don’t get too cocky.

Now what does this all have to do with training?  Well, a lot I think.  But of course I could well be wrong, so I’ll let you be the judge.  Here’s an anecdote:

Last week I hurt my back badly during what seemed like a very routine met-con workout.  Light weights, circuit-style session that was in no way different or more taxing than what I had done a million times before.  Yet, midway through I could feel a twinge develop in my low back and it got progressively worse.  For the next two days I was essentially incapacitated, unable to do even the most basic tasks of daily living without a lot of pain.  Since then, it’s gotten gradually better and is trending toward a full recovery.  But the nature of the injury itself and the recovery is not the point.  The point is that, in the weeks leading up to the injury I was feeling strong and powerful…invincible in a lot of ways.  I was doing daily workouts, some two-a-days and the occasional three-a-day.  I was playing ball each week, doing lots of plyos, lifting heavy in the gym, running a good chunk of middle-distance stuff, flipping tires…and all the while not getting enough sleep and recovery.  But I was feeling on top of the world…right up to the point where I couldn’t put my own bloody socks on without grimacing in pain.  I had thought that I had it all figured out…until of course I didn’t.

I’m not writing this as a lecture on hubris.  There’s a whole body of Greek Tragedy that does a far more entertaining job of that.  What I’m getting at is that the universe is constantly telling us shit, and we have the choice whether or not we listen and pay attention.  If we’re arrogant and think that we have it all figured out, we miss it.  And sometimes there’s a big karmic slap in the face to really drive the point home.  Maybe, like me, you’re feeling like the biggest, baddest motherfucker in the gym and then are humbled by an injury that reduces you to feeling about as tough as an emaciated 5-year-old for a couple of days.  Maybe it’s something at work – you feel like you’re the expert on a topic and that you’ve nothing else to learn, until someone asks you a question that makes you feel like an idiot.  Maybe you get arrogant about your personal relationships.  You operate under the assumption that your marriage (or whatever arrangement you’re in) is stronger than all the others around you.  You start to subconsciously look down on those around you who seem to have so many problems and seem to be doing such a shit job of things.  Until some crisis happens to throw everything you previously believed into question.  The truths that we hold to be self-evident turn out to not be that way at all.

All of these situations are opportunities to take stock of one’s beliefs.  There’s a line I’ve always loved from the liner notes of Tool’s 1996 Aenima album that reads, “Beliefs allow the mind to stop functioning.  A non-functioning mind is clinically dead. Believe in Nothing”.  This isn’t nihilistic.  It’s an admonition to never allow oneself to coast or turn on the auto-pilot.  One must embrace the idea, not on a mere intellectual level but in a real in-your-bones sense, that everything we take for granted is fundamentally fragile.  As the 12th century Japanese poet Saigyo writes, “Drops of dew strung out on filaments of spider web.  Such are the trappings that deck out this world.”

I think that’s part of the reason why I enjoy running at night so much.  Late last night I was out doing sprints on the street in front of my house.  The whole world was beautifully dark and cool.  Here I am, exerting myself to my absolute maximum capacity, feeling at the peak of my power, when just one look up at those cold, merciless stars reduces all my efforts to the tiniest of insignificances. All sense of control and certainty evaporates into a sort of helpless reverence in front of such majestic indifference.  As though anything I could do to purposefully influence that massive, swirling cosmic machinery could have even the slightest of consequences.

The ‘happier’ corollary of all of this uncertainty, however, is that, no matter how bad things get, they can always get better.  This often happens when least expected.  I think there was a line from somewhere in Tolkien that the greatest gifts are those that arrive unlooked for. It certainly seems that way sometimes.  Alan Watts always wrote a lot about the law of reverse effort.  That is, that the harder you ‘try’ to force something, the worse it tends to go.  Far better to split wood with the grain than to try to work against it. For the same reason, we’re always drawn to people (in athletics, music, etc.) who make things look effortless.  This of course shouldn’t absolve a person from hard work or effort…not at all!  But I think it’s tied back to that whole concept of listening and being receptive to what the universe (or God, etc.) is trying to communicate. There are situations when one has to roll up one’s sleeves and persevere, but there are others when the only response is to change course or tactics based on the feedback that you’re being given.  Trying to control what is essentially uncontrollable is a recipe for disaster.  And the most serendipitous positives often come from what was originally perceived as a terrible situation.  An injury forces a person to explore new sports or other training modalities that were hitherto unheard of.  A job loss sparks a new entrepreneurial venture or leads to a more interesting position elsewhere.  A dissolving relationship makes room for the possibility of an even better one to develop.

We’re not, of course, mere leaves being blown about in the wind.  We do have the ability to influence some of the things around us through our efforts.  It’s arrogance that should be avoided…arrogance that we control more than we actually do.  I think it’s important, as much as possible, to cultivate the attitude of a student no matter how much of a master you feel you’ve become at anything.  True strength comes in the ability to learn and adapt…to be flexible.  The willow bends in the windstorm and survives…while the rigid oak resists and then snaps.  We get immersed in our own little echo chambers of belief.  We get tied up in certain ways of thinking about things and feel that we’ve invested too much in them to change course.  It’s the fallacy of sunk costs.

I think that’s what William Blake was trying to get at here.  Poor Newton, all his energies wrapped up in trying to analyze and quantify the small field in front of him that he understands, all the while blinded to the intricacies and complexities that lie just beyond that field.



We ought to be careful not to do the same, either in the realm of health and fitness or more broadly.  The exciting and transformative stuff often comes from humbly and open-mindedly looking outside our current paradigm. No matter how good or how bad things seem, remain open to the ever-present idea that they can change with a split-second’s notice. The skill is not in predicting or controlling those vicissitudes…it’s in listening, reacting and adapting in the most graceful way possible. Real wisdom lies in understanding our own limitations.


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Ode to the Pull-Up

A friend and colleague of mine asked me the other day what the best exercises would be to improve posture.  She was looking to counteract the sort of hunched forward posture that so many of us experience as a result of sitting in chairs and staring at computer screens all day.  My immediate response was to suggest anything that would strengthen the back of the body, i.e. the 'posterior chain' that so many training gurus seem to speak about these days.  That is, I told her to do pull-ups, rows, deadlifts, supermans, back extensions, etc., anything that pulls the body backwards and strengthens the muscles to resist that forward, hunched posture.

On reflection, I realized that I recommended pull-ups first on the list.  I don't think that it was accidental.  To me the pull-up (chin-up too, don't get me wrong) is the perfect exercise.  If I was forced to only do one exercise for the rest of my life, it would be the pull-up.  My reasons are both pragmatic and metaphysical.
Besides what's been mentioned about posture, the pragmatic reasons are as follows:  They can be done anywhere with no equipment.  Do you have a body?  Great! You can do a pull-up.  It might be an assisted one at first.  You may need to jump a bit and work on negatives before you can do the real mccoy.  You don't need equipment or a gym.  You can build your creativity and resourcefulness by finding places in your natural or built environment that allow you to pull your body upward against gravity.  Could be a tree branch, could be a bar of scaffolding on your way to work, could be the underside of the stairwell in your office building, could be the monkey bars at your kids' playground.  No other exercise is as adaptable or scalable.  It CANNOT be outgrown.  When I was younger I struggled to do 3 or 4 regular bodyweight pull-ups.  Now I do them with 110 lbs hanging from a weight belt.  Nobody in the world is so strong that they can't find a more challenging variation to elicit further growth.  I'd also argue that no exercise give you a bigger bang for your buck in terms of both usable upper body strength and aesthetic development.  Want the illusion of wider shoulders and a smaller waist?  Do pull-ups. Want to be able to save your ass from a burning building? Do pull-ups.

Now for the airy fairy philosophical subtext.  The pull-up is not just an exercise, it's a powerful metaphor.  It's pulling yourself up by your own motherfucking bootstraps.  It's resisting the suck of gravity that drags our immortal souls down to the wretched earth.  It's telling inertia and complacency to go suck it.  It's rising above all of our self-imposed limitations.  It's saying that no one but me is responsible for my own success and happiness.  It's saying that not even the gravitational force of a planet can resist my willpower and the strength of my sinews.  It's showing yourself that no matter how tough things get, no matter how senseless things seem, no matter how much weight and shit and pain gets piled on you - there's nothing in the world that can keep you down.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Rubber Match






Here's an example of a really simple but effective conditioning workout that can be done with just a beat-up old tractor tire.  These aren't hard to find.  I picked mine up for $50 on Kijiji.  If you have farms anywhere in your vicinity, I bet they have old tires that they'd be willing to part with quite cheaply.  Mine weighs about 350 pounds.  My sledgehammer weighs 12 pounds but you can experiment with different sizes.  Again...very cheap...maybe $10-15 the hardware store, and of course will actually work as a legit sledgehammer too if you need it for such.  This stuff will last forever.  I've used this tire a lot and it still has that new tire smell (well not really, but it looks pretty good still)


"Tire 300" workout:

10 rounds for time of:

10 x tire flips (bend down and "sumo" deadlift/clean the tire to chest level and then push it over on itself)
10 x sledgehammer smashes (pretty self explanatory...just hammer that big rubbery bitch!)
10 x box (tire) jumps (i.e. jump with two feet onto the rim of the tire and then off again)


Therefore, each round is 30 reps in total.  10 rounds of 30 reps is therefore a total of 300 repetitions.  Complete one round nonstop and then take as little rest as possible before moving onto the second round, etc.  I find the flips the hardest, so I start each round with them.  The order of the box jumps and smashes could of course be reversed.

It's a quick but challenging full-body workout.  And it's a damn lot of fun.  There's no science behind the 300 rep total.  It's kind of a rip-off of the GymJones benchmark workout for the film 300, and also mimics the kind of rep ranges you'd see in a CrossFit Fight Gone Bad-style WOD.  Something that most relatively fit people are going to be able to do in under 30 minutes, and that you can gauge improvement by shaving time of your last attempt of the same workout.

One tip: do the flips on a soft surface like grass (or shallow snow in the winter).  It helps in allowing you to get your fingers underneath to clean the tire from ground to chest level.  Concrete\asphalt makes it more difficult to get the initial grip...though not impossible.

Happy flipping!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Just the tip


I was doing some community tree planting this morning with my kids, and while we were waiting around, I started nibbling on some of the new growth that was coming in on the spruce trees.  If you look around at the conifers this timee of year, you're bound to see the new needles forming.  They are a totally different shade of green from the rest of the tree, and a much softer texture:







By now, my kids are completely used to me eating random plants and things growing all over the place, and they usually want to try stuff too.  These spruce tips were a huge hit however.  And well they should be - they're delicious.  Plus they're much cheaper vitamins than the pills you buy at the local pharmacy.

Long ago I had heard the story of how Jacques Cartier's crew had reportedly cured the scurvy from their long sea voyage by drinking spuce tea, which they learned from the local Iroquois.  The practice of using evergreen tea or flavoured ale, rich in Vitamin C (as well as a whole bunch of other vitamins and minerals), apparently became popular among the British Royal Navy as well.  I use it throughout the year, especially in the winter, if I ever feel a cold coming on.  However, this is the best time of year because you can just eat the new needle growth as a convenient trailside snack, rather than having to boil the branches down into tea.  They taste sour and kind of lemony, with just a bit of a Christmas Tree undertone.

I think you can use basically any kind of coniferous evergreen.  I've tried fir and pine as well, but spruce seems to me the best.  The only kind you absolutely CANNOT use is Yew.  That shit is great for making bows, but it'll kill you five ways before you hit the ground if you eat it.  Luckily Yew is pretty distinctive looking and it'd be hard to confuse it for other coniferous trees.  I've also read that pregnant ladies shouldn't use spruce tea, which is probably good advice.  I think if you're pregnant, you probably shouldn't go around nibbling on random foliage anyway, but that's just me.

For athletes, the advantages of Vitamin C are huge, of course for preventing illness but also for it's antioxidant capacity in terms of muscle soreness and recovery.  Spuce and pine have FAR more Vitamin C than citrus fruits, as well as a pile of other vitamins and phytonutrients.  No sugar and none of the filler shit that you'd get in vitamin pills.  Give them a try. But remember, just the tip....