What’s Your Top 5?

T-Shirt? Check. Baseball hat? Check.
T-Shirt? Check. Baseball hat? Check.

Fired up a video yesterday when a flash of inspiration struck… plus I was in a shirt and tie and felt I owed it to y’all to not look like an utter slob in every single piece of media that ends up on this blog (such as this fine sample here).  You’re welcome, friends.  Also, I am just running a ridiculous streak on this vlogging.  I know I will return to more writing soon (since it is profoundly important to me to write as much as possible), but damn… this is just FUN.

Today’s vlog is all about priorities and why we all need a Top 5.  I hope you enjoy. -Kuz

Fierce and Mighty: The Purpose

My last post, as well as the Hartford Courant’s Websters awards for best blogs, got me thinking a little bit about restating what is really the purpose and goal behind this blog. And why not do that with a totally snappy video from first thing this AM? Then, all of you incredibly lucky folks would get the chance to partake of my magical language skills in full color and gander at my chiseled, handsome self while doing so. That’s not even a win-win. That’s like a win-win-win-win-win. It’s so powerful that People who haven’t even seen the video will be moved by it.

So sit back, take a sip on your latte/tea/bourbon/goat’s milk and enjoy the show… unless your drink is actually a mixture of latte, tea, bourbon and goat’s milk. If that’s the case… warm up the car for a trip to the hospital because your night can’t possibly end well with a concoction like that.

Choking On Our Own Rage

Human beings are some fairly opinionated critters.  I don’t think you need to check out a documentary on National Geographic to figure out that piece of wisdom, but that also doesn’t make it any less true.  We have opinions and dagnabbit, we are going to foist them on each other whether we like it or not… so like it, damn it!  For instance, I am of the opinion that there was no logical reason to use the Leave-It-To-Beaver-esque “curse” of dagnabbit followed by damn it in the same sentence.  But that’s a point I can only really debate with myself and what fun is that?

No, the real “fun” seems to lie in the intersection of opinions in the marketplace of human ideas.  This is actually a fairly worthy endeavor in many cases.  Sometimes you need the white-hot crucible of public debate to test theories and produce the best ideas.  Think the debate around the creation of U.S. Constitution and such.

But there are times when debate goes beyond passion and falls into a realm I can only describe as thinly veiled (if veiled at all) rage.  And you know where I tend to see it most?  When people debate about training and exercise.  Seriously.

The level of base, demeaning and utterly horrifying interaction that occurs when disciples of different exercise camps engage each other on the Internet (home of all discourse, both civil and decidedly uncivil) is just flat-out silly.

It’s incredible because the opposing sides are people who are passionate about health, fitness and performance… oh but WOE UNTO THEE WHO WOULD BLASPHEME MY ONE, TRUE HOLY TRAINING METHODOLOGY!!!!  The next thing you know, it’s the fitness equivalent of Richard the Lionhearted versus Saladin for the soul of Jerusalem.

I get passion and admire those who have it in their lives for something, but the point at which the passion is just fuel for rage?  Count me out for one very simple reason: I see physical training as a part of the overall development of each of us as complete human beings, so if you are red-faced screaming (literally or figuratively) about some fitness point, you have basically sold out on the mind or spirit parts of who you are.  That’s an utter waste and serves no purpose but to more firmly entrench you in a place where dogma rules and you spend your days creating heretics… in a topic that is about becoming better and healthier.  Re-read that dichotomy for a minute and let that marinade in your gray matter.  Kind of leaves you fuzzy, right?

We can all embrace our own personal passions, especially when it comes to things that improve our lives.  We should really find one or two areas where we can throw ourselves in with wild abandon for the sheer joy of it and enjoy coming out better on the other side.  Let’s just be mindful that our joy may not be someone else’s… and choking on our own rage over that fact produces little else besides a gag reflex, regret and a big slice of missed opportunity pie.  And that’s some bitter dessert, my friends.

The Power of Fun and The Joy of Beginning Anew

Hope you enjoy the video – trying to mix up the content here at ol’ Fierce and Mighty.  I do a lot of public speaking for work and, honestly, I enjoy doing it.  If y’all like it, I will do some more.

And if you are interested in nominating me for the Hartford Courant’s Webster awards for best blogs in Connecticut, please do click here.  You don’t need to be from Connecticut to nominate, but you do to win.

For a quick overview of the training talked about in the video above, it may look a lil’ bit like this:

Sunday: OFF

Monday: Lifting

Tuesday: Conditioning

Wednesday: Lifting

Thursday:Conditioning

Friday:Conditioning

Saturday: Lifting

The lifting will obviously be 3 times per week, but the overall split is 4 days (hence I will not have Mondays set as “Bench Press” or the like).  The split will be using the 5/3/1 template and will look like this:

Day 1: Deadlifts

Day 2: Overhead Press

Day 3: Cleans and Squats

Day 4: Bench Press

come-at-me-broThe conditioning could be any of the following: Prowler, car push/pulls, hill sprints, sprints, biking, playing hoops, playing soccer, etc. – essentially, whatever I feel like.  This is getting back to the fun of it all – I mean, God forbid I enjoy this stuff.

Where I plan on changing things around the most will be what I do after the big lifts.  I’ve realized that I like my training best when it works towards me being quicker, more mobile and more athletic.  Hence, there will be some typical core lifts, but also more kettlebell work, turkish get-ups, tire flips and so on.  And clearly, A LOT more stretching and mobility work.

Bottom line: It’s time to get back to doing this to enjoy it again… enjoy the process, enjoy the work, enjoy the craft of lifting.  It’s been my rock and it’s been good to me – time to get back to that place again.

And in the words of the most confident anteater of all timer… COME AT ME BRO! (Seriously… that never gets old for me).

Grinding Towards Beauty

So yesterday I decided to avail myself of being so close to a few of the most amazing national parks in the United States, if not the world.  The park of choice?  Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah.  This was really a two-part kind of initiative… because, you know… I’m all about efficiency!  YEAH!  OK, I really never thought of it at a two-part anything.  I just wanted to hike a park whose beauty I’ve long heard stories about.  I just wanted to seem like an efficiency ninja.

The mission was to hike the Angel’s Landing trail.  Now, being someone who likes to have a bit of an understanding of the challenges before me, I decided to read up a bit on what this trail was going to be all about.  This is what I found:

CameraZOOM-20120315165711235

Hmm.  “Strenuous… Long drop-offs… not for anyone fearful of heights…”  Plus look at that cheerful little illustration of the figure launching himself into the abyss off a cliff.  SUCH FUN!  Plus, I’m an elite athlete in great shape.  My legs are my strong point.  So, in other words… COME AT ME BRO!

So off to Zion I went.  I slapped down my $25 entry fee (good for 7 days, I may add, in the event you want to come back) and made my way to The Grotto area where the West Rim trail begins along the Virgin River.  And I defy you, my friend, to enter into that park, realize you are looking for The Grotto and not continuously sing about it a la Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto”.  Seriously.  Can’t be done.  Especially not after I placed that in your head.

The hike starts off just fine, rolling along the edge of the Virgin River and I was feeling mighty fine with high 60’s/low 70’s weather.

CameraZOOM-20120314120805050

Look at how happy and at-ease I am! Also, please notice, that I am at the bottom of the hike near the river.  This is not a coincidence.

Umm… and then you begin to hit the incline as the path turns towards the heavens and you begin your ascent.  Holy.  Freaking.  Cow.  It basically becomes an uphill assault on your body with much of the path twisting back and forth and always an exposed side with more of a drop than you care to think about.  Don’t get me wrong – with each passing loop up and up, the views get more and more spectacular.  I ‘m not sure I appreciated them as much as I could have on the way up since I went with my typical approach of going up any steep hill – head down, keep moving and no need to look far ahead because you’ll know when you’re done.

And that’s an important takeaway that has to do with more than just hiking.  As anyone reading this blog knows, I enjoy physical activity a lot, but I’m always looking to find the bigger lesson.  In this case, the approach I would use for a big, long hike up a steep incline is the same as any other big challenge I would face in life – you sometimes just need to put your head down and keep moving.  If you spend all your time looking only at the finish line, the only thought in your head will be that you have SO much farther to go… so many more steps… when will I ever get there… it’s just so hard.  Yeah, that ain’t gonna help with much of anything.  But the process of taking step after step?  Of just driving forward and grinding?  Provided you are pointed in the right direction, you will get there… so why worry about how much farther it’s going to be?  Process over end result can yield a huge win.

CameraZOOM-20120314125928945

The view from the pinnacle is always worth the struggle.

Well, this process eventually got me to the top.  I felt tired, but elated.  Look at me!  I’m at the top!  Wait, there’s a sign over there… ohh, Angel’s Landing is a little farther.  Only a 1/2 mile eh?  Wait a second… it’s over THERE?!?!?!?  And I need to climb up a cliff face using chains?!?!?

CameraZOOM-20120314125946377

Umm… yeah, probably not happening today.

I decided to pass up that final 1/2 mile.  I had a few woozy moments on the way up with a nice wide path – I wasn’t in the mood to see how I would feel while hanging off chains on the side of a cliff.

To make up for this less-than-heroic moment, I decided to jog most of the way back down – maybe 1.5 miles worth.  It went fast, smooth and I felt amazing by the time I got to the bottom.  Plus, I had the chance to pause and get one more shot of my shining face:

CameraZOOM-20120314133908378

It’s all smiles on the way back down.  Smile and really sweaty baseball hats.

It was a great experience that I really cannot recommend strongly enough.  The feeling of being up there and admiring all that amazing natural beauty is hard to put into words.  You feel incredibly small, but incredibly peaceful all at once.

In the end, I took away a few important thoughts:

1) As much as my legs burned on the way up, the payoff was amazing.  You never get the truly great experiences without a little bit of sweat equity.

2) Big challenge.  Head down.  Feet moving.  Don’t stop.  You’ll get there.

3) This didn’t fit my neatly detailed training for the day as I prepared for Tough Mudder.  I did not have my GPS tracker on to tell me exact logging of every step and detail and informational nuance.  Who freakin’ cares?  I got my butt handed to me in gorgeous weather in one of the most beautiful places on earth?  You have to know when data adds nothing but confusion to what should be a very clear path.

I encourage you to find some beauty and grind to get it… and along the way, you may just find beauty in the grind itself too.  I know I did.

The B.S. of Busy

Let me ask you a very simple questions, my friends.  How much of this sounds eerily familiar to you:

“Yeah, I’m just SO insanely busy right now.  I just don’t have any time to…

  • Eat better/cook at home
  • Read more
  • Go to the gym
  • Go church/pray/meditate/think
  • Spend more time with my family/friends/alpaca herd
  • Finish that epic poem that would make Homer look like a complete and utter poser
  • Knock off that home improvement project”

It’s a pretty familiar refrain, no?  I can see a few of my own lines interwoven amongst that particular list.  Our lives are incredibly frenetic these days as we seek to balance work, family, hobbies, friends and maybe even sneak in a few moments of welcome solitude where we do nothing but appreciate the silence.  Ohhh, if only there we more hours in the week!  THEN we could make some magic happen.

One problem: we’re totally kidding ourselves and doing a damn fine job of it, I might add.  We have completely bought into the notion that we are unable to do any of the noble items listed above because of time.414314_3382676527306_1281256846_3291588_1565812469_o

What do you mean, I’m not busy? Look at all that freakin’ paper! Paper = busy!  Sheesh…

I think I’ve had this occur to me before, but an article from the Wall Street Journal really brought it home for me.  Laura Vanderkam wrote a wonderful piece called “Are You As Busy As You Think?” where she brings up some thought-provoking data on how much time we truly spend working, sleeping, eating and so on.  Many people will talk about 50, 60, 70 hour work weeks, but apparently the data does not back up the quote figures.  We tend to inflate because… hey… we’re competitive and we can’t be seen as less busy than the Joneses, right?

But here is where Ms. Vanderkam’s piece gets real.  She writes:

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets,

I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

Ouch.  Come on now… don’t tell me I’m the only one who felt that one sting a little bit.  How many things have I said I couldn’t do because I was just too busy, when in reality, I was just saying they weren’t a priority for me.  More than I want to think about.

This is a big reason why I get frustrated with people who tell me over and over about how they want to exercise, get in shape, etc.  The typical pushback I get is about time and being too busy… but I know it’s not that, in the end.  It’s just that 5 other things are much more important to them.  And those could be legitimate things for certain, but it’s just a matter of what you will deem to be important, much more so than just time.

So it’s time to rethink the time rationale, my friends.  I’m going to try her test by switching every statement of “I don’t have time for…” with “It’s not a priority…”  I can’t lie – not sure if I’m going to like the results, but who said attaining self-knowledge was all rainbows, sparkles and puppies?  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Nietzsche, but it has been a while since I’ve read “Beyond Good and Evil” so I could use some brushing up.  Maybe that sneaky bastard snuck it in there without my noticing.

An Old Guy Yelling at Snot-Nosed Punks… Or How I Realized I Need to Adapt

CameraZOOM-20120311120422464I was able to get myself over to Mass today.  I mean, I really have zero excuse for not doing so, especially during the easy, lulling pace of vacation.  Now I don’t normally blog about things specific to my religious beliefs – my faith is something intensely personal to me, so I am not one to chit-chat all that much on it.  Also, religion is just one of those obvious topics that invite a lot of divisive debate and that’s just not my bag, baby.

However, I had a moment during Mass at St. George Catholic Church in beeyooootiful St. George, Utah that I wanted to share because I find it incredibly instructive on the effects of change upon how the human mind works (or at least my mind).

The Catholic Church has made some recent changes to certain portions of the Mass, specifically the language of both responses from the congregation during the service and some of the words of the Nicene Creed.  I’m not 100% sure on all of the rhyme and reason behind the changes, but they’ve certainly been noticeable to me as I stumble through parts of Mass that have been akin to muscle-memory to me over the years.

But here’s where I came to a couple of notable of insights on myself that have more to do with how I am wired and less to do with the particulars of the Catholic Mass:

1) I might be a lot more resistant to change than I sometimes realize… even in those areas where change can actually be somewhat refreshing.

Seriously.  When I first came upon these changes to the very familiar portions of the service, the only feeling that came to mind was pure annoyance.  “Wait… what the… they’re changing the words?!?!?  Why the heck are they doing that?  I mean… seriously… what was wrong with the ones they had before???  This is just ridiculous…”  I was a little dumbfounded by the whole thing – Were the old words wrong somehow?  What’s the benefit of the new words?

Then out of no where… it’s like I was able to step back from myself and see my reaction with a little bit of distance.  At that moment, I realized I sounded like the crotchety old coot who yells at teenagers for their rock-n-roll and fast cars and crazy parties.  It was fairly ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not say that observation completely changed me in an instant, but hoo boy… talk about an ugly slice of self-realization.  I love to say how I’m close to 40, but think of myself as younger than that.  Maybe there are parts of me that are aging faster and more curmudgeonly than I like.

But this also allowed me to see a positive, which brings us to observation #2 my friends…

2) Forced change can be good if it breaks you from mindless rote.

As someone who has been going to Mass for his entire life, a lot of the prayers and responses are things I can pop out without much effort.  It’s as if a part of my brain responsible for these nuggets of knowledge engage at the proper times and just… well… go.  The words flow without much effort and I can actually thing about something completely different as each word is uttered and not miss a single beat.

And that’s a problem.

The new text forced me to stop, read what was being said and actually pay some damn attention to it (shock of shocks!).  Who knows how long I would have likely been in that auto-pilot mode for?  I do have a lot of moments of quiet reflection during the course of my church attendance, but it’s a little disappointing to think I would say words without at least giving some thought to them occasionally.

You win again, change.  Well-played my most-worthy adversary.  Until we meet again, as we inevitably will.  May I humbly accept the lesson and embrace you a little more in the future.  You are like my mental broccoli – good for me, but takes a little while to fully accept as both healthy and delicious.

Yeah… mental broccoli.  I like it.

Home of the Brave

If you were to have an in-depth conversation with the average person about what they might like to aspire towards in their own development as human beings, I would bet some part of their response would include being a bit more brave or courageous.  Those exact words may not be used as part of the conversation, but my hunch is those notions would be interwoven in the dialogue.  Maybe something more along the lines of “There’s so much more I wish I would do…” with the unstated piece being that they don’t do it out of some reticence or fear.

I alluded to all of this a bit on my post a few weeks back on regret, but I find that most people regret more what they didn’t do or try versus what they did.  In the end, I think we all want to be a little more brave, a little more bold and a little more committed doing more cool stuff.  I know I am.

All of this began to percolate in my head like some fresh-brewed java when I got this photo from my Dad through my uncle:

Kuzia-Grandparents

See, this handsome (albeit serious-looking) couple is my great-grandparents on my father’s father’s side.  I always knew them as Dzia Dzia and Babci, which is Polish for grandfather and grandmother, respectively.  We Kuzia’s are a very creative bunch, as you can easily see.  Always pushing those boundaries.

The reason I marvel at my Dzia Dzia and Babci so much is for something incredibly simple they did and so many others did in the early 1900’s – they hopped on a boat from Poland, traveled across the Atlantic and landed in the United States with very little in their pockets and no ability to speak English.  OK, that’s not entirely true… they had 2 phrases: one for ordering a sandwich and the other of “Which way E-J?” which meant Endicott-Johnson shoe company so they could go and get a job there.

I know these days we sort of take that early surge of immigration to the U.S. for granted as an “Oh, yeah… that happened…” kind of thing with nary a second thought… but damn it, let’s give it that second or even third thought for a moment.

Imagine yourself trying that today – leaving behind the place you grew up, the only life you have ever known and all the people you’ve ever known and traveling to a complete alien part of the world, where the native tongue is one you know nothing of.  And THAT is going to be your new life… just for a shot that your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have it better than you did.  Not a guarantee.  Not a promise.  Just for the potential and only through hard manual labor in a shoe factory.

Damn.  Suddenly feeling nervous about doing Tough Mudder looks utterly silly by comparison.

In the end, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, my friends, and they are pictured above.  Without their brave act, these words are never typed for you to read and the amazing experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have never occur.  It’s humbling in the best possible way.

The World’s Greatest Deadlift

If you were to research the heaviest deadlift ever performed in a powerlifting competition, you would come across a lift of 1,015 lbs by Benedikt Magnusson from Iceland on April 2, 2011.  In fact, our good friends at YouTube even have a video of the momentous occasion by this mountain of a man:

Sweet. Mother. Of. God.

He makes it look insanely easy and your jaw just sort of drops as you see that bar bend as if it were a plastic straw.  It’s incredible.  It’s utterly amazing.

And to me, it’s not the world’s greatest deadlift.  Not by a long, long, long shot.

See, today I saw the world’s greatest deadlift.  It was a full 700 lbs. less than what Mr. Magnusson pulled off.  Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense does it?

Here’s the the thing: the lift was from one of my absolute best friends, Sam.  What makes it the greatest deadlift I’ve ever seen or been aware of is that Sam has been through an absolute war with leukemia over the last several years.  I’m not even sure I can recall how all the rounds of treatment went, but if I’m not mistaken, it was something like:

  • Diagnosed with leukemia.  Goes through traditional treatment and chemo.  Leukemia in remission.
  • Leukemia returns a year and a half later.  Doctors change the game plan – Sam gets a donor stem cell transplant.  The process to prepare for a stem cell transplant is hell – utter and complete hell.  Your immune system is essentially wiped out with more noxious chemicals than you can imagine and when you are near death, they give you a blood transfusion with the stem cells.  The transplant put leukemia into remission again.
  • A year or so later… leukemia returns.  Again.  A stem cell transplant is currently the closest thing to a “cure” for blood-based cancers, so when remission kicks in, it’s usually a good sign that it won’t be coming back… unless it does.  Sam goes through the whole process and gets a second stem cell transplant with the same soul-crushing prep process.  Thankfully, it takes and leukemia goes into remission again.

Well, today I have a less-than-stellar lifting session as many of mine have been as I’ve increased my running.  This doesn’t put me in a great mood, of course… and then out of no where, a text message pops up on my phone, I see my buddy pulling that damn 315 lbs. up for a single rep and I’m completely, totally amped.  Because I know what that single rep means.  I know what the struggle has been for him.  And I know that while he has pulled FAR greater weight in his time on many an occasion, maybe this one rep was one of the sweetest.

BANQUET2

So here’s to Sammy (pictured front left from about… damn… 15 years ago) and the fighters everywhere who inspire us and put our own problems into proper perspective.  It’s not about the weight on the bar, but about the fight in your heart and soul.

Way to go, Sammy.  Way to go.

P.S.  Yes, that is me front right with actual hair.  Shocking, I know.

Welcome to the Suck

jarhead

The suck welcomes thee.

A book I read a few years back and enjoyed immensely was “Jarhead” by Anthony Swofford. It’s his personal story of being a Marine sniper during the first Gulf War and is both interesting and extremely well-written.

One line from the book that always stuck with me was the greeting new Marines would receive from their comrades when first getting to Iraq… “Welcome to the suck.”

470524_3298591025221_1281256846_3250509_233616841_oI must confess I get that notion a little bit of late.  As I begin to really hone my focus more for my May 6th Tough Mudder, I begin to switch up my training program from a primarily strength-focused regimen to one where I lift less and run more… a lot more.  Up until this point, most of my running was in the form of sprints (either on a football field or up a hill) or while playing a sport (usually soccer or basketball).  Running for the sake of just… well… running?  Sweet mother of God… why would anyone want to do that?  But here I am… a dude who is running in my super-jazzy new New Balance kicks (lovely, aren’t they?) and doing all I can to get myself into running shape for my race.

So where does the suck come in?  Simple:  My lifting (my pride and joy!) is taking a hit right now as I am spending more energy and recovery resources with running. However, my running is really not very good… at least not yet.  That puts me in the middle of a bunch of suck.  My good thing is becoming worse (although that should level out soon) and the thing I am spending a ton more time on… well… I’m still a bit awful at.  POWERFUL SWEET!

But this isn’t a post about wallowing in the suck, bemoaning my state of being to the uncaring Fates… ohh not at all, not at all.  This mucky middle I find myself in… this place where I am feeling all out of sorts… is actually a good place, even if it doesn’t feel that way.  This is a growth spot – a place where I am firmly out of my comfort zone and figuring out what I can do.

It hurts.  It’s frustrating.  It’s certainly not all that much fun.

It’s also supremely satisfying in a lot of ways (at least after the fact when I am done running, I feel good and I am popped on the couch watching Manchester United play soccer like I did today).

Tomorrow I will get up and run again.  It will (hopefully) hurt a less little and I will be a little quicker.

In short… I will embrace the suck until the suck it is no more.