A funny thing happened on the way to my soccer game this past Sunday. Not like literally during the drive over, but in the time leading up to the game and it all happened without me specifically noticing it.
As I mentioned a little bit in my post yesterday on potential, my experience at Tough Mudder really opened my eyes a bit to what I can and cannot do. Going through such an unbelievably challenging event like that (probably the hardest physical thing I have ever done) made me reflective in the weeks that followed. If you asked “How so, you charming devil?”, well… then (1) thank you for the compliment you kind and observant soul; and (2) let me tell you.
Between work busy-ness and life busy-ness and all the lifting and physical training I do anyway, I’ve sometimes been concerned about overdoing it. As Saint Mom Kuzia has always said about me, I tend to be either all-in or all-out. I’m not terribly good at finding that smooth, even-keeled middle that some other people tend to have as they navigate the waves of life. I’ve gotten a little better in this regard, but certainly not great. So I have had times where I felt rundown or tired or unmotivated as I pushed through my training sessions. I would chalk this up to life catching up with me and just being way, way, waaaaay too overstretched.
After Tough Mudder, I suddenly wasn’t so sure. I certainly have more stress than I would care for, but was that really what was limiting me? Or, as I wrote yesterday, had I created an artificial boundary around my own potential? I decided to say “Screw it” and see if I couldn’t get a little more juice going for myself by pushing a little harder in each training session I had.
Lo and behold! I play soccer this past Sunday, switch to more of a midfield position versus my typical backfield defender position… I need to run a ton more… and probably played the best game I have had in YEARS. I am no by NO MEANS some kind of talented soccer wiz – quite the contrary. I picked up the game seriously 10 years ago at 29 and have loved it ever since, but I will never be the guy to dazzle you with my deft footwork and majestic shots on goal. I’m a worker. A scrapper. A hustler… and boy did I hustle this past week and had a ton of fun doing it.
None of this would have happened if I didn’t get myself out of that preconceived notion of my own boundaries. That’s the beauty of finding moments to really get out of your own comfort zone – the time in that awkward experience is likely terribly unpleasant, but in many ways, you aren’t doing it for that moment, but for ones that follow.
Present pain. Future payoff. An excellent personal transaction.
Motivation can come from a lot of different places, some internal and some external. I hear people debate over which is really the most powerful, but I tend to find the debate odd in that I think it’s impossible to separate the two. I think they effect each other in many ways.
My motivation right now is pretty powerful and it’s really not one that is a typical driving force for me to do good things… but it is at the moment. What, pray tell, could this mysterious catalyst be?
Fear. Pure and straight-up. Not on the rocks. No chaser. Straight out the bottle and into my gut fear.
This isn’t some kind of fear borne of what I would call real world worry – losing a job, a loved one, serious medical issues, etc. Nonetheless, it is a fear for me as sure as can be.
The fear in question? The logo above will say it all. I’m signed up to compete in the May 6, 2012 Tough Mudder race at Mt. Snow in Vermont. Why? Because despite my many years of education and belief that I am a productive, semi-respectable and contributing member of society, I am also a complete idiot. Obviously. Why else would anyone opt to do a race of a shade over 10 miles with 30 increasingly bizarre obstacles… especially when the farthest I’ve ever run was 5 miles for the last obstacle course race I did.
Now, the obstacles themselves actually don’t really worry me in the slightest. Hell, they actually look kind of fun. The thing that concerns is… well… IT’S 10 MILES FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!
Anyone who follows my adventures on this blog can see I’m a weightlifter. We Kuzia’s are built a bit more for strength or explosive moments of fury over short distances… not quite so much for slogging along over reaaaaalllllly loooonnnnnng stretches. I’m 5’7” and 192 lbs of twisted steel and sex appeal. That’s not really Boston Marathon winning proportions, ya know?
But I’m signed up, on a team and committed. And I know how hard it was for me to do the 5 mile race (which I can see I was WOEFULLY prepared for from an endurance standpoint). That knowledge has begotten fear… a fear of what I will feel like at mile 5 when I am only halfway done and with 15 obstacles and 5 more miles to go. A fear of feeling like I just want to drop to my knees, roll to the side of the course and just lay there, staring at the sky for… ohh… several hours.
And all of that, my friends, drives me and drives me hard. My conditioning sessions are not skipped these days. They are never shortened. While I am not perfect with my eating (I believe in the rule of 90% on that kind of thing), I am eating better than I have in a while. The countdown clock on my desktop which is ticking away the time I have left until this event (112 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 22 seconds as of this moment) is my reminder that the amount of time I have to work with is very finite. Not being prepared is just not an option.
The fear is a simple one: I don’t want to let my teammates down and I don’t want to let myself down… especially when I have the time and ability to be completely prepared.
I wouldn’t ever recommend fear as a primary motivator for much of anything. It can easily cloud your otherwise clear vision cause you to make some utterly horrible decisions. But on something like this? With a clear path and a clear end goal? Fear can cut away all clutter… all extraneous nonsense… and be a completely beautiful thing.
Quick side note: The Tough Mudder races do some excellent work raising money for a great cause – The Wounded Warrior Project. If you are interested in helping me with my fundraising, please click HERE to donate. I can think of few things better than giving back to the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for us to enjoy our freedoms.
I’ve just hit a point where it occurs to me that I’ve never really gone into much detail as to what exactly I do when it comes to lifting, conditioning and all of that happy nonsense that keeps me fit and sane… or at least as sane as I’m ever going to get. I do touch on bits and pieces of it all, but I’ve never really laid the whole thing out before in this blog. Time to correct that today. Maybe you will find use in it or at least a moment to peer into what makes me tick.
Now, like my friend pictured above, I do enjoy hoisting some heavy objects around and I have yet to find something that gives me the same kind of satisfaction. There’s something purely primal in weightlifting and its ability to help you reshape your body that is utterly and hopelessly addicting. And therein lies the cornerstone for my own physical training philosophy. Strength first and then figure out where everything else falls into place. Here’s what it all looks like:
Always best to start with my favorite piece. First and foremost, the goal of my training is to keep getting stronger over time. I’m sure there may come a day where that will be more about maintaining that strength as opposed to building upon it, but that day isn’t today and it sure ain’t going to be tomorrow either.
The template I use is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, which you can find right here if you are interested in it. The beauty of the program is really three things: simplicity, effectiveness and the notion of improving over years, as opposed to “Get hawt abz in 30 days!!!” Also, it’s a template that can be used by anyone. Truly. From rank beginner to very experience trainer. From someone looking to play high level football to a soccer mom looking to get in better shape. It’s a flexible thing of beauty.
I am not going to go into endless detail about how it works, but basically you use four major lifts as your foundation: squats, bench press, deadlifts and overhead/military presses. Each lifting day focus on a big lift first and then you need to decide how to fill in the rest depending on your goals. Fear not – guidance is provided in the book on this sort of thing.
The 5/3/1 comes from the fact that in the first round through of those lifts, you do sets of 5; on the second round through, sets of 3; and on the final wave, you do a set of 5, a set of 3 and a set of 1. The twist is that on the final set in any week, you are really shooting for more than the 5, 3 or 1 that is set up for that week.
Anyhoo, my focus is to use this template to lift with three times per week. This basically means that I don’t get to all of the major lifts in a single 7 day period, but it rolls more into a 9 or 10 day period. I find I recover better this way and I feel a lot fresher when I do get to my lifting.
So, this is the big base after which everything else follows. I think it’s important in any training plan to prioritize things accordingly or else you will end up with a big soupy mess of awfulness. Seriously. That’s science.
Ahh, mobility and flexibility. My oft-ignored friends that have reared up to bite my behind with a fierce (and mighty?) vengeance. This has taken on a whole new life for me because I really gave it short shrift for far too long.
Let me make this as simple as possible: If you are an office working desk jockey, you need to be doing A LOT more of this. Period. There is just something wholly unnatural about sitting in a chair at a desk for hours on end every day. I didn’t need to see any of the recent reports on how sitting too much is bad for you to know that. I have long contended that for a lot of people, it’s not the aging process that really does in their bodies as much as it is the sedentary lifestyles that often accompany being a working, responsible adult. I am utterly convinced that even with all the lifting I do, it’s really the sitting most of the day that has done a world of hurt to my lower back.
So I am trying like heck to be better about this. Before every time I lift (and most times before I do a conditioning session), I go through a pretty darn thorough mobility circuit that I had custom-built for me by Eric Cressey at Cressey Performance outside of Boston. If it’s good enough for a bunch of professional athletes, then it’s darn sure good enough for me. I spent a few hours with Eric several weeks back to get myself all sorted out and for a custom plan to use going forward. Since then, I have truly begun to feel a heck of a lot better and move better as well. I’m not all the way where I would like to be, but it’s getting better. With hips tighter than a snare drum (see the sitting most of the day reference above), it’s not going to happen overnight.
In other words… don’t be that guy or gal who thinks this is just a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.
I keep my conditioning pretty simplistic. It involves one of 3 things: playing a sport (soccer or basketball), pushing my Prowler or doing hill sprints. That’s pretty much it. What’s great about all of these activities is that I don’t need to carefully craft some kind of program for them – I just do them 3 or 4 times per week and try not to kill myself in the process. When I first got my Prowler, I quickly realized what I had read before was true – just go out, push it and you will just know when you are done. Sure enough, it’s 100% true. If you put a lot of weight on it or use very short rest periods, you will be done sooner.
And since this video still makes me chuckle, I present my pain for your enjoyment:
Ahh… the good ol’ days when I was still new to the pain and agony of the Prowler. Now it’s just a welcome friend… well, if you have friends who consistently make you drop to your knees, stare at the sky and wonder what would possess you to willingly go through something so awful. But maybe I just have odd friends.
So what exactly am I training for? Fair question, no doubt. It seems to be morphing over time. In short, I want to be able to get out, play sports, be athletic and be strong on any given day. That’s the more general, over-arching goal. There are other goals too: squat 550 lbs (I hit 500 lbs a few months ago), deadlift 500 lbs and bench press 315 lbs. Those are the more clear-cut tangible ones I am aiming for.
Anyway, I hope this post was at least semi-interesting to some of my readers out there. I thought about including a bit on diet, but this already feels like it is running long.
This is a huge part of what makes me who I am. The good. The bad. The completely ludicrous. I am proud of it all.
I’m someone who likes finding some new challenges for myself every now and again. I like new stimuli since I can otherwise stagnate, so when my friend, Jason, let me know he was putting together an obstacle trail race to benefit The Wounded Warrior Project, I was 100% game on. OK, maybe more like 99% game on. I was there in attitude for sure… but I suppose actually doing a whole bunch of running BEFORE the race probably would have been a good idea and a finer example of 100% game on.
But I was able to recruit my brother (the gentleman with his eyes closed below) and our friend Tom (who ran a half marathon the day before this) to venture forth for 5 miles and 15 obstacles worth of mayhem-filled fun a few weeks ago.
And I even learned a few things along the way. What, pray tell? So glad you (and by you, I mean me) asked!
1) Keep your head down.
I’m not great at endurance style exercise. This is a combination of not really training that way and not being terribly well-built for it. Both of these things can be overcome (the first by different training and the second through not letting this become an excuse). So when I was in the midst of this race, there were a lot of moments that were difficult for me. If there was one pretty useful trick I used to keep myself moving, it was to keep my head down. This is actually a big part of why I wore my baseball hat and pulled that sucker nice and low.
If my head was down, I was only focusing on what I could control at that very moment: my next few steps. Looking ahead to see how much was left to run did me absolutely no good. Heck, it would have probably discouraged me if I thought about it all that long. But those next few steps? I could do those and I could do those every single time until I was done with the 5 miles.
This happens in life all the time. If you have a daunting task in front of you… especially one that could take quite some time to address… it will never help you to look too far ahead because the only thing you have some semblance of control over is the here and now. So crush the here and now and move onto the next step. Keep… your head… DOWN.
2) Stronger teammates = stronger you.
Unless you are some kind of Shaolin monk with keenly-honed powers of self-mastery, the environment around us has a big a effect, both for good and ill. If you work in an office full of people who are horribly negative and whose chief hobby is complaining about anything and everything… I have a hard time believing you will be all that productive (at least not without listening to your iPod all day long to drown them out). If you lifts weights consistently with people a lot stronger than you are… lo and behold, you will get a lot stronger too. I would contend you will also get a lot stronger than you ever would have on your own.
On our team of 3, Tom was the strongest on the endurance front BY FAR. It wasn’t even close. He could have left my brother and I in the dust multiple times, except many obstacles required a team effort to complete. That being said, Tom was still at the lead of our little pack at all times… and he ran a freaking half-marathon the day before. I kid you not.
The big positive is that Tom always being there pushed me and Chris to keep running just a little bit more and pressing just a little bit harder. If Tom could keep running, so could we, damn it. And ran we did… for 5 miles and for a total of 1 hour, 11 minutes. I have never run that far or long in my life and if Tom wasn’t there, I cannot really say I would have done all of that.
3) It takes all kinds.
I cannot imagine why anyone would have run this in purple short-shorts… shirtless… and with double pierced nipples. I kept imagining the potential to be hurling yourself through an obstacle in the woods and there being that one branch sticking out juuuuust the right way. *shudder* But hey, he was probably through that course in half the time I was, so who am I to judge?
4) I want more.
It’s sometimes the things you least expect that can interest you the most. I finished this race, felt like my legs had been beaten severely by a gang of Muay Thai fighters… and yet I wanted to do another one. As I noted above, I am in no way well-suited (at least not currently) for this kind of activity… but if there is one thing I know about myself, it’s that I need challenges to bring out my best. This was something new… something hard… yet something ultimately fun that I can do with a team (and I like team stuff quite a bit). I am already looking up 2012 events for things like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash and so on. I know I will need to rearrange how I train, but I enjoy the chance to do so. Sometimes a little forced evolution is good for the soul anyway.
In the end, the entire event reproved something I’ve long known to be true: competitive sporting events are never just a moment of physical activity, but are often very pure opportunities for learning a lot more about yourself. I would definitely encourage you to give it a try. You don’t need to be a hyper-competitive monster to enjoy these kinds of things, but until you’ve pushed yourself past a moment after moment where you wanted so badly to quit, I don’t think you will truly know yourself.
One of the more recent trends in the fitness industry is the “boot camp” concept which is group fitness combining conditioning exercises, weights, intervals and so on. The popularity of the classes likely stems from the fact that they are fairly time-efficient, cost less than a standard personal training session and people often find more motivation when exercising in a group.
I certainly don’t see anything wrong with boot camps as a concept. If they motivate you to get in shape and be healthy, awesome. I’m all for them. They don’t exactly fit with my own personal goals in the sense that many will do a few boot camps a week and that is their entire fitness program. In my case, I prefer to keep my lifting and my conditioning separate… mostly. When I lift weights, all my focus is on that and not on trying to work some kind of cardiovascular component to it… mostly because it would take away from my primary focus, which is improving my strength/power. I might mix in some conditioning afterwards, but just not during.
The one spot where this varies a bit is with my beloved Prowler. That combines both strength and conditioning, but in my mind, it’s more the sense of taking your conditioning session and then adding a strength component to it.
So where am I going with all of this? Glad you asked… even if you really didn’t… I just like to think we’re having a dialogue. That’s the beauty of being the blog writer – I can imagine it anyway I want… so quit bitching and keep reading. Sheesh… pesky readers.
My soccer season just ended on Sunday (and what a woeful ending it was… yikes) and that is causing a change for my overall training plan. I was playing soccer Sunday mornings, hence I try not to do all that much on Saturdays so I am fresh for the game. Now, with no games on Sunday mornings, my whole weekends are open… and that’s where my invitation comes in.
Starting Saturday June 26th, I am putting out an open invitation for some Saturday morning fun. Prowler pushing. Sledgehammer striking. Tire flipping. Hill runs.
Cost? Zero. Benefits? Huge. You will get leaner, stronger and possibly some of the best conditioning of your life… provided you stick with it. I am thinking of doing sessions with anyone interested on either Saturday or Sunday mornings (or maybe even both).
My reasons for this are twofold. First, I like doing these kind of training sessions and know there would be a mutual benefit in doing it with others. Second, I want to get a little firsthand experience in what it’s like to train/coach others a bit. Nothing too elaborate in this regard and I will neither be wearing those all-too-snug polyester coach shorts or sporting a whistle (as tempting as both those options really are).
None of this will be for the faint of heart or spirit, but it will actually be pretty damn fun. I would expect the session could be following by the grilling of meats and such.
And let me be 100% clear… this is for doers, not watchers. No spectators. You want to see what all of this is like? Then you will get the best view in the house… pushing the Prowler and running the hills. It’s the only way to know.
Consider this your open invite if you are in the Hartford area. If you are game, use the contact form found HERE or just e-mail me if you already have the distinct privilege of knowing me… you lucky bastard.
I posted the other day about in my “One Thing At A Time” post about how I like to thinking of my strength and conditioning training as I view a lot of things in life: it’s always better strip things down to their essentials because they simply do not need to be so damn complicated.
I mentioned in that post about a short, but brutally intense conditioning protocol called Tabata. This is where you do an exercise all out for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and then repeat for a total of 8 rounds.
Well, instead of just describing it, I decided to video a nice little slice of this madness for you, beloved reader. So without further ado, I present for your consideration… Tabata sledgehammer strikes. And I wonder why my friends never want to come train with me in my home gym. I guess I can wonder no more.
One of my favorite blogs is Lifehacker, a site devoted to all kinds of ways to do things a little smarter and essentially “hack” your life, whether it is cool software, better ways to get organized, design your office or even exercise.
OK, as you might see in the comments section of the post, I am not a big fan of any of this approach. Why?
I cannot imagine you are providing any real focus or intensity or effort in any kind of exercise activity where you are using your damn laptop at the same time. Now, some people in the comments counter that this is meant more for a situation where you are doing work first and getting in the extra benefit of some extra exercise at the same time. To that I would counter, you are probably not all that focused on your work then.
So to put a fine point on it: I really dislike multitasking. I think it’s just an inherently flawed concept where we feel that we can get some kind of good product as the end result of a scattered level of attention and focus. Personally, I know when I try to accomplish 3 things at once at work, I end up with 3 mediocre results… and umm, no one wants that. Certainly not me.
And what about in your fitness? I think that some steady-state cardio has its place, but generally, if you are talking on your phone or… for the love of God… working on your laptop while exercising? My mind is boggled right now at how that can be of much benefit.
OK, OK… I can hear people saying “Well it’s better than nothing…” but so is doing 3 toe touches and call it a “stretching routine” when compared to just sitting on your butt all day long. It’s not exactly setting the bar too high, wouldn’t you say?
I think this is why I am enjoying the new focus in my own training/lifting/conditioning program right now because I am trying to whittle away all the extraneous stuff I don’t need so I can be committed to doing the essentials and doing them well. Not only is it a hell of a lot more enjoyable, it’s actually more productive too.
A perfect example is how I shun pretty much any kind of “regular” cardio these days. You know the kind… shuffling into the gym, setting up on an elliptical or treadmill and slogging through 30 mind numbing minutes where I walk out feeling maybe a little bit better than when I came in. Ehh.
My solution? Intervals or this lovely little thing called the Tabata protocol which is 4 minutes of fun. Yes, you read that right… 4 minutes. How does it work? Very simple, really. Pick your exercise (and not anything will do mind you) to perform. In this case we will go with a piece of cardio equipment – a stationary bike. You will do 20 seconds as hard as you possibly can. All out. Then go light for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times total. That’s it. It’s not easy, believe me. The science behind it is not about burning calories while you exercise because it would be very small for 4 minutes… however, you have basically amped up your fat burning furnace, so to speak, for hours afterwards. Hard work, focus and incredibly efficiency. Gotta love it… seriously. You HAVE to. There’s no choice in the matter, so stop trying to debate me.
So I am begging you… pleading with you… but not groveling (seriously, even aspiring bloggers desperate for more readers have to have SOME limits, my friends)… knuckle down and do one thing at a time. You might even find you do that one thing really well. Crazy talk, I know, but that’s just the kind of nutty guy I am.