Tag Archives: exercise

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:

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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.

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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.

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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?!?!?

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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:

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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.

Every Step, A Building Block

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My trusty new kicks.  May they make me fly like the mythical shoes of Hermes.

As I’ve written about before, I made the totally awesome (or epically stupid) decision to do a Tough Mudder in Vermont in May.  Now, in preparing for that little life adventure, there was one thing I assiduously avoided as much as humanly possible… long distance running.  “Dearest Kevin… why pray tell would you avoid running when preparing for a race that involves around 10 miles worth of that very activity???”

Because… I haaaaaate it.  Good Lord, do I hate me some running.  Not sprinting or flying around on a soccer field or a basketball court.  That’s all good.  Oh no, I’m talking about just running over long distances and nothing else.  Where each landing footfall causes me to wonder why on Earth I am putting myself through such drudgery.

Ya feel me, dawg?

But my competitive nature won’t quite allow me to just blow this off completely.  I signed up for this race and damn it, I am gonna punch that thing in its smug face… umm… you know, if an obstacle course can have a face upon which to even have a look.

So the beauties you see above represent a new step for me – my newest weapons in the battle for running dominance.  Before you assume “running dominance” is an utterly insane assertion on my part to go from running-hater to super-elite-marathoner… rest assured, it is not.  Rather, I am running to dominate myself a bit and break through the mental barrier I have to it.

That began today with 2 mile of running during lunch.  Like many things in life, there were positives and negatives.  The positive?  My endurance was actually pretty good.  The negative?  The muscles in the bottom of my feet and lower legs felt like they were hit with napalm.  The BURN!  My God… the BURN!  I chalk this up to having done sprints a day or two ago in my minimalist shoes.  I think, absent that, I would have done a lot better today.  Also on the positive side of the ledger was that the shoes were actually very comfortable (napalm burning aside).

And the true positive of it at all?  Today was a fair number of steps (both physical and mental) towards getting better at something that has always challenged me.  Each step, no matter how painful, was a necessary piece towards preparing for my May race… and also part of my own process to fight through a difficulty I would rather avoid all together.

It sounds horribly clichéd, but this is where character is built.  If I’m not ready to push myself through 2 miles now, how will I ever be ready to do it for 10 with slopes, obstacles, water, mud and freaking electrical wires?  Each step builds on the one just before it and the best path is just to put your head down, don’t think about each time your foot strikes the ground and before long… progress… and not long after that… the finish.

But no finish for me just yet.  68 days and 12 hours to go… and many, many steps.

Driven by Fear

logo_tough-mudderMotivation 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.

How I Do That Voodoo I Do So Well (Or At Least Decently)

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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:

Strength Training

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.

Mobility/Flexibility Training

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.

Conditioning

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.

The Goal

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.

What I Learned at My Obstacular Trail Race

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.

The Spigot Warriors... a team to be reckoned with. Now if my brother can just keep his eyes open.

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.

Dress the part. Or at least dress part of yourself.

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.

Keep your head down.

Sometimes It’s Just Play

As I start this post, I am already wondering whether it will be overly specific to a small group of people. I never like doing that, so I am going to do my best to rein this puppy in and bring it back around. We’ll see how that goes. And with that unbelievably awkward introduction, we begin.

There are a lot of people out there who love to get into details and plan. Depending on the situation, I can be one of them, but a lot of the time, I find it can turn into over-planning as well.  But I do know quite a few folks who truly enjoy getting into the uber-specific details of any project to turn over each aspect, each step and carefully construct a borderline masterpiece of crafting. It’s actually pretty amazing to see the final result.

I see this with people in their training/exercise programs as well. If something is not built into the plan, then great googly-moogly! All hell breaks loose!

(Best use of “googly-moogly” ever. I will not debate this.)

It’s a little amusing to watch if, in some ways, it were not so darn sad. Oh don’t get me wrong – I’ve done the exact same thing where my plans have the inevitable wrench of doom thrust into them with nary an apology from Murphy, his law or anyone else.  But by-and-large… especially when it comes to things lifting-related… I tend to roll with the punches.

This whole topic struck me yesterday when I snagged my nephews, ran to Toys ‘R Us, grabbed a few Nerf footballs and headed over to an open field at a local college. We weren’t there to improve our GPP (General Physical Preparedness). We weren’t looking to get in some extra NEPA (Non-Exercise Physical Activity). It wasn’t designed to be part of a structured anything.

2011-10-10 16.17.11

It was just playing. Running around. Throwing the football. Those two little wild monkeys tackling each other repeatedly into the grass. It was just play in all of its beautiful, chaotic and unstructured glory.

It wasn’t my thinking of how this would so neatly improve my short burst acceleration or improve my total calorie burn for the day. I didn’t consider my mobility or even how the sunshine would increase my overall Vitamin D intake for the day.

It was possibly the last completely beautiful day we may get before the cold, overcast and rainy parts of Fall kick into high gear here in New England. And it felt great.

It’s just play and that is enough. If my deadlift session today were to somehow suffer because of this little excursion, so what? I cannot even begin to imagine it will, but so what? Was my plan so unbelievably valuable that I should pass up the chance to get outside and send my nephew on a few deep post patterns in the sun? Are your plans like that as well? They may be occasionally, but please, please, PLEASE don’t fall into the trap of your plans always trumping the chaotic little bumps that come up in life that you may miss and never get back.

Sometimes you need to be less afraid of diverting from your plan and utterly terrified of missing a magical random moment… because those are often the best of all.

The Fine Line Between Possibility and Stupidity

People who lift weights… I mean really lift weights… tend to get viewed through a certain lens by a large bulk of society. Muscle = moron in a lot of contexts. You need look no further than your average Planet Fitness commercial. It’s as if there is an inversely proportionate relationship between size and smarts. It’s fairly ridiculous, but since it tends to make for an easier way to categorize or pigeonhole people, then hey… why the heck not? There are certainly people I’ve met who reinforce the view that weight trainers are not even as bright as the iron they throw around, however, there is also an inherent sense of wisdom in those who take their lifting seriously that I don’t think anyone outside of the lifting community ever really understand.

Let me see if I can illustrate a bit.

I stroll into my basement gym on the day I will be doing deadlifts. Now, the deadlift is a fairly straightforward exercise: the bar is on the ground and your job is to pick it up off the floor to a standing position. There is more technique to it than just that, but at the end of the day, that’s about it. Bar on floor. Bar being held in standing position. Ta da!

Bar waiting for a deadlift

But the deadlift, like many big lifts in weight training, is also a greater truth serum that sodium pentothal. Either you can pick up the weight or you can’t. There is no debating with it. There’s no reasoning with it. And the beauty… perhaps the misery… of the deadlift is that when the weight is too much for you, it stays completely stuck to the floor. On a lot of other lifts, there can be a modicum of movement before you bomb out and sometimes you can pull the bar a few inches up in a deadlift before all hell breaks loose… but much of the time, there is absolutely nothing.

That’s humbling. It never feels good. You know what else it is? An incredible learning experience in the shape of steel and iron.

When you get pretty serious about weight training (as I believe I generally am), there is a pursuit of pushing yourself a little further all the time and over a period of time. You are continuously pushing the outer edge of what you believe to be possible for yourself. I could deadlift 405 lbs. before and suddenly… huh… I can lift 425 lbs… and now I can do 445 lbs… and I never thought I would get there. Then one day… BOOM! I’m stuck. I can’t get any more than 445 lbs. I know exactly where I stand at that moment – again, the weight simply does not lie.

But what I am trying to do is move past that limit and see what else I can accomplish. At it’s most basic level, when I go down into my gym and lift weights, I am constantly looking to see what my limits are and how I can exceed them. It’s as if the entire activity has nothing to do with getting bigger or getting more muscle or any of that and everything to do with learning more about who I am, how I handle adversity and whether I can pick myself up when I get knocked down. It’s a constant learning and testing experience when done properly. In some ways, those who take this activity so seriously have a finer understanding of who they are than 99.9% of the people on the planet.

It’s certainly not just weightlifters either. Endurance athletes looking to run farther and faster or the Crossfit devotee who is looking to finish their WOD with more weight in less time fit the bill as well.

Everyone in this community who takes training (not just working out or going for a light jog or looking to “tone” up for Summer) seriously is always walking the fine line between find out what is possible and pushing themselves too hard to potentially get hurt, burned out or maybe just get funny looks from family and friends. To many, all of it looks more like stupidity than possibility. But sometimes you need to risk a bit in the search for greater self-knowledge. And trust me… I don’t want to get hurt (been there a bunch of times) or burn out (I am there right now because my ego outstripped my recovery ability)… but I must confess I do enjoy the funny looks from time to time. 🙂

So before you see someone who takes their weight training incredibly seriously as basically a semi-evolved primate… stop and ask yourself… when was the last time you put yourself in a situation where you were forced to figure out what was truly possible? And then think about what it would be like to do that 3… 4… 5… maybe even 6 times per week.

If you realize it’s been a while, then I would prescribe a little bit of iron therapy. You would be amazed at what you will discover about what is possible within you.