Tag Archives: exercise

Are You Awesome?

A favorite topic of discussion at my previous job was the topic of “all things awesome.”  It always made for spirited debate in that neverending discussion throughout human history of what is awesome and what is just simply completely NOT awesome.  It could almost stand to be its own branch of philosophical study: awesomeology.  What always make the debate such fun is that there really is no way to create a precise, objective and well-defined explanation of what is truly is.  There is no perfect formula for awesomeness… but if there were, that would clearly be awesome in its own right.  Awesomeness is something you just see and know, in your heart of hearts, that it is something awesome.

One of my favorite thinkers in the realm of awesomeology is Jim Wendler over at EliteFTS.  While you could peruse through an endless number of posts Jim has up at EliteFTS in the Q&A section or his own training log, I think I saw his philosophy on awesome was best put in a recent interview he did.  In describing why he did certain exercises or trained a certain way, he explained he picked those things because they were awesome.  In fact, it was basically his North star when it came to making decision on his training because he would ask himself a simple question: Is doing this awesome?  If so, he’ll do it.  If not, he’ll take a pass.  And for those people who would ask, “Gee, Jim… but how would I know if something is awesome or not?” he had a simple, response (which I will paraphrase): Umm… if you have to ask if something is awesome, then it is decidedly not awesome.

Now how can you argue with that?  Oh, I can see some naysaying about how you sometimes just need to do things to do them and there is truth to that.  Cleaning the bathroom and other sundry household chores are not exactly reeking with awesomeness… but for a lot of other things in life?  Those things that fall into far more discretionary activities?  The awesome standard is really a pretty damn good one.

So for me, Jim’s view on weightlifting and training has shaped a decent chunk of what I do now.  I follow his 5/3/1 training system, I use very fundamental lifts when I exercise (bench, squat, deadlift, military press, cleans, dips, pull-ups, rows, etc.) and I love my Prowler.  To me, there are few things as painful as going to the local gym I have a membership for (a just in-case kind of thing… I have been there maybe 5 times this year) and lifting on machines or sitting on a piece of cardio equipment for 30 to 60 minutes.  Yikes.  It makes my skin crawl to think about it and when I’ve actually gone and tried it a few months back, I felt completely annoyed the entire time I was there.  Not good times and certainly not awesome.

But in a larger view, I began to ponder a bit how much of what I do would fit within the awesome scale, whether my job, my social life, the activities I engage in and so on.  It’s a pretty sobering piece of thinking to undertake because it’s ridiculously easy to fall into patterns of doing things just to do them.  As incredibly brilliant and intelligent as we can be as human beings, we also seem to have a completely uncanny ability to fall into mindless patterns which we may not notice until much later, if at all.  We might eat complete crap because we don’t think much about our diet.  We might plunk down in front of the TV without even knowing if anything is worth watching and surf channels like a lobotomized monkey for 3 hours because… well… we’re not all that sure.

It’s in the sense that mindfulness seems to become more and more important in how I live my own life.  For instance, I have written numerous times about how I will do something, enjoy it and then not get around to doing it again for months to only think “Huh… why did I stop doing that anyway?”  Mindfulness, pure and simple.  I think the awesomeness equation can fall into this same sort of vein: if you are not stopping on occasion to think about whether what you are doing with yourself is actually worthwhile or something you would be proud to tell your grandkids about some day… then why in the hell are you doing it???

Me in full-on awesome mode

So besides this jazzy shirt (which says “Proud To Be Awesome” and you cannot quite read because my pure jacked-ness caused some wrinkling in the fabric), I need to begin my own development of mindfulness reminders.  Perhaps in the way that Notre Dame’s football teams has its sign as you head out of their locker room that says “Play Like A Champion Today” I need the equivalent on my front door at home that says “Be Awesome Today”… except the sign would need fire and dragons and explosions and muscle cars… because that would be AWESOME.

My Insanity is the Sanest Thing I’ve Got

If there’s one area that I tend to cause puzzlement in my friends, family and co-workers, it’s the way I approach my training, exercise and diet regime.  It’s not that they are necessarily amazed at my being into health and fitness (since lots of people are), it’s really the specifics of my philosophy and approach that give them pause or cause them to cock their heads, look at my askew and remark (after an extended sigh) “Seriously… why???”

It can actually be a little odd to explain to someone outside of the worldwide family of lifters and physical culture devotees who make this kind of strenuous exertion the best part of their days.

I have talked to or exchanged ideas with on forms a lot of people who are as into training (I almost never call it “working out”, FYI) or even more so into training than I am.  There seems to be a fairly common thread that ties all of us together into one big, borderline irrational family:

The power of transformation.

With training, you will truly get back from it what you give to it.  If you learn a bit and then work hard at what you learned, the results will come.  They just will as sure as day follows night.  They will come faster for some and slower for others, but they do come when you give yourself over to the training.

Can you see the appeal?  Think of how many areas in life where despite your best efforts and all your smarts and all your talents and all the sweat of your brow… you get diddly-squat back in return.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  It’s ridiculously frustrating.

A few years back I went to a doctor for my lower back.  He was a pretty good physician, but very, very old school.  He took a look at my x-rays, showed me how one disc was a bit narrower than the others and simply said, “You need to stop all exercising that loads your vertical spine.”  I gave him a look of “Umm… you gotta be kidding me, dude.”  He went on to say, “I don’t know what it is with you weightlifters and why you can’t seem to stop.  There are so many other wonderful kind of exercise out there.”  You can tell I really didn’t listen to him and I am trying my best to be a lot smarter about how I train… but I ain’t quitting.

I think this is why when I had someone very special and very close to me going through leukemia for several agonizing years, the weight training I did was utter salvation to me.  I could not fix her horrid illness which ravaged away at her for those 5 long years.  It was excruciating to feel so powerless to do much except to be an unyielding form of support the whole way.

My EliteFTS power rack (i.e. my baby)

But during that time while I was training?  I could effect change.  It was at least something I could control and for at least a little while, use to chisel away some of the hurt in the process.  It was also something that taught me a lot about myself and how to push through the challenging parts of life… and then I would use all of that to better support her day after day after day.  The two things began to feed each other and without that constant of my training, I’m not sure what all of those 5 years would have been like.

So the fact I hit a new personal record on my deadlifts (427.5 lbs for 5 reps, in case you were wondering… and I just know you were) tonight just makes me feel like a little bit more is right with the world… that things can make a little more sense… and that when it comes to my training, I will get back what I give.

All of which raises one question for me: If you don’t feel the same about your own exercise program… why not?

You might view me as nuts for what I do… I see it as a lone sane act in a sometimes completely insane world.

Foundations First and Pretty Stuff After

When I was growing up, there was a decent chunk of time where I really wanted to be an architect.  Building things held a real fascination for me and the genesis of this was likely my complete and utter Lego obsession (something I’m really happy to see has been taken up by my nephews).

My Saturday mornings often fit a very neat pattern in those simpler days.  I would get up, go downstairs and pull out of the family room closet a good-sized draw string denim bag that was chock full of those magical plastic bricks.  I would open the bag up and gently spread the pieces in front of me on the floor so I could build while engaging in my other favorite Saturday activity: watching cartoons (especially the Super Friends).

wallpaper_10rittpourLegos taught me an important early lesson, although I did not truly appreciate that teaching until many years later: anything of substance you wish to build first requires a strong, consistent foundation.  Without that foundation on which to rely, you’re just setting yourself up for some kind of collapse and with it all the pretty things you built upon that weak foundation.

What I love about the analogy is how well it works in several contexts.  It applies for buildings (as in this photo for a 33 story tower as it was being built in Philadelphia) or sports teams or relationships or just that little corner of the world you call your own life.  If you don’t have some goals or guiding principles or common understanding or shared values, you will find little success or what success you do achieve is only eked out through pure strenuous effort and bullheadedness.  Not exactly the best use of time or energy, methinks.

I started thinking about foundations the other day because I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late.  Nothing incredibly extreme, mind you, but not a ton of fun any way you slice that bad boy.  Part of the reason you can tell I’ve been in a funk is the utter dearth of blog postings popping up here.  I’ve not been feeling (or probably acting) all that fierce or mighty.  So, the other night I tried to settle in for a bit of thinking time without distraction… and uhh… that’s actually a bit hard.  Anyone with a Droid, iPhone or Blackberry will know the feeling – it’s like you are just so damn connected, you’ve forgotten how to disconnect yourself, even for a little while (unless you are asleep and even then you’re probably having dreams of apps and snarky text messages).

Often when life feels funky, I need to find myself something to pour my heart and efforts into.  Maybe some of that is just pure distraction from whatever is truly bothering me, but a lot of it gets back to the foundational values or principles I’ve set up for myself to live by.  If I can find one thing that is a core value for me and I can really focus my efforts on it for a while, slowly but surely the rut begins to fade and just becomes an unpleasant memory that also dissolves like morning mist in the sun’s heat.

While some who know me well may laugh at what I’m about to write, I think this is what I might do: get myself re-dedicated to my exercise and health plans.  I know… I know… I’m the guy with the gym in his basement and who posts videos of himself on YouTube of doing all sort of funky training.  I hear ya people – really I do.  The hard thing is that even that has taken a hit of late where it feels too much like a chore to get myself lifting or doing my stretching as I should or really being good much more often about what I eat or getting a good night’s rest every night.  I think if I give myself an extra push in this area, I will begin to enjoy it again as I should and get some momentum going… and that momentum?  It tends to have a positive carry over into other areas (at least that’s my sincere hope).

Today was a good start to all of this with the first outdoor soccer game of the season, a 5-2 win for Maniacs FC (the team I am the captain of).  I felt focused and in good shape all game long… but most importantly, I just had fun.  Isn’t that the point anyway?

So onward I go and the blogging will be much more consistent (as my next post will illustrate).  Here’s to getting back to the foundations on which we build our lives… because with their strength, we can build beautifully.

“Blank” Something Different

In thinking over my previous post on breaking a funk and reclaiming my rightful mojo, I knew some action needed to be taken outside of… well… just writing a post about it.  While writing is certainly a form of action, it’s often more the declaration of desire than the actual exercise of change and movement.  I don’t believe this diminishes the importance of the writing, but it certainly clarifies in the grand scheme of change, improvement and all the other goodies this blog seeks to focus upon.

So what kinds of actions will be on tap for our intrepid blogger?  Well, a few notions (nothing overly radical) designed to break me out of my routine if nothing else.  Why is this important?  I see it basically this way:

If you are in a funk or a rut, you are clearly following a path of well-worn grooves that you’ve created for yourself.  It’s a routine and while it’s clearly not a good routine, it’s likely become comfortable nonetheless.  Therefore, to at least begin that critical process of being released from the funk, change is needed.  It can be a change in venue or perspective or habit, but until action of some kind that is just plain different takes places, you are working from a very difficult spot to free yourself from the rut.

A few short term plans to shake things up:

  1. Move something different.  I plan on making a bit of a resvision to my current exercise/training plan.  I really do enjoy the lifting scheme I use (Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1), but I have been doing it for quite a while now.  I have had great success with it, so instead of scrapping it all together, I am using his brand new 5/3/1 for Football to give myself a shot in the arm.  It’s not going to be a wholesale change in what I do, but then again, I don’t want it to be here because this has at least been going well (God forbid).
  2. See something different.  Sometimes you just need to just pause and take in in some visual inspiration at a museum and it’s been a while since I’ve gone new-britain-museum-of-american-art to a museum to soak up a little art.  It really is one of those things I always enjoy when I do it, but then I never do it often enough and then eventually catch myself think, “Huh… haven’t really been to a museum in a while…”  I always find it funny that I have several activities I really like to do, but then I never do them all that often.  They just seem to slip my mind so effortlessly.  But late Saturday morning will be spent at the New Britain Museum of American Art taking in what they have to offer.  It’s not a museum I have been to before, but I’ve heard excellent things about it.  My hope is that a little exposure to creative works will provide a jolt to my own creative juices.  I plan on having a post all about this experience on Saturday or early Sunday.
  3. Think something different.  In a sense, I will likely get this from #2, but I know that in order make a change, my mental approach needs to vary and adapt.  As I’ve written about before, I sometimes can be someone more-than-a-little leery of change… but I can also feel very invigorated by it.  If it’s self-created change, it tends to feel a little bit better because I can at least give myself that momentary illusion of control in the situation.  But in order to think differently, I might need to vary up my reading list.  This can be magazines, blogs, books and all of that good and wonderful written material the world has to offer… but I need something outside of my comfort zone.  I’m not 100% sure of where that is just yet , so I am open to some good and useful suggestions, i.e. while a book on acetylene welding techniques is certainly different… umm… that might be a little TOO different.
  4. Deal something different.  I’ve also decided I might make a deal with myself as a bit of motivation.  My home computer is seriously on the wane and I’ve been thinking of a replacement.  I’ve got a little money tucked away in some savings and I plan on hanging onto it… but I am also considering picking up a MacBook Pro whenever Apple decides to launch their newest version (which is allegedly soon, but who knows what decisions will be made by High Priest Steve and friends).  The deal would be if I do it, then this blog has to become a daily minimum.  In fact, I am thinking about waking up 45 minutes to an hour earlier each day and trying to use a bit of a morning energy to crank out a post or two.  This may be precisely the change I need, so stay tuned.

Time to stretch a bit out of the comfort zone and see what the end result may be.  Stay tuned for the mayhem to follow.

Hardware Stores, Tires and Offbeat Conditioning

So in my gym tour, you can see I picked up a 10 lbs. sledgehammer and a big ol’ truck tire.  That right there is about $20-$30 worth of really good conditioning tools, as odd as that may sound.  Just a little video to demonstrate:

And truth be told?  It’s actually pretty fun and a very convenient way to take out your frustrations.  I’m actually looking forward to warmer weather so I can do this out on my back patio.

Not sure if my neighbors will feel the same, though.  Trying to imagine what might be going through their minds when all they can spot above my fencing is a sledgehammer rising and falling while Slipknot or Disturbed plays on my stereo.  I sense a condo meeting discussion on the horizon…

We All Start Someplace: A Few Strength, Conditioning and Fitness Tips for Beginners

There are plenty of outstanding strength and conditioning coaches in the world who are inherently more qualified than me to discuss weight training, diet, conditioning and fitness topics.  That being said, I have learned a few lessons over my 20 years (holy cow… has it been that long?) years of training.  If there is an area I feel fairly well-versed, it’s in how to help break people into fitness and assist beginners with the earliest stages of their training careers.  I leave the advanced stuff to the aforementioned experts (several of whom I have linked on the left-hand side of my blog).

So without further ado, here is my super swell lists of tips for people who are fairly new to strength, conditioning and fitness or just never got themselves into a good groove for it.

  1. Don’t over think things. I am always amazed in this modern world at the extent to which people get themselves mired in paralysis by analysis for things that really can be approached so much more simply.  While strength training requires good technique, it’s simply not rocket science.  You simply don’t need an elaborately crafted training program with uber-precise training parameters for quite some time.  You need a tried-and-true program that focuses on the basics and doing them very, very well. And by basics, I definitely mean something that involves weight lifting.  Oh and if the program focuses on “Super Shredded Abzzzz!” please avoid it.  I’m begging you.
  2. Make changes in increments. If you finally find yourself a good program (whether for your training or your diet), give it time to see how things work.  For your training, that should be at least 8-12 weeks before you start tinkering with things.  And when you do change things?  Don’t do it wholesale.  The beautiful thing about being a beginner is that you will have tremendous success early on as your body responds to the new training stimulus.  This will eventually diminish over time, but enjoy it  in the early stages.  Same kind of notion with your diet.  Do it for a good chunk of time (maybe around the same 8 weeks) to see how it goes and if things are not progressing as you may like, change one thing at a time.  If you throw out everything all at once, you will never really get an appreciation for what in particular was holding you back.
  3. Supplements are nice… but not necessary. I am a fan of nutritional supplements.  I take a multi-vitamin, fish oil and essential fatty acid capsules and use protein powders.  I find them all incredibly useful for me to be sure I get in all the proper nutrients I need, especially since my life can be a bit hectic.  But if you went without supplements of any kind and just ate well?  You would be totally fine.  In fact, the more exotic a supplement gets, the less I personally trust it.  There are just plenty of companies out there looking to get you to buy their Super Black Nitric Boom for some obscene amount of money… and if you put that same money into putting exercise equipment in your house, you would get FAR greater benefit from it all.
  4. Find one hardcore thing to do. This is something I have come to appreciate more and more over time, especially for someone who might be a little bit newer to training.  You should find one activity or exercise that is off-the-beaten path for you.  Maybe it’s sprints down at your local high school track or car pushes in an empty parking lot or even some really hard interval training.  Heck, it might be for you that you have never done barbell squats and now you are doing them.  Hardcore will be different for everyone.
    The reason you really need to do one hardcore thing is that there is something incredibly empowering for newbies to have something that makes them feel badass.  It builds confidence and lends a little to developing a swagger to your training that will really keep it moving in a positive direction.  Remember – start with one hardcore thing, not seven because then you will not be badass… just sore and overwhelmed.
  5. Eliminate your single crappiest habit. As you might be able to tell from my hints, I’m not really big into taking people new to fitness and putting them into a level of change equivalent to Navy SEAL training.  It’s just not necessary.  It’s far better to leave people wanting juuuuust a little bit more and keeping them interested when they know they can do a little bit better.  So, figure out what the crappiest and least healthy habit you have it and work on eliminating it pronto.  Smoking?  Ditch it.  A habit of mindless snacking on pork rinds dipped in sour cream?  Umm, it’s gotta go.  Insane amounts of regular soda consumption?  Switch to diet.  You get the idea.
  6. Use me as your role model. I am incredibly sexy. And I am also super smart… and humble… but mostly sexy and super smart… and not to be taken seriously very often.

I could probably make a longer list, but in keeping with the general theme above, it’s best not to overwhelm people.  Manageable chunks… and my uber sexiness.  It’s all you need.

Fresh Start Sunday

The super smooth Lionel and his Commodores had a cool, mellow and super-groovy version of Sundays, specifically Sunday mornings.  They were easy. Just listening to the song makes you think of relaxing on the couch with your favorite morning beverage and the newspaper with no particular place to go.

My Sunday will not resemble that, at least not for the span of about 90 minutes.  Oh no, my good friends… tomorrow begins the first wave of my new training plan and I begin with deadlift day.  It’s not a complete change of what I have been doing, but it’s definitely going to be some tweaking on what I’ve been doing.  The goal is to continue to improve strength across the board while incorporating some new movements for explosiveness and keeping my conditioning cranking along.

Strength Training: Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 (which is by far the best training template I have ever used).  Lifting 3 times per week.  The core lifts will be Deadlifts, Bench Press, Cleans (this is new), Squats and Military Presses.  The Cleans will be done on the Squats day and I’ve never done them consistently, so we’ll see how these bad boys go.  The Cleans are mostly to incorporate a new element of explosiveness to my training.  The accessory work to go along with these lifts will be a lot of the basics (dips, pull-ups and all that fun) and I am shooting to complete my lifting sessions a little more quickly.

Conditioning: This is mostly going to be comprised of playing sports.  I play indoor soccer on Thursdays and I will now start playing basketball (for the first time in a really long time) on Wednesdays.  I am going to pick one other day out of the week to push the Prowler around and look to have one full off day per week.  I may (just may) look to do some bikram yoga at some point because I think it would be a huge help to my horribly inflexible behind.  I am also thinking about adding in some “finishers” at the end of my lifting sessions to get in an extra dollop of conditioning.  Yeah that’s right… dollop.  Like sour cream baby!  And yes, I know that makes absolutely no sense.  Work with me, people.

Oh and to all of you hoping to see video of my using the Prowler and puking?  So far I have kept down all my food – HA!

Diet: I have phased out of the formal plan I was on with Shelby and the weight difference was about a 2.5 lb increase which has stayed consistent over the last 2 weeks.  I will be incorporating several of the elements of what I learned from Shelby along the way.  Essentially, it will be working from that carb cycling idea of “earn your carbs” with less carbs on non-lifting days.  Outside of that, I looking to just eat well and very balanced.  If I can eat things that organic or get grass-fed beef/bison, that is what I am looking to do.

That’s the plan and now it’s a matter of execution.  In keeping with the overall theme of the blog (i.e. it’s not just about lifting or ideas or developing your mind and spirit, but the interrelation of all of those things), I am hoping to gain a better appreciation for attacking my plan now that it is set.  The plan is not terribly complicated, nor does it need to be.  What it certainly does need is for me to go after it with full spirit.  I think a lot of people fall into the “paralysis by analysis” trap instead of going after things full bore for a while and then stopping to assess after some practice.  Hopefully, I will avoid that.

Time to SFW.

(And if you do not know what SFW means, feel free to click here. Pardon the language though.)