My t-shirt inspired my blog post today. Even looking at those words after typing them looks and feels a little odd, but it doesn’t make the initial statement any less true. The t-shirt in question is here as Exhibit A:
Man that’s a lot of good-looking going on there. But I digress (per usual).
The t-shirt comes from Jim Wendler, the creator of the 5/3/1 system for weight training. I’m not sure the origins of the quote, but it’s always something that struck me a little bit in how it can be applicable in so many areas. From Jim’s perspective, it pertains primarily to how the fitness industry bombards people with such bad information, snake oil ripoffs and thick layers of hype, none of which will make you any stronger, faster, fitter or healthier (but will likely line the pockets of someone who cares little about you achieving any of those goals).
But today my thoughts on this shirt had less to do with strength training and more to a broader application of the statement. It’s fairly simple to me:
Every single day, in some way, shape or fashion, society is lying to you, me and everyone else you know. It’s constant. It’s pervasive.
Now, if you are thinking, “Who slipped the paranoia pills into your coffee this morning, wacko?” I’m not sure I would blame you. My assertion is a wee bit on the broad side, but stop for a second and think about it and you will likely come around to my vantage point on this issue.
How often do we hear about the negatives of the world? The restrictive ideas of who we can be or what we can achieve? The constant pigeon-holing of everyone into neatly categorized little boxes where we are defined by our jobs? Or defined by some narrow stereotype or title about how we should live our lives? Or think about problems big and small?
Let me see if I can illustrate by way of example: Does being a lawyer by training define who I am? I would never see it that way, although I probably did while in law school and for a while after graduating until one day it occurred to me that was such a confining way of living my life.
Or how about one’s age? A lot of people have been posting fond memories on Facebook of actress Kathryn Joosten who just passed away at the age of 72. She didn’t even start acting until she was 42 and only moved to Hollywood when she was 55 years old. What if she listened to the idea that no one can make a new start (let alone one in the age-obsessed film and TV industry) at such and age? She would have never had the chance to win 2 Emmy awards.
I could go on and on about this point, but hey, I’m a swell dude and will spare you a mind-numbing barrage of examples to prove the same point… and that point is this:
Today you will be exposed to a colleague, friend, family member, TV commercial, stranger in the street, billboard or God only knows what else that will try and tell you what your potential may or may not be. It may sound kindly and will almost assuredly be very well-intentioned… but it also may very well be a complete fabrication.
Don’t listen. Don’t give in. Be that which you long to be. And I will give all I can to do the same.
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.
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???
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.