Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I came across this video the other day:

I agree with it. Sort of. First, the whole concept of "masculine" is crap. It's a vestigial tail left over from a primordial era when gendered rolls were enforced rigidly. Everyone should be able to answer conflict, to be rational, to be self aware, to sacrifice for the greater good, to take a leadership roll. To put that solely on men is antediluvian and we've evolved past it. So lets forget masculine and just go with virtuous.
Bullying isn't "muscular," it isn't a virtue. It's easy to yell and scream and take out petty revenge for perceived slights but easy isn't virtuous. A bully has no empathy, they are narcissistic. They can't see past their own ends and ride rough shod over the collective. To think otherwise is to be a sociopath.
Failing to consider the ramifications of an activity (like football) for your kids is not virtuous. Its failing to parent. When President Obama said that he wouldn't let a hypothetical son play in the NFL, he was looking at the long view. NFL players die early, they have all kinds of medical issues. I don't want that for my sons either. I'd rather they live long working class lives than die at 55 with a Benz and a Bentley. Self sacrifice for the greater good is virtuous, self sacrifice for the entertainment of the masses, and the enrichment of the few is foolish. I myself have been a fool, so I know of which I speak. Playing rugby over the years I have been concussed.. I have no idea how many times. Once was so badly that I lost the better part of a day. Concussions are not good for longevity, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend otherwise.
It is a virtue to confront injustice, it is not a virtue to avoid conflict at all costs. However, if your only means of conflict is violence, you are not being masculine. Folks for which violence is the only means of conflict resolution lack the ability to communicate to input data from an outside perspective and can only foist their perspective outward.  Don't get me wrong, I like violence. I have a talent for it, both administering and absorbing. However, its not a default. Its not even a preferable option.
Which brings me to a final virtue that is often misapplied. Self Awareness. Blusterers and blow-hards seem to think lacking self awareness is a virtue. To ignore one's one failings and sensitivities and put up a stoic facade. This could not be further from the truth. Self improvement necessitates self awareness. If you can't honestly assess your own abilities and actions you can't do anything meaningful. If you aren't self aware you cannot understand how you affect the world around you. Those who refuse to acknowledge their failings, who refuse to ask for help are incomplete people. Similarly you cannot sympathize if you are not in tune with your own feelings. I have been guilty of this myself. I stifled my on emotions so severely that I couldn't imagine being overwhelmed by emotion. It took a lot of intentional practice to fix.
As the father of two young boys (3.5 and 10 months) the meaning of masculinity is a subject that I am acutely aware. The virtues ascribed to it are not 'male' they are simply virtues. Similarly colors and social play are not 'feminine' either. My oldest loves wrestling, he is fearless: he jumped of a 6.5 foot playground structure last weekend without a microsecond of hesitation. He also likes pink, and cooking. For a while he wanted to be a witch for Halloween (he later changed his mind and went with Captain America). None of these are inappropriate for a little boy.I have not tried to dissuade any of these preferences/behaviors. Pink is just a color, everyone should be able to cook (lacking such a fundamental skill is never a virtue regardless of gender), and witches are scary. If my two boys were girls, I would still emphasize those same virtues. I would still encourage them to wrestle as it is a crucible through which those virtues and values are readily learned. I would encourage them to climb and leap. As parents, coaches, or any figure of authority we need to cut off this vestigial notion of 'masculine' virtue and 'feminine' virtue and simply teach virtue. Honor, integrity, bravery in the face of righteous conflict, and self awareness should be standards of humans regardless of gender. If we do this the easy, false forms of "Masculinity" (bullying, bravado, stunted emotional growth and unwillingness and inability to do 'woman stuff') and "Femininity" (passivity, ineptitude, and reliance on others in the face of 'man stuff') would all become relics of a forgotten, primitive, time.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

For whom, for what.

I had a long talk during open mat last week with a teammate who is also a trainer/strength coach/whatever. His question was one that I have heard bandied about quite a bit. Is the loss of lumbar spine curve at the bottom of the squat problematic? My response was:  for whom, for what.
Why are we lifting? If the athlete wants to compete in a sport that requires squatting with a barbell then you've got to squat with a bar bell and to a certain depth. If the athlete does some other sport then we absolutely should not be squatting folks who cannot maintain lumbar posture. Folks participating in a sport more probably will be training outside the gym and will tend to push beyond the point of discomfort outside of your supervision as such they are more likely to be permanently injured. Generally speaking you can front squat them, or just eliminate squats all together. Would it be easier to get them monstrously strong with squats? Yes. Does that mean it is worth the cost:benefit analysis of the movement? Not in my opinion.
For the general fitness client things get a bit trickier. I have seen exactly zero general fitness clients walk in with proper mobility/stability to squat on day 1. However for these folks the fitness and aesthetic benefits of the squat are higher. We don't need to push the load (as would be required by an athlete seeking performance benefit), and can spend more time focusing on the movement. So I tend to (eventually) squat my general fitness clients more often than not. Even if it is simply including goblet squats into their warm-up.
As coaches we need to take a good hard look at what the client wants, needs, and how to get them there. Remembering that nothing prevents performance improvement like injury.


I subscribe to a ton of email newsletters.. a ton. I have a whole email address that is very little but. I skim through looking for wisdom, enlightenment, and entertainment.
One of the blogs I subscribe to is zenhabits.
I subscribe not because I agree with Mr. Babauta but because we disagree on a lot.
He is a vegan. I am not.
He is all about endurance activity. I'd rather have my teeth extracted via blowtorch.
He is a minimalist. I am a proponent of the right tool for the job, but no tool that only does one job.

but we agree on several things:
Mindfulness. be present.
Exercise is important.
Food is important.

And often people you disagree with on a great many things will tell you things you need to hear.
In light of yesterday's rant/post/lament.
Mr. Babauta's post today was something I needed to read.

1) Let go. I can't train. I'd like to, but I simply can't.

2) Accept what is. Each time I try to train when my leg is not ready sets me back several weeks. I need to accept that in order to move forward. Every time I try work around the reality, I get hurt again and start over.

3) Act with gratitude and compassion. My leg does not hurt. Completely asymptomatic in daily life. I can walk around on it, play with my kids and generally enjoy the vast majority of my life.
It will heal. I have my concerns that it will not, but that's pretty unfounded. It will heal, I will train. This is a problem, but a finite one. All of this could be not so. I could be in great pain. I could have an injury that will cause me pain for the rest of my life. I could be on crutches or staring down the barrel surgery. This is still not that bad.

Don't tune out folks with reasonable positions with which you disagree. They are more likely to tell you things you need to hear.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Thoughts from the shelf.

Or, My leg is still being terrible and I am having a hard time with it.
Actually, my leg feels fine. Really. Doesn't hurt. I can walk around, play with my kids, do whatever.. except jiu jitsu. I have tried to train (very lightly) the past two saturdays, and both times Pop! and I'm putting the bone back in place and calling it a day. The last time it was just the isometric contraction of my hamstring that pulled it out. Super frustrating.
So here's the plan:
Two weeks of no jiu jitsu and no hamstring loading.. again.
Two weeks of no jiu jitsu and some very easy loading (spin bike)
Two weeks of going to class and doing technique.. passively. Same loading.
Two weeks of going to class and doing technique, and moderate loading (sled dragging)
Two weeks of only playing bottom, no kneeling.
Then we'll see.
You don't have to be a math wiz to see that I'm on the shelf for (another) 10 weeks.. minimum
Sucks. I have a really hard time with this kind of injury.. I'd imagine anyone does.
I can go through the mundane, but when I try to do the things I really want. Pop.. and start over from the beginning. Super frustrating.
Nothing I can do about it.
If this doesn't work then I'm going to have to think seriously about having a screw put in.

The thing that makes this worse is outside of my wife and kids, jiu jitsu IS my social circle. I work in a cube and talk to no one. I go home and play with the kids and hang with the wife.. and no one else.
Outside of the three of them, and my own little micro farm, all I think about is grappling. I have no other hobbies. So I just stew about my stupid leg.

I don't even have the words to express how frustrating this all is. My whole guard game was evolving. My top control. My game in general had ton of momentum. Now.. who knows.
I have more to say, but I can't really write any more.
It sucks.

Epistemology of strength, conditioning, jiu jitsu and the physical culture.

First lets start with what the hairy hell is epistemology.
Epistemology (Listeni/ɨˌpɪstɨˈmɒləi/ from Greek ἐπιστήμη, epistēmē, meaning "knowledge, understanding", and λόγος, logos, meaning "study of") is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge[1][2] and is also referred to as "theory of knowledge". It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired, and the extent to which knowledge pertinent to any given subject or entity can be acquired.
In short, how do we know what we think we know about what we think we know.
I started thinking about this because a very respected local coach/black belt/instructor posted to facebook a quote that I'll paraphrase as:
When your instructor goes out of his/her way to point out something you could be doing better, don't quickly reply with a justification or excuse...
Now this person is a black belt, I am not. He has been teaching for far longer than I have. He has competed at a much higher level than I. He is not only better than me, he is better than me.. probably in every measurable facet of jiu jitsu. This is not a binary proposition. He isn't wrong, nor am I. Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way.
I would never say that to my students.
I will freely admit I am a questioner. I have learned to phrase things in such a way that I'm not questioning why do it this way, but asking can you explain how that functions better than this. What is the mechanism?
As an instructor,I have a similar emphasis. I actively seek questions (which are to be clear different from arguments, but I'm going to give the student the benefit of the doubt). I want students to try and shoot holes in what I'm teaching. To hold it up to harsh light and inspect it for flaws. The more minds that we have deconstructing a proposition the better. The more often I can be wrong, the greater more refined the constructs of my jiu jitsu. I teach so that I can put out my theories and hypotheses out for test, and the more people I can teach the greater the number of data points I get back. If there is a better more efficient way to do things I want to know so that I can modify the model I'm working from. It makes me a better instructor, it makes the students better when I crowd-source the testing of my understanding. This makes my jiu jitsu better as I teach.
 I enjoy jiu jitsu because it is a complex system, with testable outcomes. You tap, or they tap. Mastery of a complicated system is fulfilling. Most of us will never get paid for our jiu jitsu so being able to do is less important than fulfillment in the doing. Similarly, being able to do some jiu jitsu techniques without understanding, even if you can use those techniques to submit someone with a deep understanding you still don't have mastery.
The students should be asking questions of these assertions because they should not only want to DO jiu jitsu, but they should want to UNDERSTAND jiu jitsu. If you substitute techniques for understanding then if you get injured, old, the situation changes (mma/street fight/competition/no gi) your whole game becomes useless. That's not mastery, that's barely even competence.

Work-shopping problems, and crowd-sourcing the testing of assertions (along with a mentor and consistent training) is fundamentally the scientific method. It is the best epistemological system for understanding. However the formal peer-review process is not functional when it comes to strength, conditioning and the physical culture. The problems are legion:

1) Time: in order to test how a S&C system works one cannot simply do a test for 6-8 weeks. Most any system of exercise will work for 6 weeks. the SAID principle of training says that a new imposed demand will cause adaptation. If you're doing something new, there will be an adaptive response for 6-8 weeks. These systems need to be tested for longer periods, and no athlete is going to want to be in the "control group" for a year while his competitors are gaining a (real or perceived) competitive advantage.

2) Untrained folks are lousy test subjects, trained folks don't want to be tested upon (or used as control depending on what is perceived to be advantageous). Untrained folks get fitter/stronger with any stimulus. There was a study where sedentary folks were put on a cycling program for 6 weeks, and their bench press went up! Trained folks have goals to meet, and as a coach if you're not meeting their goals they're not going to continue to be your client/test subject.

3) Compliance. People want to do what they want to do, and you can't make them do anything for more than a few weeks. Even if you could force someone to be and remain your test subject, it is very hard to control intensity. Some people will run through brick walls for you over and over again. Some people won't go past AT if you put a gun to their head. Controling for these factors is impossible. This is double super difficult when it comes to nutrition as people delude themselves when it comes to food.

4) Review and repeatability. If a great coach, Louie Simmons, Martin Rooney, Mike Winkeljohn took their processes. Wrote them out in detail.. minute, granular, excruciating detail, then handed them over to some schmoe with far less ability. The schmoe in question would not produce a Chuck Vogelpohl, a Frankie Edgar, or a Jon Jones. There is more to these complex systems than just the system. While the results are repeatable, they are hardly reviewable, and cannot be replicated elsewhere. There are too many factors in situ.

5) Ethics. If I believe that a certain movement combination is going to cause injury to a population it is not ethical to test that hypothesis. I would hope this would be obvious, but intentionally subjecting people to danger is unethical. There are further ethical considerations. Is it ethical to withhold what I consider optimal training from some clients and/or athletes because I want to run an experiment? Sorry johnny, you're not going to get my best mojo for this competition you've been training for, because I want to make sure my methods really are better than the status quo. Johnny would not only tell me where to go, but I wouldn't blame him if he gave me the double finger Diaz brothers style on the way out the door.

6) Bias, bias, bias. So confirmation bias is a problem (Crossfit is awesome, look at all these fit people who are still here.. forgetting those people who washed out for whatever reason). Similarly where a method is believed to be flawed and thus never actually give it an honest test (the 'We do it this way." problem)

7) $$$ there really isn't a lot of funding to do detailed tests of S&C systems in a clinical environment. There just isn't a compelling reason to do long term studies on already healthy people. So we end up with these sorta kinda related studies done on sick people (diabetics, heart patients, the obese, the elderly) and then try to extrapolate out to healthy and/or competitive populations. Which is faulty to say the least.

8) Who writes the journals, Outside of the NSCA journal (which is good) most of the science and review done is done by the medical industry. They really don't care about performance markers at all. They want to help sick people be well, and maybe write them a prescription or two. Performance is not health. In fact often high performers are very unhealthy (elite powerlifters, and elite endurance athletes come to mind)

9) Moving target. Methods and philosophies in strength and conditioning pop up and fall out of favor too fast to be studied. Even when there isn't wholesale change there is enough shift in usage or demographic to render most studies borderline at best.

So what are we left with. We need the scientific method to vet how we strength train and condition our athletes, but formalized peer-reviewed scientific journals have all manner of issues. So what do we do? We keep the method, and lose the publication requirements. This gets tricky. Suddenly there are all manner of competing voices. There is lots of anecdotal data, some of which contradicts the rest. So we lay our foundation on the basics. We keep our focus on our specific performance goals, and look to populations and coaches with similar foundations and outlooks. Most important of all, we don't dismiss anything out of hand but are skeptical of all claims. We avoid never and always. We cannot afford to fall in love with an idea or method, we follow the data.

The scientific method consists of the use of procedures designed to show not that our predictions and hypothesis are right, but that they might be wrong. Scientific reasoning is useful to anyone in any job because it makes us face the possibility, even the dire reality, that we were mistaken. It forces us to confront our self-justifications and put them on public display for others to puncture. At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control.   -Carol Tavris

And that's the truth of it, and that brings us back to the salient point of this whole post: we must be completely and totally unafraid of admitting that our assertions are wrong. We must actively seek to be wrong. This is the only path to complete understanding of a subject. If my strength and conditioning methods don't work for an individual, I change the method. If I'm teaching a jiu jitsu class and what I'm teaching is not as true for a day 1 white belt as it is for a world champion then I need to be wrong and change. It's simple, but it's not easy. This is a part of "leave your ego at the door" that is most difficult and gets more difficult as you progress through the ranks.
be brave, be wrong, learn and get better.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Welcome to the club.

It is early January and (in parts of the country not frozen completely solid) the game is afoot! The game of: "Who will still be in the gym come Valentines?" There are a goodly number of folks who have resolved to... something in the gym. To you I say, Welcome!
First off, you are here in the gym. This means that you have joined an already exclusive club of "folks who exercise." You have also joined a sub-sect called "folks who go to the gym." Eventually (hopefully) you'll join the exclusive (and ever shifting) club of "folks who are in shape."  Due to an injury and 2.5 weeks of sloth and gluttony, I personally am not currently a member of this group, but membership isn't difficult it just takes persistence and effort.
Some basic advice for getting into this exclusive club and staying there (injuries aside).

1.) Have some fun. Seriously. there should be an element of play in your exercise, even if you aren't playing a game. You should get some joy out of it.

2.) It's not all going to be play. There are a lot of parts to this thing we call fitness. It's not really a thing so much as a series of achievements that have to be unlocked.. and all have to remain at a certain level at any given time for one to be considered 'fit.' I don't know what you don't like. I personally don't like mobility work and aerobic conditioning. These parts of my fitness are the ones I always manage to "forget." Temptation is strong, but don't fall into that trap. (strength, aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, mobility, body control, and posture are the general categories I use to evaluate folks) Make sure you're working on all of these qualities. Make sure that if you are seriously deficient in one you study it, and put focused effort towards it. Do your homework.

3.) Don't judge other folks on what they are doing. It's pretty easy to feel damn superior at the gym (well anywhere folks are putting their priorities out in plain view). You don't know anything about the person you're looking at, you don't know what their priorities are, and may not know their injury history. Right now, I have an injured leg. Doesn't effect my gait at all. I look perfectly healthy but I can't do any lower body work at all. It would be easy for someone to watch me train and slag me off for not "lifting legs." connected to this...

4.) Be positive. Look around and look at the positive stuff folks are doing around you. I used to be the aggro Henry Rollins aggro minded (young) dude who hated everyone, snarled with derision at everyone and everything around me.
That guy? "HA, no legs!"
Well what about this dude, he's pretty big? "He can't even do a single pull-up, and call me when you're going to do the other half of those reps on the bench broheim!"
But now, I've been in the game too long to deride anyone. I've been in situations, or seen people for whom just about everything is appropriate, and for the few situations where I do know the story and I do know that people are doing things that are silly/potentially injurious I feel sorry for the pain that's going to inflict upon them. They're going to break, and it's going to hurt.. possibly forever. That's a sad thing. Ok.. back to you.

5.) Lift some weights. Weights that weigh a challenging amount. That will develop these things called "muscles." You might have seen these on television and at the movies. They go a long way in getting you to that "In shape people" club.

6.) Eat food. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to go to the store, and buy only food that has no brand name. So if the sign says "apples" good to go. "beef" similarly. "Kellogg's PostNabisKraft toasty 102 calorie puffy packs" NOPE!
Now I know Dole sells pineapples and Chiquita sells bananas, but (in spite of their best efforts) you don't go to the store looking for Dole bananas, you go for bananas and if they have this brand or that.. doesn't matter. Bananas are food, 'toasty 102 calorie puffy packs' are not food. They are food based ingredients processed together to generate a hyper-palatable food product. These products are designed with consumption in mind, not health. Putting hyper-palatable food in small bags just means you're going to produce a lot of trash. It's good marketing, and bad nutrition, don't fall for it.

7.) Do something that makes you breathe hard. Preferably some short stuff that makes you breathe really hard for a while, and some longer stuff that makes you breathe a little hard. Mix it up. Move in different ways, and incorporate play as much as you can. If you have kids, race them the length of the block. Put them on their bikes and run beside them, and make them tell you stories. Exercise is a lifestyle, and if you model that you'll build people who take it for granted.

8.) Roll, Crawl, and move from the floor to standing. I learned a ton from Charlie Weingroff but this was cemented in my time this summer/fall at Seattle Dojo Judo practice. Learning to tumble, to move on the floor, to move in a quadruped motion, and to go fluidly from prone to standing is one of the best ways to improve general coordination. Combine that with the single most prevalent killer of people over the age of 65 is 'injury due to accidental fall' then it stands to reason practicing falling without getting injured is kind of important.

9.) Take the time to develop the habit. Keep to a hard schedule for 6 weeks. No reschedules, no skipped sessions. Go, and exercise as planned for 42 days. Take scheduled days off, but keep to your plan, and you will find it much easier to stay on target the rest of the year.

10.) Plan to do less than you think you need to, and give yourself room to overachieve. This is a tough one, and hard to explain, but think of it this way. A few years ago a good friend of mine was doing a stairclimb. It's sort of like a 5k, up a building staircase. He was well prepared, but didn't have access to a tall building to practice on. My pre-race day advice to him was:
 "Start slow. Slower than you think..no even slower than that."
Fatigue sets in and you end up well past your capacity. You can always pick up the pace the last 1/3 if you have extra gas in the tank, but once you're gassed out.. you're done. Race day came and went, and his response:
"I started too fast."
If you are not training for a competition in the near future, and you're just trying to get into shape, have a baseline plan, and give yourself bonus work that you can add if you're feeling baddass. Don't start too fast and then blow up the whole plan.