Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning New Skills

I was reading THIS ARTICLE on "My Athletic Life" and came across this quote in an interview:

"Bill Starr said “Success breeds success.” Look for drills and exercises you can do successfully and build on top of them. If I wanted to squat 500 lbs., I wouldn’t load up a bar with 500 lbs. and try to squat it – I’d fail. What I would do is start off with 100 lbs. and build up from there. Don’t just try to do a handstand repeatedly and fail – look for drills that you can do successfully."

There are people that want to jump to the endpoint immediately. If they can't kick up to a handstand in the first couple of tries, or fall off the rings as soon as they try to jump up, they think, "I can't get this, let's do something else."

Most of us have probably been out of school for a while, but if you think back real hard, you probably remember that to eventually get through algebra, you had to learn basic arithmetic first. The same slow build of mental skills translates to physical ones. It's a matter of progressively building upon small steps and introducing your body and brain to new ways of working together.

So step back, take a deep breath, and try again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What does that work?

Since I work at a commercial gym, where most workouts consist of back & bi days and the like, I often get the question, "What does that move work?" My answer is usually "your core, your arms, your back, your balance, your coordination, your proprioception, etc....." and the looks I get in return are either of confusion or of someone seeing the light.

So I thought, maybe everyone should be asking themselves that question at the gym. And I think the answer for at least 80% of the moves you do should have at least three components to it. If you ask yourself "what does this move work?", and all you can think of are "umm... the calves..?" you're probably wasting your time. (Outside of rehab specific work.)

I'm not saying that the occasional vanity lift is a bad thing, but it should be put in when you happen to have extra time, after you've done the real work. We're all really busy, and the moves that will get you in and out of the gym quickly are also usually the moves that are "functional" and get your heart rate up faster.

Hell, I'll admit it. I do bicep curls once in a blue moon. Just because I think biceps look nice. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Catch Phrase: Use the Core

Despite all the talk in magazines, fitness sites, shows like "Biggest Loser" and such about using the core, strengthening the core, core this, core that, I'm convinced that people still don't REALLY know what that means.

Some years ago I remember being told that using your core meant that you suck your belly button in towards your spine. This advice led to countless people sucking in their gut, not activating their back or obliques, and either breathing shallowly or not breathing at all.

All to often I meet someone who wants to "train their core" only to find them doing lots of crunches, leg raises, V-ups and the like. These exercises have their place, but it goes to show that with the ubiquity and the commercialization of the term, "core" has simply been boiled down to mean "six pack muscles".

It might sound silly, but I like to think of the "core" as the "muscle corset". It holds your body in tight, it keeps your spine from bending around, and it helps to transfer pushing power from your legs to your upper body, whether you're holding weights or not.

In this context, think of where a corset holds you. Not just your six pack muscles, but also the obliques, and spinal erectors. They ALL come into play when you need to hold your spine straight, and an over emphasis on the six pack abdominals leaves you in an uneven and unstable position.

Easiest workout to train all the core muscles together: planks. Even if you can do thousands of sit ups, if your other muscles aren't up to snuff, it's going to be tough.

More advanced core workouts: doing exercises with weights overhead. Overhead squats, overhead lunges, or just walking around with weight overhead. I prefer this to doing stuff on bosu balls, because we primarily live on stable ground, so this action is more transferable to real life activities.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The See-Food Diet

I've had clients as me what I eat or what my diet looks like. They know that I'm a competitive athlete. I give one of two answers depending on what I think they need to hear.

One answer is basically me giving the Paleo diet spiel. Saying how I try to focus my eating around meat, fruits, and vegetables, and since I'm very active, I make sure I eat enough and spread it out, timing my macronutrients for when my workouts are. I tell them I stay away from grains and anything processed, save whey protein and the occasional protein bar.

But then I give the real answer to those that won't see it as dietary release:

I eat a see-food diet. I see food, and I eat it.

I'm on my bike for an hour or more a day. I lift heavy weights for 2 hours several times a week. I'm on my feet, demonstrating moves, doing all that trainer stuff. I have to eat a lot to stay strong. So basically, I eat whatever I want.

The key word there is WANT. I don't want to eat crap. I want to eat things that help me perform better, that satiate me and won't cause me to crash in an hour or two (I have to eat fairly often as it is). I think things like steak, chicken, and salmon are tasty. I think that most burgers and fried foods are not.

I wasn't always like that. When I went off to college I wanted to eat crap and processed shit like every other kid did. For me, pasta, potatoes, bread, or rice were side dishes to meat, not a salad. It wasn't until probably senior year when I really got the idea of what eating clean meant.

It's been 7 years since college. It's been 7 years of learning about nutrition, how to cook, and changing and solidifying my culinary tastes. So when I say that I eat what I want, it's because I don't want to eat crap.

Still, I can't tell just any one that "I eat what I want."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sources of Intensity

I'm not talking about training intensity, which refers to how heavy one is lifting on a particular day. I'm talking about mental intensity, and where that comes from. I had a bit of an intensity epiphany the other day.

In the past I was always able to rely on external sources for training intensity:

1) I had a heavy handed coach that I disliked.

2) I had a training partner who was really strong and always nipping at my heels.

3) I trained in "the dungeon" which has a very serious atmosphere.

With all these things around me, I didn't have to dig very deep to find the intensity needed to make the big attempts and approach the heavy weights. And let's face it, you need a sort of intense abandon to make those big lifts. You have to be able to drive with everything you've got and trust that you're body is going to do the right thing and the weight will land where you want it.

Then I changed coaches, and several things changed:

1) Instead of intense abandon, I had to train with a measured focus as he changed my technique, built up my strength deficiencies, and worked out old habits.

2) I found myself in a place where I like my coach, my gym is fun, and my teammates are fun.

3) I lift quite a bit more than any other woman, and some of the men, that I train with.

Basically I had lost most of my sources of external intensity. And it showed. In my level of distraction, in the weights that I lifted, in the drive I had as months wore on.

But last week, something clicked. I learned of three other girls that will be competing in my weight class at the American Open. Three girls that have not been in my weight class, or in weightlifting competition at all. And they are all strong.

That day, I told myself "You're still the MoFo Newman. You can't keep lifting like you're learning. You're done learning and you need to be done pussy-footing around."

That day I had the best training session I had in months. Months. Then I can back the next week and took attempts at weights I hadn't touched in more months. Not weeks. Months.

Reminds me of a favorite quote I have: "People gravitate towards being a pussy. Remove the pussy, son."

I don't know what, if anything, will come of this. But at least I know I've giving it a fair shot.