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General organism strength: the what and the why

Not all strength is equal.


  • You can get stronger using a pec deck machine.
  • You can get stronger using the bench press.
  • You can get stronger using push-ups.

You can build strength lots of ways, but the effects will vary pending what you’ve gotten stronger at.

We’re talking about strength because strength is good for physique and performance. (Although, surprise surprise, the relationship isn’t linear.)

But now it’s time to talk about the exercises to use for strength training, otherwise you can be hammering away at “strength training” without getting as much benefit possible.

I kind of blew the pooch earlier: freeweight and bodyweight training are different beasts than most other forms of training.

And this is where using machine training as a reference point becomes useful.

You can feel the burn on machines, man! And they’re so much safer than those circular hunks of iron! Right? So if you can still feel your muscles work, then what’s the matter?

But there’s something special about you moving and controlling your body through gravity…and then beyond gravity. And when you think about freeweight and bodyweight training, that’s all you’re doing.

Every time you stand up from the toilet, you’re working against gravity, but—really—it’s similar to lifting a barbell. Imagine yourself on Jupiter, standing up from the same toilet. If you weigh 220-pounds here, you’d weigh 529-pounds on Jupiter.

Sit on the Earthly toilet, load up a barbell with a cumulative 309-pounds, and then put the barbell on your back. You have Jupiter living conditions. Now stand up.

How’s this different than, say, machine training?

Because you have to consider the totality of stress. And there are two factions of stress.

Local stress is strain on the structures involved. You can make a simple muscle contraction very locally stressful just by contracting as hard as you can.

  • Flex your bicep as hard as you can.
  • Lockout your knee and flex your quad as hard as you can.
  • Stand up, then try touching your heel to your butt — contract your hamstring as much as possible.

Global stress goes beyond and looks at how the exercise effects you, as an organism. Because training stress is much, much, much more than muscular stress.

As Buddy Morris once said:

The stress of training is greater than that of a broken bone because it encompasses the entire system. It encompasses the cardiac, cardiopulmonary, detoxification, hormonal, metabolic, central nervous system, neuromuscular, and […] immune system. That’s all affected by training. And those systems do not recover at the same time.

So, yes, training directly stresses the structures involved. The bones, the muscles, the tendons, the ligaments, et cetera…

But it also stresses structures that influence the rest of your body. The nervous system you use to contract your muscles in a squat is the same nervous system you use to write with a pencil.

Training causes different degrees of total organism stress. This global training effect was coined general organism strength (by a pretty famous sprint coach named Charlie Francis, I believe).

Every exercise delivers a local hit (to the muscles and structures directly involved) as well as a global hit (to the entire organism).

Think of getting the flu. Your entire body goes out of whack (fever-global), but there’s also a very specific response to the thing that’s doing the damage (antibodies-local).

Your body is selectively dealing with a specific pathogen (benching stressing the chest and triceps), but you also have a fever because of the general immune response.

This is why sedentary people can get stronger in the squat (or even the bench press) by bike riding. The activity stresses you, as an ORGANISM, on a global level. And if you aren’t very trained, this global stress bleeds throughout your entire body.

Charlie Francis had his sprinters do heavy bench pressing a few days prior to a competition to serve as a general-global hit to the organism. This kept his athlete’s “fresh” and “trained” without stressing the legs.

Global stress also explains the crossover effect. If you have an injured limb, training the uninjured limb also strengthens (or retains strength within) the injured limb.

And even more? Pavel Tsatsouline often says, to retain strength during an absence from training, train your midsection and your grip.

Think of general organism strength as a power level or a “level” in an RPG. It tells you about your potential abilities, but, at the same time, it tells you nothing about your specific abilities.


In general, exercises that have low global impact are for the birds. This is why methods like dynamic tension by Charles Atlas didn’t quite prove effective.

But what impacts global stress?

Lots of things:

  • Used percentage of maximum ability (% 1RM). The closer to your max you train, the more global the stress gets.
  • Number of muscles involved. The more muscles that are involved, the more global the stress gets. So a deadlift (in which your legs, back, and grip are heavily taxed) is much much much more stressful than a bicep curl.
  • Body position (standing, seated). Standing exercises are typically more stressful because there’s more muscle mass involved. Takes a lot of energy to stabilize your body in space.
  • Total weight lifted. A bench press can be more taxing than an overhead press even though it’s done lying down simply because you can press a whole lot more weight during the bench press.
  • Specific muscles involved. The hand and feet are neurologically intensive areas. If you do a lot of intense grip work, your system will be more fatigued than if you could have gotten away without using your hands. (Think of a deadlift with straps vs. a deadlift without straps.)
  • Level of psycho-physiological arousal. Bashing your head against the wall and listening to Trivium will zap you more than being relaxed and listening to classical music. DON’T LET THE RESIVOIR DOGS KNOW YOU’RE LIFTING.
  • Complexity of movement. Complex movements are more stressful. More joints, more muscle mass. But also more mental energy (to fathom the complexity).
  • Novelty. New things are more stressful than old things.

The best way to think about it: how close am I to moving my body through space in a way that opposes gravity?

The more supergravity the conditions, and the more holistic the conditions (spread across your body), the bigger the general stressor.

Ah, yes — perhaps now you see a little why getting stronger within freeweight and bodyweight training are preferred.

Now, this isn’t exactly shelling out the darkest parts of my programming philosophy. I’ll get to that soon though. (Hint: slow cook the global, make it boring…have fun with the local, keep it fresh.)

First, onto the why of strength. Next letter, of course…

Strength + Performance + Physique … the beginning of a mental model

What I’m saying is: I’m eventually going to take a poop on machine training (and most mainstream ways of training).

We start here though:

You hear it all the time:

  • Wanna’ become a better athlete? Get strong.
  • Wanna’ built more muscle? Get strong.

But what does it mean?

“Get strong.”

Let’s piece together this mental model strength, performance, and physique.

Starting with “strength” itself.

Is strength the entry into meatheadism? Someone that spends all day at the gym? With muscles so big you can’t scratch your own back? Accompanied an unnecessarily and unseasonably dark skin tan? And perhaps a commensurate amount of unnecessary hair gel?

Strength is best under understood by its opposite: the absence of strength.

This is why I wrote about Gertude. And astronauts.

I also wrote about Hume, but, well, I’d rather not bring up bad memories…

I wrote about these things to get here: consider strength to be your ability to overcome or deal with physical resistance within in a movement or a position.

The resistance in everyday life = gravity.

Most of us are strong (to varying degrees) thanks to antifragility. Remember the enlightening yet confusing ball of mess from before?

You’re physically strong because you’ve existed in an environment (Earth) that demanded you to be physically strong.

In the year 2156, your grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand son might be born on a ship, in the vacuum of space. And he won’t have nearly as much physical strength as you do because his environment doesn’t demand physical strength.

No wonder aliens are so scrawny!

To quantify the relative-ish stress of gravity…

  • Earth = (0)
  • Space = (-1)

Now let’s take B3-5C, you’re a grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand son that was born in space, and throw together a thought experiment.

If B3-5C wants to upgrade his physical abilities (-1), he’d come to Earth (0). He’d arrive in a wheelchair. But he’s human. He’s antifragile. His body would adapt.

Soon he’d be cruising through Earthly space-time. He’d be “upgraded” in relation to what his former environment gave him. And if he ever decided to go back to space, his friends would be all sorts of jealous of his huge muscles and new physical stature.

Now take yourself. You want to upgrade your physical abilities.

What’s one way to exceed normal Earthly physical adaptations? Flip the switch. Go to a (+1) environment, like, uhh, Jupiter. (The gravity is 2.4 times that of Earth’s. Close enough.)

This is the Hyperbolic Time Chamber in a nutshell. You go exist in supergravity, you come back and everything is easier that you’d normally do in the “real” world.


Unfortunately, we can’t go to Jupiter. Kami’s Lookout doesn’t exist. We don’t have a hot blue haired genius chick friend that can create a space capsule equipped with the ability to create artificial supergravitational situations.

But we do have a practical way to replicate the kind of stress that our body would be exposed to in a supergravity environment.

(Ready for the incredibly shocking punchline?)

Free-weight and bodyweight training are the best ways to replicate a supergravity environment.


Pay attention here, because this part is important.

We’ve been so infiltrated with so many bogus ideas of “working out.” Or with what a “workout” is. Or how a “workout” is supposed to feel. Or something…I don’t even know anymore.

But I do know I’ve been throwing around the idea of gravity for a reason.

The idea of overcoming gravity is important because gravity doesn’t judge. It’s a holistic downward force (quite an intense stress) atop your entire body from head to toe, spine to extremities. We have muscles and bones worth a salt because of Earth’s gravity. We are strong because of gravity.

We are strong because gravity is STRESSFUL.

Yet there’s often disrespect for honest to goodness HOLISTIC STRESS based training methods…(and simultaneous respect for non-stressful training methods).

Case in point: machine training. But I’m not ready to squat down on machines just yet.

At first glance, and what mainstream media tries to bake into your brain (probably because the perpetrators themselves don’t even know any better): physique and performance are all about muscles.

Feel the burn. Get a pump. Work those muscles hard. Squeeze those muscles. Muscles this, muscles that. See your body as individual muscles. Rest individual muscles 48 hours. Get on this machine, that machine. As long as your muscles are contracting, you’re good.


But muscular stress isn’t the lone gunman.

Reductionism is trying to understand things by breaking them into smaller pieces. (Here I’m obliged to use the analogy that 99.9% of people use because it works oh so well and because I’m not exactly Mr. Creative.)

Want to understand how a clock ticks? Take it apart. See how the gears inside interact with each other. Want to understand humans? By the same logic, break them into systems, organs, and then atoms. See how the bits and pieces mingle.

But humans aren’t clocks. Humans are more like clouds. Clouds have no discernible shape. You can’t slice a cloud into chunks with a knife. Or break it into its itty bitty pieces. You can’t predict their shape.

Yet this is what we do when trying to understand our physical selves. We focus on muscles, likely because they are easy to see.

And we love things that are easy to see, don’t we?

The word you often hear muttered in the same breath as reductionism is emergence. Emergence, in philosophy, has been around since the days of Aristotle and is best said as: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t understand the whole in full by looking at the pieces of an emergent system.

Training can’t be understood with solely a muscle view. Especially if you’re interested in sports training and juggling different types of training stressors either now, or in the future.

The umbrella it all falls under is stress.


Remember, stress is information. And your body reacts to certain kinds of information better than others. See a bear. See a wasp. See a fly. Which is going to get your attention? Which is going to send the best signal?

I’ll let you think on this. (Hint.)

Next letter, we’ll continue.

A silly story about gravity, adaptation

So…last letter. I tried to write cool follow ups. But I think it’s best if I show you this lonnnnnggg, insane, and silly story I wrote quite some time ago.

Warning: there are no headlines. There are no pictures. I’ve written quite a few letters to get to this point, most of which had entertainment within them. If you’ve liked what I’ve written so far, take the time to chomp through this. Make your own pictures in your mind as you read.


A portly alien fellow named Jupe hangs out on Jupiter. By “hangs out,” I mean that Jupiter’s gravity tacks him to the floor. He walks around and functions as if he has a barbell affixed to his spine, and as if his hands and feet were attached to cinder blocks. He moves slowly and clumsily.

Erth is another alien. Unfortunately for Erth, he was born to a lesser alien race. He had a bother named Zeal, but his parents made the unfortunate mistake of sending Zeal to Jupiter. When Zeal stepped out of his zero gravity enabled spaceship and onto the surface of the planet, the gravity of Jupiter exploded his guts on the spot.

After Zeal’s death, the parents did some research. They found out that Earth’s gravity was more tolerable for their kind, so they sent Erth down to do some testing.

Although Earth’s gravity is tolerable to Erth, he’s is in the same boat as Jupe. He’s tacked to the floor. Barbell on the spine, concrete blocks on his hands and his feet. It’s a tough life.

No matter how long Jupe and Erth spend on their respective planets, they’ll always struggle. Their physiology is calibrated upon birth. Like an android. Upgrade only comes via surgery, much like a car. Open the hood, replace old parts with new parts.

Hume is a human that was born on a spaceship in the vacuum of space. He’s a pretty gangly and fragile looking fellow. He is selected by his parents to check out planet Earth. (He’s an only child.)

Upon arriving, Hume is stricken with Earth’s gravity. It’s not forgiving. He’s used to space. Earth is giving him a tougher time than it did Erth. Hume is face down, stapled to the floor.

Erth sees Hume one day and laughs at him.

“Pitiful human,” Erth says. “I feel bad for you being born into such a weak race. I’ll show you mercy and keep you alive.” Erth vanishes to do the work his alien parents sent him to do.

Every day, Hume struggles against the Earth’s gravity. Every day, Hume makes microscopic progress. He’s able to wiggle his fingers. Toes. Then he’s able to slide to his hands and knees. Then he’s able to stand.

Then he’s on par with Erth; he’s mobile, but it’s a struggle. He keeps evolving. Adapting. And Erth crosses Hume’s path months down the line, just as Hume is growing to strength equal to Erth. Erth is shocked to see Hume standing and moving around (albeit slowly).

“How are you able to walk now?” Erth asks.

“I don’t know,” Hume says. “It’s been a slow process, but my strength has grown every day.”

“Hmmm. Well, you’re still a stupid human,” Erth says. “You’ve managed to rise to a power level similar to mine, but there you shall stay. No human can compete with a superior alien race. Now, if you excuse me, I must continue my work.” Erth vanishes once again.

Hume begins the work his parents sent him down to do. As the days go by, Hume moves better. Easier. His hands no longer feel like they’re in concrete. His feet, the same. Then, one day, it no longer feels like he has a barbell on his back.

“I can’t believe this,” Hume thinks to himself. He remembers back to his past encounter with Erth and how it looked. Both of them we’re walking barbarians. They took one giant step at a time, only to have their foot crash to the ground. Only after the foot was planted could they lift the other one to walk. They teeter tottered from side to side on a pivot. Foot after foot.

Things were different for Hume now. He could walk with more grace. And as he thought back to his past, he pondered his developmental ceiling. “Hmmm. When I got here, I could barely wiggle my finger. Now that I can stand and walk a little bit, I wonder if I can squat down?”

So Hume does. It’s tough, but he lives. He squats and squats and then asks himself, “Hmmm. Now that I can move pretty well, I wonder if I can leave the surface of the Earth?”

So Hume tries to jump. He barely gets off the ground, but he does. He continues his training. Soon, he’s jumping higher and higher. He starts leaping from foot to foot, what us earthling’s call sprinting.

“I can actually maneuver without needing both feet planted on the surface of Earth!” Hume says to himself. “I’ve been getting better and better with each passing day. There’s a good chance that, if I keep training, I’ll be jumping higher and higher to the point of jumping all the way back to my parent’s spaceship!”

The days pass. Hume’s abilities grow. Soon he’s running and jumping and hopping and looking very human, from an Earthly perspective. Compared to his ghastly gangling space self that landed on Earth long ago, Hume is much more muscular. And as he jogs to his next commissioned work site, he comes across a village full of Earth born and raised humans. It’s the first time he’s met another human since he’s been on Earth. He’s happy to meet a group of people of his own kin, so he stops and talks. He meets a boy from the village named Albert.

“It’s amazing,” Hume explains, “I’ve gotten better, physically, every day since I’ve been here. I’ve grown muscles! I can’t wait to jump back to my spaceship when my job is finished.”

“I hate to tell you this,” Albert replies, “but you’re not going to jump back to your spaceship. In fact, your abilities as you have them now probably won’t improve all that much more. Same goes for those wonderful muscles you tout.”

“But, how?” Hume says. “I’ve gotten better every day. Why would it stop?”

“You’re getting better because your body is adapting to the stress of gravity,” Albert says. “It’s fine and dandy and wonderful, but gravity is constant. You’ve merely been exploring your movement abilities to their full abilities under the umbrella of this constant.”

Hume looks around at the village of humans. He sees the average muscle tone on the villagers. He sees the plateau with his own eyes. No human from the village is jumping into space.

“You’re just about done exploring your movement abilities,” Albert continues. “You’ve gone from being barely able to move, to being able to move slowly, to being able to move quickly. The only reason why you’ve progressed through this arc is because you have muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other things that enable you to absorb and propel force. Otherwise, you’d move around like a machine. A bulldozer. Something without an elastic component.”

“The human body is an amazing system…but it’s finite. You can only move so many ways. Now that you’ve explored all those ways within the constant of gravity, your physical adaptations will creep closer to a plateau.”

Hume stands there, soaking up every word as Albert continues. “When you could barely stand, let alone squat, your body was reacting harshly to the gravity. Humans are unique. When confronted with a stress, we don’t simply adapt to survive the stress. There was an alien fellow that visited this village a few months back. I feel bad for him because he didn’t have this unique ‘thing’ us humans do. He’ll always be walking around as if he had concrete blocks for arms and legs. Clumsy. Clunky. Ugh.”

“Humans don’t adapt to survive. Humans adapt to thrive. So when you’re faced with a stress (like that of gravity), you adapt in a 1-UP fashion. When you could barely stand, your body adapted in a 1-UP fashion. You gained the ability to stand and then 1-UP, so you were able to squat a little bit. Then you squatted a little bit and got another 1-UP. Then you were able to leave the surface of the earth a bit, which led to another 1-UP. You then jumped higher and higher and higher.”

And, with this, Hume sat down. He could tell Albert had a lot more to say. Albert continued.

“Your body won’t respond to the same stress the same way over time because as you improve your abilities, what was previously a 1-UP becomes more commonplace. And what’s commonplace doesn’t scale the same. There’s a nonlinearity to this whole thing.”

“Say, for instance, you decided to jump off a one inch object one million times. No problem, right? But say you decided to jump off a one million inch object (83333 feet) one time. By all mathematical standards, they both are equal in impact.

(1 x 1000000) = (1000000 x 1)

But the nonlinearity makes all the difference. And, quite frankly, the gravity here on Earth only tacks us down by a magnitude of about 9.8 meters per second squared. So when it’s just you and your body, there’s no way to scale beyond this stress.”

“There are humans on this planet that lift weights in order to exploit this 1-UP mechanism that a philosopher named Nassim Taleb coined antifragility. Some humans go into a gym and load a barbell with 100-pounds. They struggle under the 100-pounds, just like you struggled with gravity. But the body, with its antifragility, adapts to then handle 105-pounds. See that? Lift 100, but the body doesn’t adapt to 100. It adapts 1-UP. So then they go lift 105-pounds. Then the body adapts to handle 110-pounds. Then the process continues up and up over time.”

“This is all fine and dandy for those people in the gym that have circular iron discs at their disposal because when their body adapts to 100-pounds, they simply add more weight to the bar. But you? You’re like the human in the gym, yes, but it’s as if you are stuck with lifting 100-pounds from now until the end of time because gravity doesn’t scale upwards. It’s a constant. So, in some sense, think of yourself as that same guy in the gym. Imagine you had 100-pounds of iron discs. You’re going to reach a point where you can’t add more weight. Same goes for living with gravity. You hit a point where you’ve ‘mastered’ gravity within the typical movements of a human.”

Hume looks around and sees the villagers walking and squatting. He sees them moving their arms about. He sees the typical movements Albert is talking about. Albert continues.

“Once you reach the 100-pound cliff (which is the cliff of gravity in parallel to the story), you’d only then be able to scale just as you have: by ‘leaving the earth.’ After squatting 100-pounds, you could jump with 100-pounds, for instance. But, keep in mind, different adaptations follow. Your body grows different when you struggle to lift 100-pounds compared to when you’re throwing 100-pounds around like a cabbage patch doll.”

“If you were dedicate, there would come a point where you’ve done everything you could imagine doing with the 100-pounds, at which point you plateau. If you wanted to improve your performance and physique beyond, you need to find a way to scale the stress upward. Same goes for existing within gravity. Earth’s gravity has given you all it can give. And your human body, with all of its wonderful intricacies and abilities, has reaped all it can reap from it.”

Hume looked distraught. He wanted to jump even higher and be even more muscular.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Albert says, “you don’t have to be finished. You still have antifragility within you. You still adapt 1-UP. But if you want to keep climbing, you have to seek higher and higher stress.”

“But how?” Hume asks.

“Well,” Albert says, “you can scale stress many ways. Some people lift weights. Some people jump off high objects and force harsh landings because of their body’s acceleration though gravity. Some people expose their body to torque forces.”

“But since you came from outer space, you might want to try something else. There’s a planet called Jupiter in our galaxy. The gravity there is higher than Earth’s. You can go there. Repeat the same process you went through on Earth.”

With those words, Hume got to his spaceship and headed for Jupiter. Upon his arrival, he found himself in a familiar situation.  He was tacked to the floor. Couldn’t move. Struggled.

He met Jupe. Jupe, like any alien, insulted Hume. (Hume would have the last laugh.) Hume followed the same adaptation curve, going from moving slowly and requiring great effort to effortlessly and being able to jump and do everything he was able to do on Earth. His grew even bigger muscles.

After he mastered Jupiter’s gravity, he wanted to thank Albert. He went back to Earth. When he walked out of his spaceship, he felt extremely light. He was able to jump much higher and move much quicker than his previous Earthly self.

“Wow,” Hume said to himself. “My body is used to Jupiter. It’s so much easier to move on Earth now!”

He found Albert one day, and Albert said, “Ah, Hume! Good to see you. You look a lot different. I see you pulled off The Goku.”

“What’s The Goku?” Hume asked.

“Oh nothing,” Albert said. “Now come help pluck potatoes from the ground for harvest.”

Why gravity (not milk) makes strong bones


An astronaut was rocketed into space. He was twenty years old. He stayed there for ten years. His shuttle is now re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

Before he began orbiting the Earth, he was a typical human being. He could run, jump, throw, and move marvelously through Earthly space-time.

But now?

He’s being carted off the space shuttle in a wheel chair.

His twenty-year old marvelous moving self has fizzled. He’s now Gertrude incarnate…and he’s only thirty years old.

You were twenty years old when the astronaut went into space. But you stayed on Earth for the past ten years. You’re thirty now, too.

You don’t need no stinkin’ wheelchair.


What’s the deal?

  • Human, in space, ten years, can’t move.
  • Human, on Earth, ten years, can move.

When you don’t overcome gravity, you lose the ability to overcome gravity. So you, as a human being living on Earth, can overcome gravity precisely because you are a human being living on Earth forced to regularly overcoming gravity.

I’ll let that sentence sink in for a moment…

Gertrude. Gertrude has no reason to move. She gets her meals delivered to her bedside. She has become a slug. Slowly oozing across her bed to find the remote is the extent of her physical activity.

She stopped sifting through Earthly space-time…just like the astronaut.

Your body is reading the matrix of the environment. Epigenetics 101.

Cutting through Earth’s space-time sends a love note to your body:

Dear Self,

There is this thing called gravity. It’s kind of rough on me. I’m out here moving around and it’s throwing me against the ground.

So here’s the deal…

As long as I’m out here being an idiot (jumping, running, frolicking, humping my neighbor in secrecy), I need you to keep my bones sturdy. I need you to keep my muscles up to snuff. I need you to keep my joints greased.

I’m sure you get the idea.



(other) Self

And then your body reads the note and makes choices based on best biological fitness interests.

(Consider: there’s more than one factor influencing the decision making process. You can tell your body it needs strong bones, muscles, and all that jazz, and your body might fully agree…but if you aren’t giving your body the materials to support the maintenance and upgrades, well…)

Gertrude isn’t sending the love note. She’s not powering through the fabric of Earthly space-time.

One pretty reliable constant within the ether of biological fitness: don’t be wasteful.

Bones are stronger than steel. It takes a lot of energy to keep those guys strong. Same goes for muscle. Same goes for…

If you don’t NEED strong bones, then, by golly, you won’t have very strong bones. Why would your body waste precious resources on steel strong bones when it can survive just fine with wimpy waffle bones?

It’s like paying a mortgage a beach house…that you NEVER use.

It’s stupid.

Now, some humans pay the mortgage on unused properties…because us humans have some stupid quirks. Luckily our body, System 1, is a little more rational.

Consider all the situations where your body no longer overcomes gravity. Imagine living in space. Or imagine lying in bed. Or keeping your forearm in a cast.

What happens?

You lose strength. You lose muscle mass. You lose bone density.

Your body recreates itself to match the demand of use…within reason.

(And you thought milk made bones stronger. Shame on you.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

If the human body is so smart, why doesn’t it just keep building stronger bones and bigger muscles over time? Why aren’t humans turning Super Saiyan after walking around the high school track?

Isn’t that “sifting through gravity” Mr. McSmart Pants?

Good question.

Here’s the answer:

The adaptations you’re able to gain within the confines of gravity are bottle necked.

And, to understand why, you have do some homework: revisit antifragility.

Your homework will pay off next letter.


Meet Gertrude


Gertrude is my lovely 98 year old grandma that will eventually pancake into explosion.

But Gertrude is alive…for now.

I’m telling you about Gertrude because she’s an important character in my mental model to explain training methods (namely barbell and bodyweight training) and their effects (on physique and performance).

Fasten your seat belts. I don’t know where we will end up, but I know where we will start.


Think of the human being that you are at this exact moment in time. You can wiggle your toes. You can hop, jump, and skip. You can run. You can throw a ball. You can pick your nose. You can hump…things.

TL;DR: you can move yourself, you have a certain degree of physical capacity.

Now think of Gertrude.

Gertrude lives in a nursing home. She’s 98 years old. She’s not one of the elderly anomalies with a Master Roshi disguised power, doing the splits, owning the shuffle board competition in the rec center.


Gertrude can wiggle her toes. That’s about all she can do. She uses a walker to move from place to place.

Unlike your vim filled bones, Gertrude’s bones are fragile.

If you decided to hump your neighbor in a fit of adulterous rage, you’d be able to jump out of the bedroom window that’s five feet from the ground (when you’re co-offender’s husband [wife?] got home) and run away.

If Gertrude flung herself from window ledge five foot high, a clean up crew would have to squeegee her guts off the concrete patio slab.

Point made: there’s a HUGE difference between you and Gertrude.


Imagine if we shuttled ‘ol Gertrude into the vacuum of space. Would she still need a walker?

Suddenly the difference between your parkourin’ behind and Gertrude’s non-existent behind isn’t so huge.

Gertrude has an enemy on Earth that doesn’t exist in space:


Earth’s gravity is under appreciated because it’s a constant medium crashing atop your body. Just like water to a fish.

It’s best to imagine Earth and gravity as something real instead of invisible space. So imagine floating above the surface of the earth. Weightless. Now imagine strings poking out of Earth’s surface. Those strings insert into every one of your joints, like a reverse marionette. Then, pending the level of gravity, the strings pull downward.

Gravity glues us to the floor in the vertical direction.

You are always sifting through this medium…unless you’re Gertrude. She can’t sift very well, so she just erodes away in bed. She lost the ability to overcome the downward pull of the gravitational strings.

But you? You can still overcome the pull a bunch of different ways.

Gertrude blames the natural aging process for her decline. Most Americans would.

“I’m just getting old,” she says. “Look around me. Everyone my age is like this.”

Age plays a role. Humans are finite creatures, after all. But there’s more to Gertrude’s woes than age.

And as whackadoodle as it sounds, understanding Gertrude’s physical decline is the key to unlocking an understanding of most physical inclines.

This is our “launch pad” for next letter.

(In air quotations for secretsz reasons!!?)