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The “Can I Get Worse?” Philosophy

Anthony Mychal Can I Get Worse Philosophy

. . . if you choose to win at tennis – as opposed to having a good time – the strategy for winning is to avoid mistakes. The way to avoid mistakes is to be conservative and keep the ball in play, letting the other fellow have plenty of room in which to blunder his way to defeat, because he, being an amateur will play a losing game and not know it.

- Simon Ramo, Extraordinary Tennis Ordinary Players

This is a post about a philosophy that got me out of programming hopping mode. Obsession mode. Shiny object syndrome mode.

It’s a philosophy even Warren Buffet has talked about. It goes beyond training or nutrition.

When someone looks you in the eye and says, “Breathe.” And you actually stop and think for a second. You think about how many breaths you take without thought. And you hate yourself for being so ungrateful. But then. Then. You think about breathing. Just one time. You slow your inhale. Slow your exhale even more.

Then everything about you — about life — seems alright. Like it makes sense.

Breathe. 

There’s a scale. Failure lives on the negative end. Success lives on the positive end.

This is how I saw everything. You’re either failing or you’re succeeding. You’re either getting worse or you’re getting better. Because the human mind loves dichotomies and opposites. Why does everything exist in opposites? I DON’T GET THE COSMIC JOKE, DEEPAK.

But there’s a third marker on the scale. It’s right in the middle.

Breaking even. 

Otherwise said, not failing. Which is different than both winning and losing.

If you’re like my old self, you shoot for the win. You want to know what to eat in order to win. How to train in order to win. The stakes climb. It’s a version of the Nurf CurseIt’s winnning . . . or nothing. 

But guaranteeing a win within the human body isn’t easy. (Not a smart bet.) Because experience doesn’t equal effect. I get teary eyed and butterflies in my stomach when Goku turns Super Saiyan. You watch it and say, “Really? How can you enjoy this dumb cartoon?”

Goku Super Saiyan

From a binary “experience” standpoint, we’ve both log the / YES / . But on the inside? Totally different things are happening. I called this sight beyond sight in the past. It’s the sticky romantic part of the human condition.

And yes. It matters. Because you’re a human being with a ton of romance. You have fears and emotions. Your own personality.

Predicting how your insides go ’round isn’t easy. But that’s what you do when you’re all about winning.

I don’t predict much anymore. I just let my body do what it can do . . . because I’m not in the high stakes atmosphere of winning. I’m in the much-more-tolerable land of not failing. 

The difference? Take this example from Warren Buffet given in this book.

“He gave us a quiz,” Buffett said, “A true-false quiz. And there were all these guys who were very smart. He told us ahead of time that half were true and half were false. There were 20 questions. Most of us got less than 10 right. If we’d marked every one true or every one false, we would have gotten 10 right.”

The wormhole to this land = asking this question as often as you can:

Can I get worse?

Every decision you make, answer.

So take the front lever. You can wrap your face in all types of different exercises . . . without actually training the front lever. But what if you just took two or three days each week and trained a front lever progression within your means for a reasonable workload.

Can I get worse? 

Probably not.

What about building muscle? High reps? Low reps? How many exercises?

I never saw anyone that uses strength training (barbell, free-weight, bodyweight) as a religion end up with smaller, weaker muscles.

So maybe, if you want to build muscle, you ditch the win mentality. Don’t think about building muscle. Instead, think about not losing any muscle you already have.

Can I get worse?

And instead of doing ten billion arm exercises, you realize that you probably only need to do one exercise in order to not get worse. So that’s where you start. Go to the gym, do the work, and tap into the romantic. Make it a religion. With just that one exercise.

Getting stronger? Fretting about loading schemes? Getting injured trying to max out all the time?

Maybe you pick a weight you can do that’s an 8/10 on the effort scale. You goal is to hit that weight as often as you can with the mentality of making it easier over time.

Do you think you’d get weaker doing that?

I’m making this sound like common sense. It’s not. Unless common sense takes eight years to not only discover, but also use. (It might.) I’ve done some work to know what’s Good(er) and True(r). Lindy is always a good starting point.

But it’s not fool proof.

Oh boy! If I just go practice the handstand every day . . . can I get worse? Anthony says, “NO!” Awesome! That’s what I’ll do! 

But if you have poop technique and you practice poop technique often? You’ll have a brown mess all over your hands.

So yes. You can get worse. Which is why you have to consider more than a binary Y/N qualifier. Where’s the romance, bro?

And more importantly .  . . what about getting better? If you don’t care about getting better, how  do you get better?

Injuries killed my progress most over the years. I’d work up to some pinnacle, push, push, push. Push some more. Because it was all about winning. Then poof. I’d be back at the beginning. Broken. With even more pressure to get better.

I have to get all the way back to where I was . . . overnight! 

But when it’s all about saving face? Breaking even? You can do less sometimes. Without hating yourself.

I’ve never gotten worse when trying to break even. But I have gotten better. And it happens often. With time, of course.

So when you hit a point where the absolute worst thing that happens is nothing? Then you’re on your way to everything.

 

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I didn’t find this philosophy one day. I created it myself. Or, at least, I thought I did. After fretting about programs and exercises and the typical problems an over-thinker like myself have. Evidently, I’m not as smart as I thought I was. More people have written about it.

1. Thanks to Farnam Street for compiling this, which I borrowed from.

2. James Clear also wrote something similar you can read here.

 

On hardware and software

Steve Blass Hardware Software

1.

Steve Blass won a career-high 19 games in 1972. He was a Jedi on the mound, and amassed an eventual resume that housed not only a World Series MVP nomination, but also an All Star appearance.

Yes, things looked bright for Blass in 1972.

But they faded to black just one year later in 1973 when Blass suffered a career-ending injury that was unlike any other. There was no blown out knee. No bad back. No rotator-cuff tear.  In fact, there was no physical trauma.

Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, writes that it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to build expertise. It’d take 27 years practicing one hour every day to reach 10,000 hours, which is why the heuristic has doubters.

Although the amount of practice needed to become an expert is debated, none argue that more perfect practice builds less expertise. But after a lifetime of baseball and nearly ten years in the MLB, Blass became the poster boy for this paradox.

In 1973, just one year after his career-high 19 win season, the unthinkable happened.

Blass forgot how to throw a strike.

2.

In 1974, Tommy John was on his way to an All Star season as an MLB pitcher. With a record of 13-3, John was another Jedi on the mound. But in Blass-like fashion, lightness became darkness when John suffered an apparent career-ending injury.

The total-body-whip motion of throwing jolts violent force through the body from head to toe. Combined with throwing hard, pitchers also jerk their wrist upon release to put spin the ball. This marriage wreaks havoc on the elbow’s ulner collateral ligament, but gives rise to curveballs, sinkerballs, slurves, and all sorts of ball trajectories that give the pitcher the upper hand.

Just like a secretary flirts with carpal tunnel syndrome, pro pitchers flirt with elbow injuries from repetitive stress. Building a stout ulner collateral ligament is a fine balance between stress and recovery. And the length of a 162 game season combined with the unpredictability of human flesh make this balancing act a crap-shoot.

Just 13 wins into the 1974 season, John’s elbow tapped out. Much like Blass, John went from nearly unbeatable to nearly un-repairable. Without a healthy ulner collateral ligament, he was missing a necessary piece of the anatomical pitching puzzle.

But there was a speckle of hope for John. He was a computer with a severed USB cable running to his keyboard. If he could find a new cable, he’d be back to his old-self.

But Blass?

He was doomed.

3.

Using a chunk of tendon from John’s forearm, surgeons reconstructed his ulner collateral ligament. And with his refurbished hardware, John plotted a comeback. He worked with a teammate to change his throwing mechanics, and he shocked baseball when he put up a 10-10 record in his returning 1976 season.

But John wasn’t done. 

He went on to win 164 games post-surgery, adding to his previous 124 wins. His 288 total wins landed him one shy of Sandy Koufax — often considered one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history.

Koufax would have amassed even more wins, but he was forced into an early retirement because of—you guessed it—elbow problems.

4.

Tommy John’s surgery is a thing of baseball legend, but not of baseball past. Both the surgery and the recovery have become a refined process since John’s day in 1974.

Almost too refined. 

The list of pitchers that have their god gifted ulner collateral ligament shortens as years pass. There’s little fuss with the diagnosis. Get the surgery, sit out one year, come back like nothing happened. Some even become better pitchers after the surgery.

Such is the nature of hardware. When your dog chews your USB cable in half, you simply get a new one. Maybe even a better one.

But the story of shattered software isn’t so smooth.

5.

It’s October 2014, and I’m faced with the absurd fear of a doing a backflip. Being afraid of flipping backwards isn’t something I’d normally consider absurd. But I first learned the backflip in 2004. I even did a backflip in my high-school senior psychology class for extra credit.

So, yeah, absurd.

But I haven’t done a backflip since “the incident” in January 2011, and butterflies now flow through my blood. I whisper to myself as I paw the ground. You’re all Blass right now, kid.

The tangible exterior bits always steal attention when it comes to the physical. We see bodies. We see those same bodies in motion. Parallels are drawn. Look at those arms, I bet he can lift a lot.

“If I want to do those things, I need that kind of body.”

That kind of body is the same thing as that kind of hardware. And hardware is nothing more than an arranged pile of physical scraps. It serves no purpose. Has no function. It exists solely to take up space.

Unless you have the right software.

7.

Baseball organizations aren’t afraid to admit that their All Star pitcher needs Tommy John’s surgery anymore because there’s usually a rah-rah! happy ending. But in dark corners, where only whispers exist, you can find “Steve Blass disease.”

The “diagnosis” is applied to talented players who inexplicably and permanently seem to lose their ability to throw a baseball accurately. [1]

Unlike Tommy John’s surgery, there’s no quick fix for Steve Blass disease. No surgery. No tissue grafting. No mechanical makeover.

Nada.

Mutations of Steve Blass disease strike baseball players — single moment brain farts. A hitter barely makes contact with a pitch and the ball dribbles to the pitcher. When fielding the ball and trying to throw a lazy lob to the first baseman, the ball somehow ends up in the stands in the hands of a fan.

“He had too much time to think about it,” the announcer says. And yet, just two seconds prior, the pitcher threw a 90-mile-per-hour rifle into a one foot window that’s 60-feet 6-inches away from the mound.

“Blass moments” on such a finite scale aren’t hardware farts. There’s no broken bones, torn ligaments, or sore muscles.

They’re software malfunctions.

Descartes stuck his neck out and said, “I think, therefore I am.” But Descartes was wrong.

Your body influences your mind. Force yourself to smile, your body will start to believe it should be happy and you’ll change as if you were happy.

Your mind influences your body. Think about the crush of your life. Naked. You know what kind of changes take place.

We exist in a hyper physical space. We admire muscle. We observe graceful athletic practices. But is the hardware the beginning? Or the end?

Anthony Mychal Hardware

5.

The hardware trap is easy to fall into. My genetics aren’t good. I have small bones. I can’t jump high enough. I’m tight. Inflexible. Hardware, hardware, hardware.

It’s easy to fall on the opposite end, too. If I can only jump higher I could backflip. If Blass and I were computers, we’d have monster hardware. I can jump anywhere from 30” to 40” pending the season. (The Internet tell me the average vertical leap among NBA players is 28″ just for perspective.)

But what happens when the focus shifts to the software?

My effort isn’t good. My dedication is lacking. I don’t have the focus. Or consistency. I don’t understand the skill. I’m afraid. Scared. 

The truth about the backflip goes down about as easy as Natty Light beer. If you can jump 10-inches in the air, you can backflip. This is all the hardware you need. After you get your momentum going up, it’s all about the programming—kinesthetic awareness, spatial awareness, the software.

What about eating real food? Your hardware isn’t the holdup. Your jaw, teeth, and digestive track can handle vegetables, fruits, and meats. But what is your software is programmed to reach for?

6.

An important person in my life once said, “The mind is a circuit breaker for the body.” When the circuit trips, everything it commands dies. There is no mind-body dichotomy. Physical change is mental change; mental change is physical change.

Want physical change? Learning how muscles and bones articulate? How nerves innervate? And the rest of the ooey gooey guts and bolts squishing around under your flesh in the name of looking well built and championing your body through space in an attempt to pwn gravity?

Then don’t forget about your brain. 

As Thoreau said:

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school . . . it is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”

How does the brain work? How do you make decisions? How do you learn? What’s your philosophy of life? How are you going to deal with injuries? Progress? Being consistent?

Because if your hardware fails, you can find a way if you have adequate software.

Just ask Tommy John.

But when your software fails?

Just ask Steve Blass.

 

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[1] Steve Blass on Wikipedia

[IMG] computer

 

A thingy for knee pain (I’m using like heroin)

There be knee pain secrets ahead, including a little sequence thingy I’m using as often I remember to use it. And the more I use it, the better I feel.

Moons ago, doctors told me I had patellar tendonosis and patellar tracking problems. I lump these in the “chronic-musculotendon” bucket as opposed to the <I just snapped every bit of connective tissue in my knee> “acute-internal” bucket.

An Athlete’s Guide to Chronic Knee Pain is a memoir of sorts —  what I did to “fix” the pain and problems. And “fix” is in air quotes because, with tendonosis, the pain is always liable to poke back into your life.

And poke it has.

So I poked back.

This sequence is more of a phoenix down than a cure. To understand why, here’s some theory: your knee pain isn’t the fault of the knee, but rather bad systems and structures surrounding the knee.

Just like elbow tendonitis (usually) stems from the wrist and the shoulder, knee tendonitis stems from the foot and the hip. Sure, the knee may be overused, but it’s only overused because the surrounding systems are underused. This is why rest is often a terrible fix for tendonitis. It treats the pain but not the reason for pain.

It’s like a chef that burns himself every time he cooks. Sure, he can stop cooking and stop getting burned. But once he steps back in the kitchen, he’s going to get burned.

Consider this a bandage with some salve . . . maybe. Because this can also cause some wounds.

This is a lens into hip function. You might get knee pain doing this, which is a sign that your hip is under performing more than Yamcha.

Anthony Mychal Knee Pain Heroin Thingy

Drop into a pigeon-esque pose by collapsing atop a bent leg and extending one leg back. Keep your extended leg bent with the knee resting on the ground. The extended leg = the same leg with knee troubles. Shove your toes into the ground. From this position, your job is to straighten the extended leg.

Anthony Mychal Knee Pain Heroin

Your body can do this one of two ways.

  • You can power through hip extension.
  • You can power through knee flexion.

You’ll be able to tell which pattern your body chooses, which then hints of hip function.

If you have a weak hip, you’ll power through the quads and feel a lot of pressure within the knee cap. You’ll also feel the toes pushing down into the ground.

If you have a strong hip, you’ll barely feel pressure in your knee and your toes won’t be pushing into the ground. Instead, your butt will squeeze into a rock and the heel of the foot will be leading an upward feeling charge to the sky. Great butt strength even’ll get your foot off the ground.

And lifting your foot is a good way to scale into a tougher variation. If you need to make it easier, don’t collapse onto your front leg as much. Turn it into more of a bird dog.

So the game plan?

Do your reps slow and deliberate. Come to a max butt squeeze at the top of every repetition and hold the contraction for a minimum of two seconds.

And frequency wins. If you limit yourself to doing this only when you “train,” you’ve already lost. Chocolate chip cookie yourself on this one. Bake it into you by doing it often as you can. When you wake up. During commercials. Before you go to sleep. In bed.

Use it like you’d use heroin . . . only you don’t have to be afraid of the addiction. 

 

Use the Lindy Effect instead of falling for gimmicks

Eugen Sandow Dost Thou Even Hoist

Dear Past Self:

If someone offered you $1,000,000 to accurately predict one book that’d be on shelves 100 years from now, what book would you pick?

  • A book that’s been on the shelf for only one day.
  • A book that’s already been on the shelf for 100 years.

If someone offered you $1,000,000 to accurately predict one human that’d be alive 100 years from now, what person would you pick?

  • A baby that’s been alive for only one day.
  • An elder that’s already been alive for 100 years.

In your right hand, there are perishable things. Things that go bad. Things that die. Things with a true lifespan. Food. Humans. Animals.

In your left hand, there are non-perishable things. Things that never go bad. Things that pass through generations. Books. Beliefs. Technology.

The Lindy Effect says that, with every passing day:

  • The perishable things in your right hand get closer to extinction.
  • The non-perishables in your left hand get closer to immortality.

Predicting a book that’s going to be around 100 years from now? Choose a book that’s been around for 100 years already.

Predicting a human that’s going to be around 100 years from now? Choose a human that hasn’t yet seen 100 days. 

What you’re eating . . . how long has it been around?

Your training methods . . . how long have they been around?

Supplements . . . ?

Books . . . ?

You’re always going to be drawn to the new. The sexy. The flashy. You might be able to end there, but that’s not where you want to start.

Food. The specific thing might be perishable, but the idea of eating that thing to sustain life is another story. So the stuff you eat, how long has it been around? Food doesn’t have ingredients; food is ingredients. Think about that. You won’t go wrong eating meats, eggs, and vegetables. It might not end there, but it certainly begins there.

Training. The ThighMaster isn’t exactly a big hitter anymore. That there hunk of iron? Eugen Sandow was hoisting that in 1900. Gymnastics rings? Pull-up bars? Parallel bars? It may not end there, but it certainly begins there.

Supplements. You think I’m going to give you all the answers? I’ll let you do  some homework.

You’re going to be pulled all sorts of ways, kid. That electronic abdominal blaster gizmo will seem cool. You’ll buy one, don’t worry. Just like you’ll buy  outrageous supplements. Just like you’ll try all sorts of training.

But you’ll learn.

And after you learn, you’ll wonder if the infected “fitness” world will ever get the point when there’s a new health bar supplement shake toning contraption born every week. (Day?)

But computers! they’ll say. The Internet changed the world! The Lindy Effect is stupid! New is good!

They’re right . . . the Lindy Effect isn’t perfect. Things passed down aren’t always Good or True. New things aren’t always doomed to fail.

This is why Lindy is a start, not an end. And even if it were an end, the odds are in Lindy’s favor.

Listen. Be open. You were once infected too, you know? But stay grounded in your choices by asking, “How much longer is this going to be around?”

 

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This post was inspired by a concept found within Nassim Taleb’s book: Antifragile

 

How I Deadlifted 550 Pounds

Anthony Mychal Deadlift 550 Pounds

1. I deadlifted 550 pounds last weekend. It went up smooth. A little too smooth. Here’s the video.

2. This is a recollection of how I trained this past summer. You’ll find out not only how I trained the deadlift, but also how I juggled barbell strength training, bodyweight gymnastics training, and tricking. I’ll also lather on top how I came to train the way I trained.

3. This isn’t a short essay, so you might want to find the hyperbolic time chamber. By the time you finish reading this in there, you’ll only lose one Earth day.

3a. You can skip to the sixth heading if you want the waffles without the syrup.

4. Maxing out is like being in a car on the free road. You’re told to push the pedal to the floor, but you think about what might happen. Will the car rumble? Will there be a speed bump?

5. Usually there are rumbles. Rattling. Bumps. But this time? Nothing.

6. Maybe I’m bragging. I could have deadlifted more. I only need to hit 615-630 to have a triple bodyweight deadlift at a height of 6’4”. So yeah. Humblebrag. Maybe. But the humble is real because I’m still trying to understand how I pulled 550 pounds.

FIRST, THE EXERCISES I DID…

7. I haven’t back squatted in months. I haven’t benched in a year. I don’t train for powerlifting.

8. I pull from the floor with different grips. Wide(r) snatch grip deadlifts being my go-to. They work the upper back more than conventional pulls (ahem, “X” physique wizardry, ahem), which is a biggie for me. More on wide grip deads here. And 90% of the time I did Romanian style snatch grip deadlifts.

Klokov Snatch Grip Deadlift

9. I pull snatch style for the same reason I front squat: less load on my body. My snatch grip deadlift training weights are a lot less than my conventional deadlift training weights. There’s more range of motion in snatch grip deadlifts, and the wide grip taxes the smaller muscles of the upper back. Lo and behold, you’ll always conventional deadlift more.

10. By training the snatch grip deadlift, I get a solid stimulus with less central nervous system destruction. I train my lower body, but also save freshness face for tricking or whatever else drops into my lap. At least, in theory …

SECOND, UNDERSTANDING THIS CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE…

11. Exercise selection was my first adjustment. Second was programming. In order to understand how I ended up where I did, let’s take a historical tangent.

12. James Smith, also known as The Thinker, was my mentor when I interned with the PITT football team. He worked with the skill players. Buddy Morris worked with the bigs. (Below are snippets from memory, so I hope they are accurate.)

13. When I was an intern, it was the start of the off-season. James’s athletes rarely trained above 85% of their max. Most training was around 70%. The emphasis, for the skill players, was more on sprinting. Strength training was all about accumulating work … if you didn’t know better, you’d think his athletes were slacking off under the bar.

14. There was a value on strength; don’t get me wrong. But, for the skill players, there was less value in using the maximal-effort method to build strength. For most team sport athletes, a maximum muscular contraction akin to a 1RM never happens during sport.

15. You might recognize the max-effort method from Westside Barbell, but it comes from Zatsiorsky’s three ways to achieve maximal muscle tension:

  • Repeated-effort method: lifting a non-maximal load to failure or near failure
  • Max-effort method: lifting a maximal load (>90% 1RM)
  • Dynamic-effort method: lifting a non-maximal load as fast as possible

16. Achieving a maximum muscular contraction is different than getting stronger. A fourth, less talked about, category of training is the sub-maximal effort method.

  • Sub-maximal effort method: lifting a load lighter than a max for sub-maximal number of repetitions

17. The athletes maxed after a few weeks of sub-maximal training. (Skill guys only maxed on the bench. Maxing the squat wasn’t worth the risk. Maxing the bench wasn’t either, really, but sometimes giving a group of 18-22 year olds something to show for their work is important.)

18. Monday they were told to work up to 90% of their max. If they felt good, they went for a new max. A lot of them felt good. A lot of them set new maxes.

19. If they weren’t satisfied, they tried again Thursday.

19a. Two maxing sessions in such short times? What gives?

20. James said that sub-maximal training can build strength, but it’s common to de-train the neural bits and pieces that go into expressing maximal strength—rate coding, inter-muscular coordination, intra-muscular coordination, and other things I pretended to know about.

21. A lot of people are quick to underestimate their strength upon first maxing after not maxing for while. Once the neural bits and pieces wake up, strength jumps … hence maxing twice in one week with the potential to do better the second time around. (And a lot of people did, indeed, do better the second time around.)

THIRD, CHOCOLATE CHIP BULGARIAN COOKIES…

Bulgarian Olympic Weightlifting

22. Sub-maximal training is usually considered the old school Soviet method, and it’s usually contrasted with the old school Bulgarian method.

The majority of the Soviet training was centered around 75-85% of a one-rep max for about 50% of all lifts, and 20% are done at 90-100%. The Bulgarians trained mostly at 90-100% max. Circa-max weights are 90-97%.

- Westside Barbell

23. I did my share of Soviet style training, but I also Bulgarian style of training. Matt Perryman’s Squat Every Day is a good read.

24. Bulgarian style training interested me because I was out to juggle lifting, tricking, and whatever else summer threw my way.

25. My thinking = if people can learn how to squat every day, why can’t I learn how to do whatever at a high frequency? If someone can squat Monday and squat Tuesday, why couldn’t I squat Monday and trick Tuesday?

26. This is my chocolate chip cookie theory. You’re “baking” things into your being. Much like chocolate chips become one with a cookie once baked, you become one with something you do often. I wrote about this theory + movement here.

27. The upside of daily max training = using a low(er) volume for starters. The downside = the mental toil of vacillating to a sweet spot weight every day. It took me longer than expected, and it’s why (I’d guess) those that use a more Bulgarian approach tend to be minimalists. It’s easy to say: snatch – clean and jerk – squat. That’s your training. Find your daily sweet spot, give each exercise the effort and attention it deserves.

28. I’m not an Olympic weightlifter. I found maxing squats and deadlifts daily to be too time consuming, too physically draining, and too mentally draining.

FOURTH, KNOWING AROUSAL… (NOT THAT KIND OF AROUSAL)

29. Training daily teaches you how to be emotionless in effort. You can’t train daily if you’re consistently blowing an o-ring. I learned how to train heavy, but not necessarily psyched. Heavy-but-not-psyched training is what I call stoic training. Wrote about it more here.

30. At first, stoic training was framed against near-maximum training. How heavy can I lift while keeping my breathing in check and, all things considered, not really trying?

31. I started to think about the opposite end of stoic training—not the high end, but the low end. There’s climbing to a high end of performance without effort, but there’s also a low end of performance without effort.

31a. In other words, what are you capable of with little or no warm-up? What can you do an hour after you’ve rolled out of bed? Without coffee?

32. So we enter a triforce of categorization:

  • Your resting (low stoic) function—things you can do with little stress damage.
  • Your alerted (high stoic) function—things you can do with mild stress damage.
  • Your amped (psyched) function—things you can do with high stress damage.

33. In other words, your resting function is like how much damage you can hit for on your Basic Attacks. Your alerted function is how much damage you can hit for on Super Attacks.  Your amped function is how much damage you can hit for on your Limit Breaks.

Cloud Limit Break

33a. Or something …

34. So think on two levels (holy pun, Batman!): you have your Overall Level. Then each of these attack thingies has a level. There’s a correlation between the two in that your Overall Level dictates your Attack Level potential. But it’s also possible to Level Up your Attack Level underneath your Overall Level’s ceiling.

35. So you’re Level 50. Your Basic Attack Level is 35. You can improve your Basic Attack Level to 40 and still be Level 50. Same for Super Attack Level. But your Limit Break is always tied to your Overall Level.

36. A lot of people Level Up fighting bosses. Big enemies. Creatures that can only be killed with Limit Breaks. Creatures that do a lot of damage to your HP.

37. My strategy is different. It’s about boosting your Basic Attack and Super Attack Levels to their maximum ability given your Overall Level’s ceiling. Benefit here being that you can kill lesser enemies without as much effort, and lesser enemies do less damage to your HP, which means that you can fight more often.

38. Or something …

FIFTH, THE ANTIFRAGILE, RANDOM, TALEB LOVING PART

39. Recap:

  • Smith – Accumulate easier work
  • Smith – Retain maxing skills by semi-maxing
  • Bulgaria – Bake abilities into you
  • Me – Learn how to train closer to your ceiling with less effort

40. Once your Overall Level is high enough, you need to think about how you function under the ceiling. I’d rather have Level 40 abilities available at all hours of the day, rather than Level 60 abilities available only once every week. This is what makes high frequency training go round. It’s not about getting better in absolute terms, but rather learning how to tap into your abilities more with less stress baggage.

Goku Super Gravity

41. So think Goku in super-gravity. You have the level of gravity (100 times Earth), which is the first factor. Then you have what you’re capable of under those conditions, which is the second factor. It’s not about being “just O.K.” in 100 times and then moving onto 110 times. It’s about mastering 100 times. It’s not about absolute. It’s about relative capacity in a certain state.

42. Consider this accumulating easy work. Go to the gym Monday, train. Go back on Tuesday, train. Wednesday, train. If you can’t repeat the training with the same effort, it’s too hard. You’re trying to make your body function as if an advanced environment were commonplace.

43. At some point, you need to boost the overall gravity level because absolute defines your ultimate ceiling.

43a. Once you adapt to a dose, how do you encourage further adaptation? A random larger dose.

44. This gives two ideas:

  • Gradually increase your ability to do meh emotionless work. Master 100 times, move to 105 times, move to 110 times.
  • Introduce a random shock. Go 150 times one day, only to return to 100 times the following days.

45. The shock is just enough to get the body worried. When you push the absolute, you have to respect stress and adaptation.

SIXTH, THE PROGRAM … (FINALLY!)

46. I invented this whole philosophy, right after I stole the Even Easier Strength program from Dan John.

46a. I ran a 6-7 day Even Easier Strength mutation by adding in 2×5 days on called for rest days.

Week 1
Mon (1) 2 x5 Tues (2) 2 x 5 Wed (3) 5-3-2 Fri (4) 2 x 5 Sat (5) 2 x 5

Week 2
Mon (6) 2 x 5 Tues (7) 6 Singles Wed (8) 1 x 10 Fri (9) 2 x 5 Sat (10) 5-3-2

47. Even Easier Strength is everything I just wrote about wrapped in one program. It’s high frequency. You “bake” a low stoic ability into your body with the 2×5 days. The 5-3-2 days work up to a heavier weight to keep your nervous system on its toes. This is the “high stoic” day.

48. Accumulate decent work. It’s all about the work.

49. The 6×1 day is your psych day. The goal is to set a new max or die trying. This is the “random” high stressor.

50. Going into this, I estimated my deadlift max to be around 450 pounds. I don’t remember ever pulling more than that.

51. On my 2×5 days, I used either 225 pounds or 275 pounds. 80% of the time it was 225 pounds.

52. On my 5-3-2 days, I usually worked up to 365 pounds. Maybe, once or twice, I went to 405 pounds.

53. One month into the program I was surprised to see myself pull 455 pounds with ease on a 6×1 day. Two months into the program I was surprised to see myself pull 500 pounds with ease on a 6×1 day. Three months into the program I was surprised to see myself pull 550 pounds with ease at Camp Nerd Fitness.

53a. I was surprised with the 550 pound pull because, just a week before, I failed to pull 500 pounds.

54. I trained front squats the same. My 2×5 days were almost always at 185 pounds. My 5-3-2 days were up to 275 pounds. After month one, I front squatted 335 pounds. After month two, I failed going for 345 pounds. I upped the 2×5 weight to 205 pounds for month three. After month three, I failed going for 345 pounds again.

Anthony Mychal Front Squat

55. Other logistics – upper body barbell work =  weighted dips, weighted chin-ups, and sporadic barbell rows. None done with much care or effort. Upper body “other” work = planche training, lever training, gymnastics ring work, handstand work. Most of this training didn’t follow the Even Easier Strength template.

SEVENTH, THINGS FOR YOUR BACK POCKET

56. I got stronger. Dan John always talks about random freak strength gains on this program and The 40-Day Program. I now believe him.

56. I wrote about some of my experience on The 40-Day Program, too. Here’s one, another, and a third.

57. I’m not sure I remember what it feels like to have fresh legs. I think this is what high frequency training does. It allows you to transcend the physical and enter the mental. We often think we can’t train because of some 48-hour rule or whatever. But sometimes it’s just getting real: yeah, your legs aren’t 100% fresh. Big deal. Go do the work. You can do the work.

58. Warm-up. You’ll always feel better after the warm-up.

59. This isn’t the best way to juggle activities if you want to truly prioritize a sport. I’m a mediocre trickster and I only dabble. If I wanted to be uber special super great tricksterman, I would do things differently. But for my purposes, it works.

59a. If you want to trick, check out the tutorials.

60. I wouldn’t train like this year round. I’m looking forward to the day when my legs have a chance to feel normal. I don’t even know what normal feels like, to tell you the truth.

61. Be a goonie. Do your own experiments. Fight for something that matters. I was afraid to drop back squats for years because a lot of people say that back squats are the key to a strong deadlift. I can say, six months beyond back squatting, I’ve never felt stronger in the deadlift.

62. The big take away = know the different between your Attacks. Focus on the repeatable attacks. Too many people hinge their worth on weekly Limit Breaks. You can’t do a Limit Break every attack. Limit Breaks are volatile. Your Basic Attacks and Super Attacks? Those are your worth. Master those and you’ll kill the right enemies and get enough consistent EXP to Level yourself to the moon. And guess what? That ticks your Limit Break higher.

63. As Mike Webster once said:

“So you have to tinker with it, lift enough to stimulate growth and strength gains, and do it in such a way that you can recover and adapt before your nerves forget all about the fact that they had to lift something heavy a few days ago. You can try and track every little thing, or you can just work hard, lift in an appropriate rep range with a weight appropriate to that rep range, and let your body figure it out, because it’s smarter than you anyway, and we’re still trying to figure out how it all works. You just need to put together a reasonable schedule, be consistent with it, and accept that some days you will feel like crap and feel weaker and still blow it out of the water, and some days you will feel great and miss lifts you got last time with ease. Don’t stress over it, just stick with the weights, eat and sleep good, and you will get stronger. It’s a process, and it takes weeks, months, and years rather than days and hours. So consistency, rather than training to the point where you have failed with a given weight, and rather than gotten one more rep with five pounds less, is what will make you grow. Go to failure or don’t. Just make sure you leave the weight room knowing you’ve done something in there, and chances are you’ve done enough.”

 

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Photo credit: bgolympic.org

Tackling strength and skill through an unconventional lens that is neither Soviet nor Bulgarian

1staris

Some people take an escalator to the gym’s doors only to walk on the treadmill once inside. Some of these same people add to the mental mushroom cloud by commuting in a car for thirteen minutes only to reach the same escalator and same treadmill.

Been thinking a lot about the dichotomy between “exercise” and “life.” Started when I broke my foot in 2011. I found out that functioning like a human being supersedes “training.”

I used to be super worried about giving muscles 48 hours to recover after training. Lots of people are worried about over-training. Someone jammed a needle into our forearm when we were sleeping and intravenously ensured us having this mindset.

[click to continue…]

Can you build muscle with just bodyweight training?

Anthony Mychal Planche A Fitness Life

“But dude. Gymnasts are jacked. And haven’t you seen those playground guys? They’re yak strong and well built. Bodyweight training is all I need, right? I mean, those guys get away with it…don’t they?”

Enter the question(s) behind the self-reassuring ramble:

  • How effective is body weight training?
  • Can bodyweight training be the sole catalyst for building an impressive body?

Yes, I think it can.

But sometimes I think it can’t.

So…maybe.

Below is a compilation of thoughts followed by the big takeaway.

1. The first question to ask is why you want to go solely bodyweight. I’m going to assume you either (a) don’t like barbell training, or (b) can’t barbell train for equipment or similar reasons. In other words: you’re trying to replace barbell training with bodyweight training. So for a frame of reference, let’s create a barbell backdrop.

2. Barbell training is effective because it’s holistic. It’s like living on Jupiter in supragravity. You do a bodyweight squat, you’re working against earth’s gravity. You do a barbell squat, you’re working against +gravity. Why do astronauts wither away in space? No gravity, no loading on the system. So think of the opposite. If no loading = withering away, supra loading = building up.

3. Don’t forget—you aren’t just training muscles. Muscles funnel into tendons, which funnel into bone. You remodel all of these structures when you train. Stronger bones make for stronger muscles. More gravity = stronger bones. Earth’s gravity can only be scaled to a certain point with bodyweight exercises.

4. Some bodyweight movements become, for all intents and purposes, “barbell” exercises when you add weight. Two biggies are chin-ups/pull-ups and parallel bar dips. Ironically, these two exercises are often considered the “squat” of the upper body. Where the squat is the gravity+ exercise for the legs, these two exercises are the gravity+ exercises for the upper body’s frontside and backside.

5. Bodyweight training doesn’t usually progress via +gravity or loading (unless you’re moving from two handed exercises into one handed exercises). Instead, you’re looking at doing it via tension, fatigue, and torque. More reps, more time under tension (doing reps slower), and changing the position to make the muscles work harder.

6. Learning curves are huge. Compare the overhead press and then the handstand. It takes one day to learn the overhead press if you’re mobile enough to get your hands overhead. All you gotta’ do from there is smack weight onto the bar. But with the handstand? It can take months to learn the handstand. Then more months to learn how to balance and control a handstand negative. Then more for a handstand push-up. Then more for a one arm handstand.

7. Overloading is much easier with barbell exercises, which means you can typically see progress a lot faster in the primary muscles.

8. Because bodyweight exercises progress via complexity and technique, you’re often held back by a weak link rather than a primary mover. Take the handstands again. You want big shoulders? That’s cool, but you’re at the mercy of your wrist’s ability to balance your body.

9. You aren’t a gymnasts and using them is a beacon is a reach.

9a. Gymnasts compete in the pommel horse, rings, parallel bars, and high bar. (I’ve excluded floor and vault because they aren’t as upper body intense.) Doing chin-ups and push-ups in your bedroom isn’t really in the same “bodyweight training” league.

9b. Gymnasts start young(er). They have a lot of mileage under their belt — years of training.

9c. Gymnasts train a lot. Hours per day, often times.

9d. Some gymnasts strength train with a barbell. Epke Zonderland being an example.

10. Although gymnasts show what can happen, physically, from chasing bodyweight control, few of us are in the business of training all of those events…especially if you’re getting into bodyweight training because of a lack of equipment. You won’t be chucking around on rings or pommel horses anytime soon.

11. So it’s importantly to classify the type of bodyweight training you’re getting into. There’s a difference between more calisthenics based exercises and more gymnastics based exercises.

12. Comparing yourself to Olympic caliber athletes isn’t even apples and oranges. It’s like apples and eggplant.

13. If you want to do good things with bodyweight training then push-ups, dips, and pull-ups are only the ground floor. Yeah, you can scale them by increasing the time under tension, adding reps and, and using more conventional tactics, but if you want to “make it” solely with bodyweight exercises you need to chase higher skills.

14. Set your sights on planches, levers, one arm handstands, and other high skill level bodyweight movements. Yes, this is setting the bar high. Yes, that’s the point. Start at an appropriate place and level yourself up over time.

15. Overloading the lower body is tough without weight. Pistol squats are nice, but typically not enough. Ido Portal is known for saying that the shoulder’s crave complexity, but the hips crave intensity. It’s hard to get good intensity with no equipment.

16. If you want to build your body with bodyweight movements, it’s going to take time. More time than it would with the barbell. With the barbell, you can stress intended muscles easier, stress yourself more overall, and give a bigger push for change. Without bodyweight, expect to be held back by some weak links. Not that fixing up weak links is a bad thing, it just makes for a longer road.

17. Also expect to give more time if you have no coach and no equipment for bodyweight skill learning. Being under a watchful eye that can spot you and cue you in on proper body position makes a big difference. If you’re a goonie going at things haphazardly, learning things as you go, I applaud you. Welcome to my world. But it’s not exactly tailored for quick learning.

Some of my own training:

My upper body work is 80% bodyweight training via gymnastics skills and ring training. I used to be 100% bodyweight for the upper body, but I consider weighted chins and dips to be more barbell than bodyweight.

I’m also tall: 6’4″. Tall people don’t typically favor well with gymnastics exercises (levers are longer, more torque), so a bit of barbell work helps me curb some anxiety about my tremendously slow rate of progress.

I squat and pull from the floor a bunch of ways with a bunch of grips.

So it’s 80% upper gymnastics work, 20% upper barbell work. 90% lower barbell work, 10% lower bodyweight work. I trick, too.

I do this because I like working towards skills I can’t do. Like I said, once you can do a barbell exercise all you do from there is hit them over and over and over with different loading patterns. With bodyweight skills, you’re constantly searching for a tougher variation.

There’s more, which I wrote about here.

Although they’re best seen as their own unique entities, there’s a sort of emergence that comes from combining barbell and bodyweight training — the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, as is the case in any good fusionGotenks is stronger than Goten and Trunks. 

Barbell training is usually more organism taxing. There’s more grip work, spine loading, and it just seems to hit the entire system harder. Bodyweight training is less taxing, which means it’s easier for high frequency fiddling.

Barbell training forces you into a fixed vertically loaded movement plane most of the time. Bodyweight training allows for more movement freedom.

Because of the load, barbell training makes for a more bone bearing sort of tension and load. Bodyweight training, because of the freedom, allows you to adjust position and produce more tension through torque.

You can get better at barbell exercises while simultaneously turning into a fat slob. You can’t get better at bodyweight exercises and turn into a fat slob because you’re proficiency hinges on relative strength. Getting better at both makes for good things.

I created B3W as a first inception into the “barbell” world. How to go about squatting and pulling from the floor and incorporating weighted chin-ups and dips into the mix. The next step would be to phase towards more (a) gymnastics work for the upper body in planches, handstands, levers, l-sits and such, and (b) more calisthenics like one arm chin-ups and one arm push-ups and such.

If you’re interested in checking out more of what I wrote on this….

Some concluding thoughts:

It helps if you have some equipment to make use of, like rings and parallettes. It’s a much different (harder) journey if you don’t have these.

You need a place to do chin-ups and pull-ups. Without this, you’re not going to make it far.

High frequency training helps. Without loading on the spine and bones and such, your body can take more frequent stress. Training six days per week is something to consider…especially if you’re on the calisthenics end.

You can build muscle with just bodyweight exercises as long as you (a) chase high level skills and (b) be patient. But beyond that, consider why you want to go this route.

If you don’t want to use a barbell out of some kind of righteous mindset, flush said mindset down the toilet. At the least, add one bigger barbell lift into the mix. Get a barbell and a ton of plates and deadlift. That’ll keep equipment low and give you one big organism taxing exercise for your body to handle.

If you have to use solely bodyweight training, then you have no choice. Find something to hang from. Find something to support yourself with. Start chinning and dipping. Then move into the gymnastics world. Beginner planche, lever, l-sits, etc.

There’s no purpose in questioning possibility. Just go and get the work done. Let time work its magic.

 

I talked about my life on the “A Fitness Life Podcast”

 

A few weeks ago, I talked about myself. A lot. In an a podcast “interview” — A Fitness Life.

It’s about life more than training and methods and whatever…how I ended up where I am today valuing what I value. What my body represented to me. How I fell into this rabbit hole.

Probably some honest bits and pieces that some wouldn’t admit.

I left the conversation feeling good. I don’t re-listen to the interviews (or whatever you want to call it) I do, but if you want to know about the crumbs in the corner of my life, you probably want to listen.

You can check it out here.

I think there’s some good stuff in the talk — on mastery and such — stuff that’s probably going to do you better than the news or radio. Listen to it when you train, when you commute, when you walk.

And if you’re a podcast junkie, here are some more you can listen to:

May the gains be with you.

 

Decided to do cardio…and my life may never be the same

Decided to do cardio

I made a dumb decision last week.

I decided to do some cardio.

“What’s the big deal?” you might ask. “People do cardio all the time.”

True. But I guess I’m not “people.” I haven’t done cardio in six years. Might be another six years before I do it again because I had an epiphany when I tried to do cardio last week.

This epiphany is what I’m going to share with you now. It’ll send some shivers through your system. Maybe not as fierce as it did me, but I have hope.

First, to preserve my own morals: a small piece of me decays inside when I use the word “cardio.” It’s a stupid word. You can read why here. And here. Even though it’s a stupid word, I’m going to keep using it because I feel like a doucher if I don’t. Kind of like someone at an uppity restaurant looking down on “peasants.”

Second, onto why I hopped on the treadmill for the first time in six years: I did it to get suprajacked.

I hover around 10% body fat year round. Some days you’ll see my abs. Some days you won’t because I like cookies. (And sometimes I drink too many stouts.)

I’m lean, but I’m not model lean. I don’t really want to be model lean either because I’d probably have an even unhealthier obsession with how visible my abs are on a day to day basis. It’s much easier for me to eat a jar of peanut butter and then act like being model lean is somehow beneath me as a physical virtue.

It’s been a while since I’ve been model lean, but I wanted to give it a go. I normally say that 10% body fat is the place to be, and that anything leaner isn’t going to be friendly to muscular pursuits. See talks on the solid base here and here.

But I wanted to try to prove myself wrong.

So in comes the cardio: incline treadmill walks.

Remember me talking about how long it’s been since I’ve done cardio? Well, tack on a few years and you’ll reach the last time I’ve walked on the treadmill.

But…idea!

Weighted incline treadmill walks. With added weight I could walk a bit slower and simultaneously read books.

Books are good. Reading is good. I was sold.

Few days later, there I was. Trudging along the treadmill. About 10 minutes in, my foot was sending me a message. In about five more minutes, you’re going to regret this. Ha! I can’t wait. It’s going to be hilarious. You’re going to be bested by the treadmill! Ha! You’re pathetic!

And for those that don’t know: I have a neuroma in my foot that said hello sometime after “the incident.” (“The incident” is on YouTube, by the way.)

I’ve been battling this neuroma for a long time. It’s beaten me down, largely because I’ve failed to listen to my body on repeated occasions. This past six months, for the first time, I’ve been sailing into the headwind. Holding onto hope.

Despite things looking up, it still only takes one little misstep for the snowball of pain. Just a hint of swelling leads to more missteps. More missteps, more swelling.

This time? I listened to my neuroma. I fought back. Look here you twerp. You think you’re going to get me. You’ve gotten me in the past, but not this time. I’m the master now. Get that? I’m going to own you. 

So I stepped off the treadmill and then said to myself, “Hmmmm…what can I do instead?”

What can I do for 30-40 minutes, 4-6 days per week…in the name of seeing my abdominal veins all the clearer?

And this was epiphany time.

My name is Anthony. I’m battling a neuroma. Battling. BATTLING. For the past three years, I’ve not had one step upon wherein I didn’t consciously think about my my foot position and prepare for pain. As if nail were hammered between my toes. Every. Single. Step.

Showering.

Playing beer pong.

Shopping for groceries.

The chance for pain. Always. There.

And here I am. About to spend 30-40 minutes of my life 4-6 times days week for the next few weeks (months?) walking on the treadmill…because, well, abdominal veins. 

But maybe…just maybe …I should spend those 30-40 minutes 4-6 days per week doing everything in my power to stop my neuroma from hemorrhaging? To stop it from existing?

Maybe I should go to a park with my sketchpad and Micron markers for those 30-40 minutes 4-6 days a week and finally do what made me feel alive in my past life.

Maybe…

But before you maybe your life away, let me clarify some things.

If you’re downing the idea of deeper abdominal grooves and sickly pelvic veins, you missed the point. The point isn’t to trounce any end. There may be a time in my life when grooves and veins represent a tremendous accomplishment and stand for more than I can fathom now, and will deliver +15 SELF ESTEEM and +10 DEDICATION and +7 WORK ETHIC.

And that’s the point.

You’re chasing a final boss.

It’s easy to pull any old boss out of a random hat.

But it’s hard to ask yourself, “What’s beating this guy going to mean to me right now? Is there something else — some other boss demon — I’m better off chasing?”

Because it’s always work to get to the final boss. And it’s work that can potentially be put elsewhere.

Beating any old boss is nice, but it might not level you up the way the right boss will. And we (I) often dance around the right boss because  finding it forces you look into your stinky bits — your insecurities, your fears, your existential stones — and face truths you’re more comfortable ignoring.

Maybe I’m afraid to tackle the neuroma because I’m afraid I’m stuck with it…and I’d rather live telling myself there’s still hope.

Maybe I’m afraid to admit I want to build muscle…and I’d rather live telling myself looks don’t matter to me. Or that “performance” is more important. 

Maybe…

Maybe you should think about it.

With brutal honesty.

Are you fighting the right boss?

Nassim Taleb on embracing small fires

Nassim Taleb on small fires

Small forest fires periodically cleanse the system of the most flammable material, so this does not have the opportunity to accumulate. Systematically preventing forest fires from taking place “to be safe” makes the big one much worse.

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb via Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

 

Been thinking a lot about this gem buried in Antifragile. (Wrote about antifragility before. Read here.) I like this metaphor because both outcomes suck. You’re not choosing between overtly Good (no fire) and overtly Bad (fire). You’re choosing between less sucky (small fire) and more sucky (big fire).

Gets you into the habit of embracing small Bad things knowing there are always big Bad things out there. Typical stoic thinking, which Taleb is beyond familiar with.

Rejiggering your mental configuration to embrace Bad is the first layer. Actually subjecting yourself to the small fires is the second layer.

Those drug commercials pop into mind. Taking our pills keeps you pain free all day! 

But should anyone that’s been numbing their body day after day really be surprised when they need back surgery? Knee surgery? Hip surgery?

We live in an age that makes it real easy to ignore the small fires. Do you wear a brace of some sort every day to compensate for weakness? Overdose on caffeine to compensate for no sleep?

I like to think our body has small fires in hopes of preventing big fires. So the question, for me, becomes: how often am I {upset} or {ignoring} small fires when I should actually be {thankful} for and {listening} to small fires?

How much of what I perceive as Bad is actually Good? Like, amazingly Good? And how much am I missing out on because of my inability to see small Bad as amazingly Good?

Most importantly: am I on the verge of an inferno?

Are you?

 

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Image credit: sun