Putting Humpty back together again

I was the strongest guy in my high school.

Now, my graduating class was about 40 people, so that isn’t saying much, but it was still a point of pride. I was also the captain of my track team, which was an even bigger point of pride. I’m not a natural athlete, but I worked my ass off. My coach told me that he didn’t pick me to lead because I was good, but because he knew I put everything I had into it.

I didn’t compete in college athletics, but I did get into the martial arts. In my karate classes, my teacher called me a holy terror, and used me as a sparring dummy to show the other students what it was like to try and out-punch, or get grabbed by, a guy the size of a small oak tree. I got into Judo later, and the grappling skills I picked up there saved my ass a couple of times. PCP is a motherfucker, but even a motherfucker goes down when there’s no blood going to his brain.

After college, I got into powerlifting and something that you’d probably call Crossfit if you squinted at it sideways. I bench pressed 315lbs for reps, squatted 425lbs, and deadlifted 500lbs. These aren’t world-shaking numbers, but again, they were the best amongst the group of people I knew.

My adventures in circuit-for-time workouts and protein-shakes-and-more-protein-shakes dieting allowed me to drop about 70 pounds of post-college weight, and get into the best shape of my life. People came to me for advice on how to get fit, and a couple of people even asked me to get them in shape for Basic Training.

I’d always suffered from a collection of minor ailments. My knees have never been great; squatting with shitty form and running on hard roads when you tip the scales at somewhere around two hundred and fifty pounds do bad things to already temperamental joints. I got tossed on my head–literally–by a brown belt Judoka, and separated my shoulder. Then, a month later, I got tossed by my sensei, and popped it out again. That was the end of my martial arts career.

After I turned thirty, though, all of the aches and pains, bumps and bruises, started to add up, and new injuries didn’t heal the way they used to. I also went through an emotional crisis that left me an empty, bitter shell for a couple of years.

I’ve tried to get back into fighting shape a few times since then, but never with any kind of consistency or results. When all was said and done, I was walking around at three hundred and fifteen pounds, weak, stressed, stiff, hurt, and generally unhealthy.

I hurt myself again a while ago, dropping off the chin-up bar. Yeah, I blew my knee out doing chin-ups, because that’s how my life works. I’d been injured before, but never this bad. I was in pain all of the time, and as depressed as I had ever been. I was always the biggest, always the strongest, and now I couldn’t even take my dogs for a walk.

For the first time in my life, I went to a physical therapist. I had always assumed that these people were glorified personal trainers, and that they didn’t know anything I couldn’t teach myself. My PT, though, was a magician, and in a couple of months she had me back in the rack and squatting again. It was amazing.

I decided that it was time to rebuild myself, from the ground up. To start with the basics, relearn how my body worked, unlearn some bad habits, and get myself strong and healthy again. I started Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program, focusing on the fundamentals of safe movement under load. After a few months of that, I transitioned into Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 program.

I’ve been doing 5-3-1 religiously, two days a week, for a couple of months now, and I’m pressing 175lbs, benching 280lbs, squatting 305pounds, and pulling 390lbs. Again, not world-shattering weights, but they’re better than I’ve been able to do in a long, long time.

In hopes of dropping a little weight, and just maybe staving off an early heart attack, I’ve started adding bike sprints into my life, too. Once a week, usually on Saturday, I’ll hop on the bike, sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 90, and repeat the whole thing for a total of five circuits.

My diet is falling back into place, too. I dropped soda, even diet, and drink about three liters of water a day. I’m eating mostly a ketogenic diet: breakfast is Bulletproof Coffee, which I absolutely hate but know is good for me; lunch is a Quest bar and two scoops of Muscle Milk, the only protein shake on the planet that I don’t hate, and dinner is a Big Ass Omelet; six eggs, peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and usually either bacon or sausage on the side. Yeah, I eat breakfast for dinner. It’s amazing, and everyone should do it.

I’ve been eating like this for a week now, and I’m down five pounds. I still weigh three hundred and eight pounds, but it’s a start.

There’s only one problem: while I’m getting stronger at all of the power lifts, and my weight is starting to come down, my body just can’t handle things like it could in college. My knees ache, my shoulders grind, and I generally have a surly disposition.

I’ve been reading a lot about gymnastic training lately. These guys are, pound for pound, some of the strongest athletes in the world. They are also some of the strongest athletes in the world, period. A lot of these guys can move weights that would make dedicated lifters blink. They also have a remarkable resilience to injury, because their progressions are so slow.

Because I had so much luck with the bodyweight exercises prescribed by my PT, I considered starting my own gymnastics training. I looked into Gymnastic Bodies (warning: that site has an auto-playing video that is loud as all fuck), Gold Medal Bodies, and Ido Portal’s work.

Gymnastics, though, seemed a bit out of my reach. For one, I’m thirty-four years old, and most accomplished gymnasts started when they were five. For another, I’m six foot four, and most passable gymnasts are about three foot seven. I needed something that would provide the same benefits–strength in the muscles and joints, developed through isometric tension–as gymnastics, but catered to a guy of my somewhat sullied athletic history.

Like any red-blooded American male, I was a pro wrestling fan in my teens. Diamond Dallas Page was one of my favorite stars, because his ethic–no matter how many times you knock me down, I’m gonna get back up and come back at you–was so powerful. When I heard he was teaching Yoga, though, I thought it was a joke.

Then I saw the video.

If you haven’t seen this video, go and watch it now. It’s one of the most powerful four minutes I’ve ever seen. Arthur Boorman is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever read about. He’s a Persian Gulf veteran, and when he came home, he was pretty much crippled. He weighed two hundred and ninety seven pounds. He couldn’t walk without the assistance of two crutches, which were always attached to his wrists. He lived his life strapped into a back brace and a pair of metal knee braces. His doctors told him he would never walk unassisted again.

Then he started doing Yoga.

It wasn’t an overnight transformation. The workouts were painful for him. He fell a lot. You can tell that a lot of the time, he would rather just give up, sit on the couch, and eat a pizza. But he didn’t give up. He kept going, kept fighting. “Just because I can’t do it today,” he said, “doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do it someday.”

In six months, he lost one hundred pounds. He can walk without his canes. He can run. And do handstands, and headstands, and a whole bunch of other gymnastic-type movements that I couldn’t hope to pull off.

Diamond Dallas Page has made something of a career out of taking burned out, washed up men and putting them back together again. He got Scott Hall off drugs. He saved Jake the Snake Roberts’ life. He put Chris Jericho back together again.

I’m going to see what he can do for me.

I’ve known about DDP Yoga, and Arthur’s transformation, for a while now. It wasn’t until I heard DDP on the Onnit podcast that I really thought about giving it a try. Listening to DDP explain how he put himself back together, and how many benefits Yoga can confer–not just flexibility, but also strength and conditioning–finally convinced me.

I ordered the six-disk “max pack”, and bought a Yoga mat. I’ve been doing the workouts for a week now, twice a day, once if I have another workout planned. I’m not doing handstands yet, and I can’t even get my heels to touch the ground when I do Down Dog, but just because I can’t do it today doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do it someday.

Namaste, mother fucker.

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A look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Want to relive some old memories (and get ready for Guardians of the Galaxy? Check out this recap of the MCU from ComiCon.

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Ten life skills everyone should have

A response to a thread on Reddit, here are ten skills I think everyone should possess:

First: how to balance your budget. Note that I didn’t say “balance your checkbook,” because it’s 2014 and we have computers to do our math for us now. Sure, look over your statement (which you should be getting online) for errors, but come on.

By balancing your budget, I mean knowing how much money you have coming in, knowing how much money you have going out, and making sure the first number is bigger than the second. If you have a steady job, this is dirt simple. It might not be easy, because middle class wages are currently a joke and the cost of living is skyrocketing, but it isn’t complicated.

Ramit Sethi has a great post on how to automate your finances, which everyone should read and follow. Again assuming a steady job, there is no reason not to have your bills pay themselves, and automatically set money aside in savings.

Second: how to do your own laundry. This is simple and easy, and if you’ve lived your whole life with mommy washing your underwear, it’s time to grow the fuck up. The Art of Manliness has a lesson for all of you mamma’s boys out there.

Third: how to cook. You don’t have to be a master chef, but your list of recipes needs to be more extensive that “a cell phone and a credit card.” You only need to know a handful of dishes, maybe fifteen or so, and you can eat a different, healthy meal three times a day, every day, for a week. Tim Ferriss can help you pick up the skills you need.

Fourth: how to exercise. I know, you’re hot shit now, but trust me, some day, maybe some day soon, you aren’t going to be able to drink a fifth of whiskey, eat Taco Bell, pull an all nighter, and hit the next day running. Your knees are going to start to hurt. Your belly is going to go from “cute paunch” to “Jesus what the fuck happened to me?” Your stomach is going to start violently objecting to the calorie-dense, nutrient poor, semi-solid masses you currently refer to as “food.” So do yourself a favor, lift weights, stretch, and get your heart racing every once in a while.

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is the best program for people new to weightlifting, bar none. Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 is a great program for more experienced people. Bike Sprints will keep your heart working for the long hual. If you’re pressed for time, Tabata will kick your ass in four minutes flat. Kino MacGregor will teach you the basics of Yoga, and if that’s too girly for you, hearing Diamond Dallas Page scream namaste motherfucker! might be more up your alley.

My recommendation: lift weights twice a week, and end the session with a five 30-seconds bike sprints, then do some kind of bodyweight/yoga work three days a week.

Fifth: how to back up your computer. Everything lives on our laptops now, and if your hard drive crashes, you’re screwed. If you’re an Apple fanboy, you already have Time Machine installed on your computer; just hook up an external hard drive. If you’re a dirty Windows user, Crashplan is probably your best bet. If you’re using Linux, you don’t need my advice.

Sixth: how to use your mouth. Public Speaking is one of the most common, most debilitating fears. If you can speak confidently in public, people will think you’re some kind of wizard, and shower you with love, money, affection, and sexual favors.

Seventh: how to use your mouth. Here’s a lesbian who will teach you how to eat pussy, and here are some tips on the art of the blowjob.

Eighth: how to argue. Your friends, family, and lovers are going to piss you off, because people suck. You are going to piss off your friends, family, and lovers, because you suck, too. Don’t keep that shit bottled up. Fight. Fight quick, fight fair, and fight to heal. Here are some tips.

Ninth: how to not get pregnant. Maybe you want to never sleep and dedicate all of your finances to diapers and formula, but personally, I like to stay up late, get up at noon, and blow obscene amounts of cash on alcohol and cars. No glove, no love, folks.

Tenth: how to think critically. The world is full of people trying to put one over on you. Marketers. Newscasters. Con men. Swindlers. Politicians. Bosses. That girl you met at the bus station last night who is a little trashy but still kinda hot and she’s totally gonna bang you but first she needs to borrow a hundred dollars. Don’t let someone else do your thinking for you.

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Just Show Up

I don’t want to go to the gym anymore.

When I wake up, I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m stiff. It hurts to walk, but I have to take the dogs out anyway. And Willow refuses to be potty trained, so I have to clean up a pile of dog shit. Or two. Or three.

This is all before 7am, and by the time it’s over, I don’t want to go to the gym. But I make myself go anyway. And you know what? The bike sprints aren’t as hard as my brain was telling me they were going to be. The weights aren’t as heavy. When I get done, I feel better, physically and mentally, because I went to the gym and put in the work.

That’s why I have a plan, a schedule, that tells me exactly what I’m going to do, every day, whether I want to or not.

Just showing up is 80% of everything.

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This week in the gym – Rest and Recovery

Over the last few months, I’ve learned that I can go full out, one hundred percent of the time anymore. I used to be able to do MetCons six days a week, and play Ultimate Frisbee, and eat like a starving Shaolin monk, and feel great.

But not anymore. And really, that’s okay. I used to think that this was a personal failing of mine, that my body was betraying me or I wasn’t dedicated enough. But I’ve learned that the MetCon MetCon MetCon style of training, and the always go hard or don’t bother showing up way of thinking, only works for so long.

For most people, it works for about a year. You can go balls to the wall for a year, before you get too banged up. You can go all out for a year before you become adapted. You can leave everything on the weight room floor every day for a year, and then it stops working.

And when that year is up, you have to adapt.

I’m using wave progression now. Basically, effort is divided into different “zones”:

  • Zone Zero – normal, sedentary American life
  • Zone One – you’re working comfortably. This is the kind of exercise you could do pretty much every day without needing to recover from it.
  • Zone Two – a bit harder, but you could probably still hold a conversation
  • Zone Three – more strenuous still, and you’ll need more recovery.
  • Zone Four – ever harder. This is the “today’s max” zone; you’re not setting a PR, but you’re giving it your all
  • Zone Five – you’re working your absolute hardest. This is the kind of workout that leaves you wrecked for days afterward.

With wave progression, you start week one in zone one. In week two, you’re working in zone two. In week three, you’re working in zone three. Finally, in week four, you’re working in zone four. Rocket science, I know.

After the fourth week, you take a recovery week, which is back down to zone one, and start all over again. The idea, though, is that all this work has made you able to work a little harder and still be in the right zone. It’s kind of a three steps forward, two steps back thing.

For example, last month my highest working weight for bench press was 225lbs. At the end of this month, it will be 240lbs.

I’ve changed up my schedule a little, too, to add in some extra High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Here’s what my plan looks like:

  • Monday – Metcon
  • Tuesday – 5/3/1 – Overhead press and deadlift
  • Wednesday – HIIT – Bike sprints
  • Thursday – Metcon
  • Friday – 5/3/1 – Bench press and squat
  • Saturday – HIIT – Elliptical sprints

This lets me hit most of the important types of exercise, HIIT, strength, and MetCon, but I’m never working the same muscles or the same energy systems the same way two days in a row.

Mon 12 May

  • Metcon – 5 circuits
    • Pushups, 5
    • Pullups, 1
    • Air squats, 5
    • KB Swings, 40lbs, 5
    • Dragon flags, 5

Tues 13 May

  • 5/3/1
    • Overhead Press
      • 65lbs * 5
      • 75lbs * 5
      • 90lbs * 5
    • Deadlift
      • 135lbs * 5
      • 185lbs * 5
      • 210lbs * 5

Wed 14 May

  • HIIT – Bike sprints
    • 1min on, 1min off, 5 rounds

Thur 15 May

  • Metcon, 1 circuit
    • Front squat, 45lbs, 15
    • Overhead press, 45lbs, 15
    • Banded chinups, 15
    • Dragon flags, 15
    • Hypers, 15

Fri 16 May

  • 5/3/1
    • Squat
      • 110lbs * 5
      • 135lbs * 5
      • 160lbs * 5
    • Bench
      • 100lbs * 5
      • 135lbs * 5
      • 145lbs * 5
    • Pullups, 3s

Sat 17 May

  • HITT – Elliptical
    • 1min on, 1min off, 5 rounds

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This Week in the Gym

I finally got to the last week of my 5/3/1 + MetCon experiment, and I have come to a conclusion: I am a weak little girl.

And I’m not twenty anymore, so I can’t recover from six-days-a-week MetCons and serious strength training. So I’m going to take the prescribed recovery week, and then redraft my plan. Here’s what I think it’s going to look like:

  • Monday – Metcon
  • Tuesday – 5/3/1 – Overhead press and deadlift
  • Wednesday – Bike sprints
  • Thursday – 5/3/1 – Bench press and squat
  • Friday – Metcon

This is more days per week that I was doing before, but one less MetCon, so we’ll see.

This week’s training

  • 06 – Tuesday
    • 5/3/1 – Overhead press
      • 105lbs * 5
      • 120lbs * 3
      • 135lbs * 7
    • Metcon
      • Pushups, 20
      • Chins, 2
      • Bench leg raises, 20
      • Hyper extensions, 20
      • Air squat, 20
        • 5 rounds, 12:15
  • 07 – Wednesday
    • 5/3/1 – Deadlift
      • 250lbs * 5
      • 280lbs * 3
      • 315lbs * 7
    • Metcon
      • Ring pushups, 10
      • Ring rows, 10
      • Ring jumping lungs, 10
        • 5 rounds, 9:04
  • 08 – Thursday
    • 5/3/1 – Bench press
      • 108lbs * 5
      • 200lbs * 3
      • 225lbs * 7
  • 10 – Saturday
    • 5/3/1 – Squat
      • 185lbs * 5
      • 205lbs * 3
      • 225lbs * 10

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Today in the Gym – Moving Day

I helped a buddy move last weekend.

He rented the biggest truck U-Haul offers, which is roughly the size of a city block, and it still took two full loads to get all of his stuff to the new house. We worked for about ten hours that day, climbing up and down stairs, grabbing big, boxy things and dragging them around, and then reversing the process at the new house.

I was a little sore the next morning, but I wasn’t debilitated or anything. I’m not in the kind of condition I was in back in college, but I can still handle myself.

This also gave me a little more ammunition in the (mostly theoretical) debates I get into about power lifting Olympic lifting. I didn’t have to snatch a single thing that day, but I squatted down and grabbed something heavy roughly a gajillion times.

It’s tempting to say that the most applicable movement in the world is the deadlift, but I might have discovered a more applicable movement: the Zercher squat. To perform a Zercher, you squat down, cradle the bar in your arms, and then stand up. Bodybuilding.com has a tutorial video.

I performed this movement all day last Saturday. It might be the most functional movement there is.

Training

  • Strength: Squat
    • 165lbs * 3
    • 190lbs * 3
    • 215lbs * 5
  • MetCon – 5 circuits for time (15:59)
    • Pushups, 20
    • Chins, 2
    • Step ups, 20
    • Kettlebell swings, 97lns, 20
    • Hyper, 10

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Today in the Gym

  • Strength: Bench press
    • 165lbs * 3
    • 190lbs * 3
    • 215lbs * 5
  • MetCon – 5 circuits for time (18:29)
    • Front squat, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Overhead press, 95lbs, 10 reps
    • Banded pullups, 10 reps

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Today in the Gym

Nothing special, just some deadlifts and some

  • Strength training – deadlift
    • 230lbs * 3
    • 265lbs * 3
    • 300lbs * 5
  • MetCon – 5 rounds for time (14:59)
    • Ring pushups, 10
    • Ring rows, 10
    • Ring supported jumping lunges, 10
    • Ring snatch, 34lbs, 10 reps / arm
    • Crunches, 10

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Today in the Gym – Life Lessons

A lot of the podcasts I’ve been listening to lately have been talking about the life lessons you can learn from a barbell. Personally, I don’t get it.

I mean, I have learned some things. I’ve learned how to pick up five hundred pounds without destroying my back. I’ve learned that high pulls are Satan’s favorite exercise, designed specifically to destroy the tender little bits of your shoulders. I’ve learned that a kettlebell swing is a hinge movement, not a squat movement.

But life lessons? Not really. I didn’t learn dedication by lifting weights. I didn’t learn respect by doing metcons. I didn’t learn tenacity by foam rolling.

That’s because lifting weights isn’t my life. For the guys I’ve been listening to, it is. And that’s the key.

I don’t think that there’s anything magical about weight lifting or martial arts that will make you into who you’re supposed to be. You can learn all kinds of life lessons doing anything, as long as you do it with all your heart.

The struggle is what’s important, not the venue. When I was writing my first novel, there were plenty of times when I thought it was hopeless, I was a hack, and that I would never write anything good. But I stuck with it, fought with it, and figured it out. The same way I wrestled with Java in college, and the same way I struggle with the barbell today.

We need antagonism in order to grow. We need a fight. We all need something we love, and I think we actually need the threat of that thing being taken away to inspire us to greatness. We learn our life lessons when we give something everything we have, when we have to dig deep and find resources we never knew we had.

The barbell can be that thing that you love. But so can writing, or music, or art, or a million other things. You don’t become great by bench pressing five hundred pounds. You become great by fighting for what you love.

Today’s Workout

I didn’t sleep last night, which means I was late getting to the gym, and felt like crap when I finally got there. The entire drive, and all through my overhead presses, I was making deals with myself.

“I’ll just do kettlebells.”

“I’ll just come in on Wednesday.”

“Okay, kettlebells and pushups, then I’m out.”

“Okay, I’ll do the whole thing, but only three circuits.”

But when I actually started the MetCon, it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t want to do it, not really, but I wanted to have done it. And that was enough.

Just showing up in 80%.

  • Strength training – Overhead press
    • 100lbs * 3
    • 115lbs * 3
    • 130lbs * 5
  • MetCon
    • Fast Five – 5 circuits for time: 23:19
      • Pushups, 20
      • Chinups, 2
      • Drop lunges, 20 / leg
      • Kettlebell swing, 97lbs, 20
      • Dragon flags, 20

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