Movement and the mind, walking in San Francisco

I recently heard a podcast between Daniel Vitalis and Ido Portal. Vitalis is a “rewilding” leader who teaches ways to live in tune to original human ways. Portal is a natural movement practitioner.

Portal said that the human brain developed to the size we possess today in order to power greater complexity of physical movement. We have so much ability in our bodies to move in such intricate ways because of the size of our brains. I haven’t had a chance to verify the research behind this statement, but I have had an interesting experience last week that correlated with it.

Recently I was offered employment, which required an initial two-day training in San Francisco. I didn’t want to make the two-hour drive back and forth for two days, so I stayed with a friend near the training site. I took the train up to the closest station, walked the hilly streets the rest of the way, and then used buses and ferries to get to and from my various destinations through the week.

Because the City was mostly clouded and chilly, I had no qualms about hard fast walking. On my last day I walked over 12,000 steps and scaled 33 floors, according to my phone. I’m pretty sure that a few of the hills I climbed were at least four stories high. Add the stairs at building entrances, transportation terminals, and walking bridges, and 33 doesn’t seem like that much.

I noticed that I was much more upbeat than usual. From the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed, I had a very positive mindset about things. I felt like I could do anything.

My mood was lighter and I was also more willing to take on challenges. Part of my motivation was probably from the necessity of catching transportation before it was too late. I was on a schedule, and I had to make it on time to places. The other thing is that I was always very early for everything. I wanted to decrease the risk of being late as much as possible. I was up at five for a ten o’clock training. It’s such a great feeling that comes with being ahead of schedule.

Above all else, though, was the constant moving. I was walking, walking, walking. I loved it. My ankles became uber mobile. Up to three days after I got back, I was able to sit in a squat with feet much closer than usual. My normal tightness from sitting was absent, although I certainly sat a lot during training. At times I was sweating, at others I was huffing and puffing, and mostly I was warm and mobile.

My conversations with people were positive, productive, and often powerful. I spoke with some people I might not normally have spoken to. I was quicker to respond, more creative, and more alert. And I slept better.

Yes, there are many factors involved. Different environment, new job, temporary situation. However, I deeply felt the connection between lots of moving and mind stimulation. I don’t know if I would have been the same way had I driven my car everywhere, sitting for hours in traffic. I don’t think so.

Those four days in San Francisco will never leave my memory. Aside from the amazing training experience, my awesome friends who showed such kindness, and the humming life of the City, I will always remember the vigor I felt from significant movement every day.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Playing

Moving through playing is more varied and inspired than routine exercise. A training routine develops you to become stronger in focused ways, but playing is an outlet for movement based on feel and natural sequences.

You might run a certain number of miles every day, but unless you run around with your dog on a field or play a sport or do some sort of randomized mode of running, you won’t really step and move and slow and accelerate in ways other than the straightforward path of the usual jog or sprint.

One way to do “sprints” without making it an uber-structured session is to just kick off the shoes on a field of grass, jog and shake things off for a bit, and get bouncy. As you make your way around the field, find little moments to make quick bursts of running, and then come back to a light jog or bounce. Go with your feeling, and make sure to stay on your toes more and keep the integrity of your entire body. Don’t make dramatic flails or lunges. Keep it all close and within your range. Stop running if you feel any twinges of pain or joint misalignment.

I bring up the topic of playing because I realize that people who don’t have an established background of sports or training most likely have played as kids.

I remember playing tag with my sister and the neighborhood kids. One person is “it”, and has to chase down and tap someone else to not be “it”. Then that new “it” person has to do the same to someone else. It was a hilarious game of running, dodging, laughing, and sometimes crying. Lots of moment to moment movement tactics too.

Don’t hesitate to play when you get the chance. Bust out the football or frisbee at the park, race your dog or your kids, or just goof off by yourself if you aren’t embarrassed. If you do feel a bit shy, just start off with some jogging steps, squats, jumping jacks, bounces, however you feel like moving.

The routinized training for strength and other physical building is great for getting you from point A to point B. It’s important, though, that you keep the integrity of your own movement patterns. With any exercise you utilize for strength building, you must use your own ideal positions and technique. But fitting yourself into specified exercises might lead you away from your natural rhythms, ranges, and strengths.

Play can bring back this instinctual ability to move freely and spontaneously. Since you’re focused on the game or the mood, and not the movement, you are more likely to move the way you are best able.

The connection between all of this is that play teaches us to move, training builds strength in those movements, and better movement allows for better play.

Live powerfully,

Steve


Check out these examples of great movers:

movnat.com

http://www.tacfitacademy.com/

Ido Portal

Lots of inspiration from:

Daniel Vitalis

When pain, no train

I came upon the stage of my weekly cycle where sleep deprivation and physical training fight for priority. I was tired on Wednesday morning but went ahead and trained, feeling some energy.

During my warmups I was out of breath. I chugged ahead anyway, deciding to do two handed swings as a deload from one handed swings. This went fine at first, although I was definitely much lower in swing output than usual.

Then, about three quarters of the way through the swing sets, I felt a pang in my outer knee. It was like tendonitis. Sort of aching and a little sharp. I tried to stiffen up at the knees to avoid too much movement. It went away when I stopped the set, and then came back with each set. It was definitely not just tightness.

I tested a getup and my knee felt fine, so I went ahead and finished my training session. At the end, I was pooped. It was strange to remember what it felt like after hard squat sessions back when I was powerlifting. Instead of the “recharge” sensation I had become accustomed to, this was definitely a “workout” – fine for one time trial, but not what I was going for in training sessions.

Looking back, I realize I was fit enough to do ten swings every thirty seconds, but I certainly was not fit to do that and then train for the following two days. My body was still recovering. Compounded with lack of sleep, I was in the red zone.

It’s not always possible to train on a full night of sleep. I do train hard on low sleep, knowing that I need to pay extra attention to rest and food afterward. However, I misjudged the impact of the full exertion of the time trial.

Moving forward, I’m going to need to take a day off if I’m sleep deprived following full physical output. The combination of these two conditions is dangerous. Sure, you may find yourself physically exhausted and sleep deprived in an emergency requiring full physical exertion. In lifelong training though, to avoid injury and to build strength steadily, this is not a healthy internal setting.

Needless to say, I will be taking a break from hard training for the next day or two. Getting as much sleep as possible, as much sunlight and vitamin C as possible, and mobilizing joints will be my priorities. Gentle activity like walking, squats, pushups, and planks will occur as usual.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Kettlebell swing cues reinforced by the pressure of a timed trial

Timing myself on Monday and going through the pressure led to some good insights on swings. Swings train the hip hinge under acceleration. It’s like deadlifting with quick changes in the speed of the bar. I’m learning to get into good positions and make precise movements quickly.

Doing 100 swings in 5 minutes means doing one set of ten swings every thirty seconds. Because there’s so little time to rest, I was going into most of the sets just short of panting. It was everything I could do to clear some head space and focus on form. This squeeze on leisure caused me to realize the few things that make swings effective.

I controlled the movement of the kettlebell almost entirely with my hips. My feet had to be firmly planted, my knees pulling out, and my glutes squeezing as hard and fast as possible.

To minimize loss of power from the ground to the weight, I had to keep my abdomen and torso absolutely rigid. This allowed more force from my hip hinge to transfer from the ground to the weight in my hand.

The weight bearing shoulder had to be packed and tight to hold the arm straight and minimize the arch of the bell. If my shoulder pulled forward, I would lose precious tension and feel myself slow down. Every fraction of a second counted, because the quicker I could do the swings, the more rest time I could get.

I also found that the harder and quicker I snapped with my hips, the more the bell would float. I always knew this when practicing, but it mattered so much when I could barely get enough air out of my lungs at the top. So I put more in to get more out.

Lastly, I saw how important it was to minimize. I tried to keep my free arm close and stiff. I keep my head firmly aligned with my back. I resisted excessive bending of the knees. Even my hip hinge was a bit smaller. Any looseness, any unnecessary flinging or flopping, would slow me down both in speed and in energy. Everything had to go toward the movement of the kettlebell.

Focusing on throwing the kettlebell forward but keeping a hold of it, as a mental cue, served me greatly. It was simple and it worked.

How awesome, that these tiny little details, every single one of them, were in the book I read to learn how to swing. And even though I practiced them, every day, sometimes these more than those, and other times those more than these, every single one of them just rose to the surface when it really really counted.

Hope this helps emphasize the importance of form and technique as you train in your daily practice.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The triangle pose and making the bed

There’s a lot of things out there that can get you healthy and fit. Choose a few and do them.

If you didn’t look much further than this page, then here’s one: the triangle pose. It’s a pretty simple yoga pose. I learned it once from a nice, quiet evening class in Alhambra a few years ago.

  1. Stand tall with your feet together and hands together at chest level.
  2. Take a deep breath into your belly.
  3. Open your arms straight out to the sides, parallel to the floor, with palms facing the ground.
  4. Keeping your feet pointed forward, slowly scoot them apart to the sides. Stop when your feet are at about the same distance as your hands, or when comfortable.
  5. Carefully pivot your feet to face the left. Left toes to the left, pointed as straight to the side as is comfortable. Right heel to the right, foot can be at an angle.
  6. Keeping your knees as straight as you can, anchor your hips back to the right and tilt your torso slowly over your left leg. Keep your arms straight to the sides like a “T”.
  7. Tilt down and stop before your torso bends. Let your left arm come down to your leg and rest your hand where it naturally falls.
  8. Position your right arm vertical and keep your head neutral.
  9. Balance by two mechanisms. Keep your left leg taut and “pull” against your hamstring. At the same time, push your hips forward and “lock” yourself into place.
  10. Take easy breaths, and try to breathe deeply through your nose.
  11. After a few breaths, once you’ve found equilibrium, pull back up. Keep your torso straight, push your hips back to center, and regain the upright posture with arms to the sides.
  12. Slowly scoot your feet back to center.
  13. Bring your hands together at the chest and bring yourself to full height.
  14. Have a gentle breath in, and let it out slowly as you relax your arms down.
  15. Repeat to the other side.

This might not be the best yoga pose, but it’s the one I do.

The thing I love about this pose is that it sort of stretches me out, especially in the midsection, and it just calms me down. It’s probably because I use it as a small meditation time. I feel so good after doing it, especially when I’m outside, but even when I’m indoors it’s great.

The triangle pose is one of those things I’ve just been very grateful to have picked up and use almost every day. I can take it with me anywhere, and it helps to anchor me. It’s like making the bed every morning. Another simple practice that brings continuing benefit.

We’re always going to see the newest diet or exercise or gadget that’s supposed to make all the difference. If you’ve taken some practices into the fold before, and stopped doing them because of different reasons, try bringing some of those little things back. Some of the best long term practices don’t always make a big impact the first few times, but over the months and years you get a lot out of them.

What simple practices do you have?

Live powerfully,

Steve

Get the full articles by email.
Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Butter coffee every day, intermittent fasting, and all diets lead to one

I still drink butter coffee every morning. I mean like literally every single morning. It’s just another part of my day, as much as the sun coming up. Well sometimes more so, on days when I get up at 4 a.m. to make a 6 a.m. training session. Coffee steam rises before the sun.

IMG_3476.JPG

If I haven’t said this before, I’ve got to say, I just love drinking my butter coffee. I’m forever grateful to my friend Dan for introducing me to the concept one sunny morning at the gym, after a great 5×5 powerlifting session. And of course I’m grateful to Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Executive for developing and marketing it to the Westside of the world. I guess I could go on to thank the Himalayan people of Tibet and Nepal for really harnessing the power of mountain yak butter and tea and inspiring Asprey.

I think some things need to be clarified about butter coffee drinkers, ketogenic diets, and intermittent fasting. First of all, when I drink butter coffee, it’s not the only thing I eat the whole day. I have one and sometimes two solid meals, usually large, generally involving rice, meat, and veggies. I love to cook. I make whole meals with my wife every day for dinner.

Secondly, butter coffee when done right is not a nutritionally deficient meal substitute as critics hail it to be. Grass fed cow butter is superfood. It has vitamins, minerals, and multiple types of fats that are essential to the human diet. Actually, I can’t think of a more nutritious meal than butter coffee, although I don’t normally call it a meal. It’s packed with energy and is satiating like no other food.

Naturally, I must make the third point that butter coffee is not everything. It doesn’t have all the nutrients needed to sustain  recovery and energy. It has a lot. Not all. And we’re back to the first clarification, that butter coffee is not the only thing I have as food.

Nor do I encourage anyone to drink only butter coffee and eat nothing else. Which brings me to ketogenic diets, high fat diets, and the intermittent fasting craze. Look. When I first started intermittent fasting, I didn’t even know that it had a name. I would drink my butter coffee without any carbs or protein, exercise, and wait until late in the day to eat. Sometimes because I was busy at work and didn’t want to lose focus, I would go until dinner time without eating anything.

My energy was tremendous, my focus lasted for so long, it was awesome. But i did it because it worked. It just so happened to happen that way, and when the internet started to break out with the words “intermittent fasting” everywhere I was just as confused as the all-American big breakfast eaters.

Sincerely, though, I don’t have anything against any one diet or another. I do have a thing about doing things that work. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, just let it go and find something that does.

I believe that all diets lead to one: the one that works for you. That sounds evasive, I know, but really each person is going to need to figure out what works for the long run. Do I really want to jump from diet to diet for the rest of my life? If I’m eating food, and I’m feeling good, and I have energy when I need it, and I’ve been doing this from age 25 and I do it to age 50, why would I suddenly change it all with the next fad diet that comes hopping my way?

Who’s got more authority over my wellness, me or the Diet-Creators out there? I’m going to vote for me.

Really, all diets lead to one. If you do what’s right for you, you’re going to figure it out. You have the discernment to realize when something is not working for you. If intermittent fasting is upgrading your life, then keep going with it. If you can’t make it through the morning with just butter coffee, find something else that works for you.

At some point, you have got to take an plain look at what you are eating and figure whether it’s building you or hurting you. All diets lead to one. No single food is going to cover all your bases. You need variety and you also need some level of consistency. Eat the things you know make you feel healthy and strong and clear minded. Eat less of the things you know don’t make you feel that way.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing enough. I like to reference this phrase every once in a while: Little by little, every day, I get better in every way.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Avoiding muscle fatigue and knots

There is a training method to avoid getting muscle knots.

Pavel Tsatsouline talks about the phenomena of avoiding knots by limiting strength training to maximal outputs. You’ve probably heard about slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers are small, weak, and activate slowly, but can work for very long periods. Fast twitch IIX are large and activate fast, generating high power for flashes of time. Fast twitch IIA is in between these two.

Basically, we all have muscles that shoulder handle a variety of tasks at a range of loads. You can push a two thousand pound car down the road for a short distance, and you can also text with your thumbs unendingly.

Strength training with kettlebell swings involves a small load with maximal force. It does not require a person to lift the largest possible weight they can lift. It also isn’t so light that the exercise can be done without end. There’s a balance. The muscle fiber most active during this sort of exercise is the fast twitch IIA.

“When your reps slow down, it is the best indicator your IIA fast fibers have had it, and slow type I fibers are doing most of the work” (Kettlebell Simple and Sinister).

The problem is that slow twitch fibers, when strained with too much load, can spasm. These fibers are located closer to the bone and deeper inside muscle fiber groups. The conclusion in S&S is that exercising beyond the point of maximal output puts these slow twitch muscles into exhausted spasms. Thus, deep knots.

I am currently putting this statement to the test over the past week with kettlebell swings. I have had a knot in my shoulder blade for a while. It comes and goes, particularly when I eat wheat. However, I found that some days it would come back even though my diet was clean. I thought it had something to do with my shoulder mechanics, but I couldn’t figure out how to address it.

Revisiting this concept of muscle fibers, I tried to modify my behavior during swing sets. It was a little tricky, because at first glance it seemed that I needed to give full effort all the way through to the last repetition. However, this meant that I was still doing ten repetitions per set. And on some sets, I would get tired on the last swings.

Then I tried to limit my swing sets to only the best swings. This was difficult at first, because I had to really tune in to the difference between maximal output and maximal effort. It was easy to fool myself into thinking I was generating full force just because I was giving full effort. But over time, I started to see the difference. If I noticed any slow down or reduction in force, I stopped.

Guess what? It’s working. My shoulder is feeling much more relaxed in the past few days, despite the fact that I’ve been doing swings, getups, and other exercises on a daily basis. The difference is that I’m stopping my sets short when my output decreases. This means that I’m doing fewer reps on many of the swing sets.

So I guess I was pushing a little too hard before. It’s going to take some time to get back to 100 swings, but I think it will lead to much better results.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Get the full articles by email.
Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

The deload revisited in kettlebell training

I remember during my powerlifting phase in 2013-2014 how tough it was to keep pushing the envelope with squat and deadlift weight. The thing about progression training is that every exercise moves up in weight with every session. Although it was an incremental increase, as my strength advanced it became more difficult. Going from 180lb to 185lb, happy days. From 320lb to 325lb, not so happy. The thought of adding more weight after barely managing to do the current day’s squat sets was psychologically almost unbearable.

As I started to max out near the end of the 5×5 stage, before switching to 3×5, there were days when I had to drag myself to the gym. I would pack up my gym bag, put on my shoes, and just stand there in front of my door, hand on the knob, not wanting to go outside. It was just so rough. Then I would make it to the gym, do my warmups, and before I knew it I was grinding out more squats. It was absolutely thrilling to see myself get stronger than I thought possible, and it was harrowing on the days between training sessions.

Well, the built in mechanism that makes a good progression training bearable and realistic is the deload. The deload is an intentional drop in weight after a few unsuccessful attempts to hit all the reps and sets at the current load. If you tried three sessions in a row to squat 300lb, and managed to do 5, 4, 4, 3, 2, for example, on the third training session, you would deload the next session by 20% or 240lb. The whole attempt could look something like this on paper:

  • Day 1 290lb: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
  • Day 2 300lb: 4, 3, 3, 2, 2 – first attempt
  • Day 3 300lb: 5, 4, 4, 4, 3 – second attempt
  • Day 4 300lb: 5, 5, 5, 3, 3 – third attempt failed, time to deload
  • Day 5 240lb: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
  • Day 6 245lb: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5

This lifter is maxed out and not able to hit 5 sets of 5 reps at 300lb. Typically, it’s standard to try three attempts before deloading 20%. The lifter can then take a sort of break, having easier sessions at lighter weight for a while. What usually happens is that the lifter will once again build up to 300lb. A 20% deload gives about two weeks if every session is completely successfully. Eight sessions, three per week, comes to about two weeks and a few days.

This time around, the lifter finds 300lb. to be much easier. Sometimes it takes just one session to nail 5×5. Sometimes it takes two or three.

I’m finding in kettlebell training that, although I’m using exactly the same weight day after day, it can get more difficult to do swings sometimes. Factors like sleep, stress, and food can affect my training.

My first approach to dealing with decreases in strength was to power through it. I would do all the swings anyway, assuming that if I was giving it my all, and the kettlebell was coming up to chest height, I must be putting out maximum force. I started to develop some knots and fatigued muscles from doing this.

“The least productive, most exhausting and injury-producing form of resistance training is a high-rep semi-grind… Cuban coach Alfonso Duran used to tell young weightlifter Geoff Neupert to stop his sets before his reps slowed down.” (Kettlebell Simple and Sinister).

I decided to try stopping my sets before my swings slowed down. I also did two handed swings when I felt tired. Yesterday I still felt a bit tired from the week of sleep irregularity. So I did a mix of two handed and one handed swings, and stopped a few sets before I reached ten swings.

This seemed to help save my shoulders from overwork. I didn’t have to rest as long, and the best part is that every swing I did came out strong. I think I will continue this policy of stopping sets before slow down, as a form of deloading. So here are some of the deload options for kettlebell training:

  • Use a lighter weight
  • Use two hands instead of one (if you are already doing one-handed swings regularly)
  • Stop sets before swing slows down

My plan is to use these deload options when I don’t have full strength, until I do feel that I can do one handed swings with full force for all 100 reps.

Better to do just the best possible movements than to do extra inferior movements. This can probably be applied to any area of life.

Live powerfully,

Steve


Amazon Affiliate Links

I link to tools I have found to be useful and meaningful.

Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

The beauty of oxtail, an easy training session, and why goals matter

The other day I made some simple stew out of grass fed oxtail from Alderspring Ranch. Oxtail is just the cow’s tail. If you haven’t tried it, you must. The beautiful thing about oxtail is that it is simultaneously fatty, tendonous, and meaty. It’s perfect.

It can be made with minimal ingredients – salt and pepper are enough, salt alone makes it delicious. I wish I took a photo of the dish, but I didn’t, and thus it’s not on Instagram. The hard part about making oxtail is the time. It takes about two hours to cook it down to the proper tenderness. Put the tail in a heavy lidded pot with water covering about three quarters of it, add seasonings, bring to a boil, then reduce to a low boil or simmer. Wait one and half to two hours, until it’s falling off the bone. Simple.

The broth alone is to die for. If you’re eating grass fed oxtail, you have the most essential food in front of you. Good fats, collagen, and meat packed with micronutrients. Try it with white rice and a veggie dish, like broccoli or collard greens.

I had to temper my training load today. Woke up earlier than I wanted, and didn’t feel great. I think I’m getting over a little bug that’s going around. I took about 12-15 grams of vitamin C the day before and shook off the cough, but woke in the morning feeling a bit tired still.

So I did the usual warmup, five sets of goblet squats, hip bridges, and halos, and then started with two handed swings. I used the same weight, 24kg, as I wanted to see if I could handle it before moving down to 16kg. The first few reps were a bit of a shock, as my mind was really not engaged. I focused on making powerful contractions of my glutes and belly, and things got better. I proceeded to do a couple of two hand sets, then finished with one hand swings. I was working on maximal hip thrust, actively pulling with my lats on the down swings, and keeping the shoulders squared on the one hand swings.

Getups felt fine with the 24kg. I’m consistently doing ten sets under ten minutes, meaning I am ready to move up to the 32kg kettlebell. I’m waiting to establish a stable income before purchasing one, though. They are usually over $100. The time will come, so for now I am mastering the 24kg.

Goals matter because goals drive us. If you ask me, no physical training should take place without first thinking about the goal. It’s really easy to start something and then find that it’s not worth it. That’s because the effort to go to the gym, eat differently, and the feeling of being tired is hard to justify when you’re not getting closer to or hitting a target.

The type of goals I look for are long term. Losing ten or twenty pounds is a great goal. For how long? If this is something you would like to do for the rest of your life, we can start talking about how to do that. Then everything else makes sense. The struggle becomes meaningful, and more likely than not, the struggle lessens when the goal is long term.

I’m currently working on accomplishing the Simple goal of Kettlebell Simpler and Sinister. I know, I keep talking about this kettlebell stuff. The thing is, it’s what works for me now. Going to a gym is not feasible for me. Driving there and back, monthly fees, too many people, and not being able to train barefoot just aren’t worth it at the moment. Sure, there will be a day when I get back to deadlifts and squats.

With my goal in mind, I have a thing to train toward. If I get better at swings and getups with the 24kg, I know I can eventually take up the 32kg. I know what I need to eat, and how much, and what not to eat, to be able to recover and feel good enough to train again the next day.

This is a long term goal. I’m not going to get there in a few weeks, or even months. I’ve been going at it for almost five months now, and I probably have about the same amount of time before I get close. I’m not sure though. I do know that I will get there.

Whatever your goals are, they are good. They are right, they’re what you want, they’re worthy of achieving. Think deeply on them, believe in them, and commit yourself to achieving those goals.

Daily routines get you there. Pick things that are doable. Exercises that don’t exhaust you. Meals you can cook without a bunch of trouble. Things that don’t add more stress. But do this with your goal in mind. And just keep doing them.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Doing better instead of doing more

Atul Gawande, the famous physician author, writes in his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance about the consistent miniscule actions that make elite doctors successful. He talks about the mindset of absolute commitment to excellence. Very few physicians uphold the highest standards in their work, and the few who do live by that level of commitment.

This came to mind as I thought about doing swings and getups every day. It can get a bit mind numbing after months of doing the same exercise, over and over. The principles of technique, form, and strength before volume start to slip here and there. I start to get accustomed to doing all the reps, all the sets. Every so othen the most important aspect of strength training escapes me: to do each swing with maximal force and each getup with maximal attention to form, and to stop when that can no longer be fulfilled.

It’s a matter of integrity, too, I know. You have to be honest with yourself and admit when you don’t have the strength to finish a set. But I think before any of that, it’s this absolute commitment to excellence. Just like with diets, I think that strength programs are easy to start, hard to keep going. To keep going the right way, that is.

Pavel Tsatsouline insists in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister that each swing must be done with full force. At first this seems like a no brainer. Sure, I’ll do my best every time, why not? Then as the weeks and months pass by, I find myself trying to finish sets with some not-so-hot swings toward the end. What gives?

Pavel talks about this natural preference within us to sacrifice strength for volume. When we get tired, it’s our instinct to try to get it all done, even if it means suboptimal output to reach that end. I’d rather hit the ten reps with a few weaker swings at the end, then stop at six when I feel my strength going down. It’s a strong urge to accomplish or finish a task, that’s socialized or built into me.

The thing to train for is maximal strength. It doesn’t matter exactly how many repetitions and sets get done. Yes, there are basic numbers to follow, and this helps us understand the general volume that is needed to increase strength. But the real cores of training strength are learning to do the movements and then doing the movements with maximal force.

Most school systems teach us to finish all the problems, write a prescribed number of pages, read a set number of books, achieve a certain GPA. This is ingrained in most of us from around age five to around age 21. How do you get away from that in a world that actually rewards the quality of the output?

Maybe I’m getting too deep here, talking about the education system and sociology. But that’s my mode of thinking, that’s where I come from in terms of schooling. So to me it’s about thinking but also doing outside the box.

Physical training is one of the most basic places to start with conditioning yourself in any aspect of life. It’s physical, so it’s right there. To do it, you are involved not just with your body but with your mind. You structure your learning, you commit to repetitions in order to improve, and it’s all inclusive. I even think the soul gets something out of it.

So in summary, I’m trying to say that we can think about physical training as the practice of giving the best in order to make that best even better. Rather than sticking to our grade school habit of making the teacher happy and hitting all the numbers, we can play to nature’s true system of improvement through excellence.

We can take care to only give maximal effort, and to withhold from doing anything that is not so. This is hard. Very hard.

Live powerfully,

Steve


Amazon Affiliate Links

Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Get the full articles by email.
Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.