Living like the Hadza

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I just finished reading a killer article in National Geographic about the Hadza tribe of Tanzania.

They are probably the last surviving tribe on the African continent that still truly live like hunter gatherers. A truly present tense existence without the hassles of economy, taxes, job cuts or everything that ails modern society. They live remarkably worry-free and follow their likes. They spend a few hours a day (4-6) looking for food or water, nap whenever they feel like. They have the greatest food storage at their disposal (the Land), either at the nearest berry bush, baobab tree (bears a tasty fruit), wild bee-hive or a few poisoned arrows and a stalk & hunt away from baboon or giraffe meat.
I’m not saying I want to live in their conditions. But, I am envious of their peaceful existence, for however longer they can sustain it, with the encroaching civilization. These people are fit, healthy, resourceful, eat what the Land offers (really, how we’re meant to eat. Farming introduced many diseases and ailments into our society).
I guess I’ll stick to my eating habits, which I try to have resemble theirs, but for the occasional processed carb (beer, candy bar…) and try stalking and catching waves with my quiver of boards…

Seriously? On National TV?

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I was watching one of my favorite train wrecks yesterday, The Biggest Loser.

It seems the trainers are learning and evolving to be more constructive rather than all-out mean. I still dislike that they the way one of them uses kettlebells is inappropriate (using way advanced skills, like balancing on an upside down kettlebell, which is difficult but doesn’t accomplish more than a good old plank).
Anyway, one of the eliminated contestants winds up meeting with a former contestant who was his team partner the previous season. The guy had ballooned up to what seemed to be a heavier weight than when he had started. When questioned about his weight loss, he said he had other priorities and that he just wants to relax, and that when he takes care of other things, the weight will come off. What a crock!
The eliminated contestant expressed his concern for his buddy, seeing as he recognized in him what he used to do: make excuses, stay comfortable and in denial. I remember that same person going home for a visit, trying to eat healthy meals but saying he couldn’t find things he likes (he was a corn dog and fries guy), and his family (all morbidly obese by the way) telling him “you can do it” as they stuff themselves with fries!
So, here he is, a season later, bigger than ever, having blown an opportunity like TBL, with all the nutrition, support and training you can unrealistically get! I hope that the folks in his position can use this as a wake-up call and find the inspiration and motivation to be honest with themselves and that he became an unsuspecting herald for a condition that affects 2/3 of the US population.
There is nothing more important that your health. Not your family, your children or your work. And before you chastise me for saying I am a fitness nazi, which I am not, just ponder the consequences for not being healthy:
a) Diabetes.
b) Heart disease.
c) Cancer.
If these 3 don’t feel like they affect you, think about it when you are unable to care for yourself, or unable to care for your family because you cannot work. Or, when you suffer a heart attack, how it’s going to affect your children. You chronological age is a number, but your real age may be higher, meaning you may be 20 years old on your passport, but be over 40 (and not a healthy 40, in which a 40 y.o. person can have a real age of 20 something). So that heart attack is right around the corner.
And, oftentimes, it’s not one or the other. You can get the trifecta of conditions and become the super-villain Metabolic Syndrome X!How much trust should you place in someone who cannot even manage #1?
Be a hero: be healthy. Heroes always overcome hardships, get out of their way for the greater good. The greater good is taking care of your health. Everything else stems from it. Everything. Don’t believe me? Let’s debate.

Business Fitness

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This can sound like at least two things: the business of fitness or the fitness of your business.

If you address the former, the business of fitness is comprised of polar opposites. So many disciplines, gurus, options, preferences, proven techniques as well as snake-oil salespeople. How do you even discern what’s right for you?
As a whole, the fitness industry is doing well, despite the recession. People attach more value to what is important and especially to what they can control. You can’t control whether your company will keep you employed, though you can control the search for a back-up plan, but even that is oftentimes a gamble. But more and more, people realize that the one thing that can be improved regardless of the times is their physical wellness. Even the fittest of the fittest continuously improved their personal records or abilities, while rookies get started on adding years to their life, increase their chances of fighting all sorts of diseases and witness tangible improvements in their quality of life.
While some business have to scale back (for instance, individual personal training has dropped), one can always find their way to a group class (which can benefit both the trainer and the trainee alike, creating volume and savings, respectively).
Which leads me to the fitness of one’s business: Just like a barbell allows you to spread a load evenly and lift more with proper leverage versus 2 dumbbells of the same cumulative weight, how do you keep your own business fit? How do you leverage your load? I’ve already given an example for the business of personal training (group vs private classes), but here’s another example: corporate fitness, for instance, is about survival of the corporation before the individual. Which is why companies result to lay-offs when money is tight, rather than focusing on improving productivity in an already negative climate.
Think about our species: reproduction is essential to the survival of our species, while on an individual basis, it does little to affect you other than fulfill an emotional need even before addressing a primordial one. Not everyone choose to have children. Whether you do or not has nothing to do with your individual survival. Heck, not having kids can be an argument when you see the state of the world! But rather than focus on this pessimistic view, let’s turn back to the fitness of a business.
If a company addresses the individual needs collectively, its chances of survival greatly improve. But, how can you address individual needs “collectively”? Stay with me: find what it is that most people need, and employee appreciation tops most everything. Yes, everyone wants money, and everyone works for the ability to pay for things. But sooner or later, it is in our nature to want more. Sooner or later, productivity drops if there isn’t some form of incentive.
Incentive doesn’t have to be monetary. Rewards can come in the form of a company luncheon, an afternoon off or better yet, fitness.
Don’t roll your eyes just yet. You know what I do and what my passion is. But ask yourself: why do we all want more money? To get things we want? What do those things do for us? Make us more attractive to potential mates (it’s called “peacocking”). Looking good is part of the mating process too 🙂
But more seriously, find me ONE person who ultimately doesn’t like feeling better and looking better in the process. The feeling alone can boost one’s confidence enough so they appear more attractive. When you feel strong and healthy, you feel like you can accomplish a lot more.
So, business owners, CEO’s and HR managers, invest in the health of your employees by offering workshops or lectures on how people can better manage their wellness (fitness, health, safety -nothing boost more confidence like the ability to kick butt and defend yourself!-).
It is actually very cost effective, because that expense promotes not only productivity, but also employee loyalty. Additionally, a healthy employee costs less than an unfit employee whose immune system is weaker, thus more likely to call in sick or infect co-workers. In the long term, you can also benefit from breaks for insurance carriers for providing such benefits to your employees.
See, you can take care of individual needs collectively 🙂
Hire a fitness coach for your executive fitness. Schedule a luncheon presentation or a series of lectures on nutrition, posture, easy remedies and how to choose the best approach for each person to improve their wellness, and you’ll have happy employees instead of grumpy ones!

Relevance

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It is relevant to perform drills that are relevant to your movements.

It is relevant to have carryover from your workout to your life.
Why compartmentalize? Integrate. Share. Explore.
Allow yourself fun days for variety, but stick to the plan on everything else.
Variety is when you try that new move you saw in a magazine. It will not reshape your thighs in a matter of weeks by itself. Everything else you do will.
Side lunges have no magic movement that a regular lunge won’t do. You have to stabilize your body either way with the same muscles (you just may stretch some more than others). Side lunges can help in sports. But if you only workout to look good, keep those for variety days.
Stay focused, stay the course.
Lateral raises? When do you ever do them in real life? They’re not going to reshape your delts. Stick to good old overhead presses and focus on packing your shoulder and stacking your lats. You’ll work more muscles, stay safe and improve your posture.
Stay engaged, stay on track. Walk the (straight) line. Broken arrows don’t hit the target.

Theory and Practice: a philosophical essay on progress.

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I just read a good quote that an RKC comrade uses as his signature: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

In theory, if you gradually add a couple of pounds every week to your bench press, you should be able to press a thousand pounds over time. In practice, it doesn’t happen…
In theory, trapping an opponent’s right cross, breaking his right elbow and then twisting his right wrist into a half nelson works. In practice, it’s a lot more challenging (or in a real fight, that is, as you can practice the sequence successfully).
Should we throw out theory? Absolutely not. Theory is the foundation of philosophy, be it of the mind or of the body. Experimenting, applying the theory, which stems from a hypothesis, validates the theory, at least until proven wrong.
All things work till they don’t work anymore. The question is, why don’t they work anymore?
If you follow a certain diet and it’s working for you, then you stop losing fat or gaining muscle, whatever your goal, is the theory behind no longer valid? Has your body reached homeostasis?
Is it a matter of entropy? “An object in an unnatural state always returns to its natural state”?
The jury’s still out on this one (by jury, I mean my brain). I believe it is the change in acute variables. You may be following a strict powerlifting routine to bench press, but maybe you’ve changed the time of day for your training (the body actually likes routine, one theory implies, and you need to wave your loads in a micro, meso or macro cycle rather than “shock your muscles”, which confuses them and results in them underperforming). Or you’re sleeping pattern changed. Maybe your diet is not supporting your body’s increased caloric demand.
Unless you can isolate any given factor, or acute variable, as the culprit for your lack of continued progress (or plateau), you cannot claim with certainty that the system you’ve been using no longer works, that the theory is obsolete because it no longer works in practice.
This transitions my thought to another point: too much of your training regimen is left to chance.
Unless you categorically and systematically log your training and your nutritional intake, you are unable to analyze what needs to be modified in your training to break through your plateau. You may very well follow a certain protocol without changing its theoretical approach, because it will yield results in practice, without worrying about periodizing. For instance, I train heavy on Monday, light on Wednesday, moderate on Friday, with a couple of optional “variety” days. The drills are the same on MFW, the weight is the same but the volume differs (less reps, or sets) and I increase the load every 5-6 weeks. However, on any given day, my balance may be off. My stress level makes me less focused or I may be at 100% and perform like a champ. I log everything, every detail, observation, technique modification. I leave nothing to chance.
So, empirical evidence doesn’t disprove a theory. It may very well reinforce it if you are able to identify and isolate any given factor. A mishmash of factors creates confusion and you cannot state with certainty that this or that prevented you from reaching your goal. Address one thing, and one thing only, and see how it affects your training by keeping everything else the same. If that didn’t solve it, address a different variable.
In theory, it should work 🙂

We can’t handle the truth!

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Or most of us, apparently.

The truth doesn’t set you free. I makes you accountable. Responsible. Aware. The truth exposes you and your hidden weaknesses, your troubled spots, your imbalances. It sheds a light on what needs to be taken care of and on what’s been neglected.
Alas, most people behave like ostriches and prefer to ignore any and all of the aforementioned. And, as a very specific human trait, I’ve witnessed this in all aspects of life, being guilty of it myself at times.
Despite constantly seeking variety, humans are also creatures of comfort and habit. It’s an interesting dichotomy because on the surface, we always look for the latest newest thing, be it a gadget, or a fad of sorts. Deep down, and especially under duress, we revert to what we know, and what we know are the patterns we established over the years.
I’ve experienced several times this year alone a profound resistance to change among people. In my line of work, that would be people who are in denial of what they need to do to get to where they want to be. Changing eating habits, improving movement patterns to correct posture, strengthening weak muscles, increasing range of motion through mobility and flexibility work.
In other areas, I’ve noticed the same thing. For instance, my wife, who is a real estate agent, ran into people who bought a house years ago with serious plumbing, drainage, mold and termite problems, but never did a thing about it and they now seem surprised that it comes up during inspections. Gee, you REALLY didn’t see that coming? Ignore a problem, it only gets worse!
Also, not only do people reject the truth, but they also reject the unknown. It’s much easier to criticize something you don’t know if you’re not educated on the subject. I just introduced a person to kettlebell training who had prior misgivings about it, who happily realized what is it they provide, only to have my efforts thwarted by some schmuck doctor who said “kettlebells are the worst thing for you, stick to machines”!!! Don’t knock it till you try it!
I recently received a funny email, one of those joke lists, and one of the points was “Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.”
Pride is, I guess, the worst of all sins.

What’s a wild goal?

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What is a Wild Goal?

Redefining fitness (credit to Tara Wood of Wildfitness, London, Kenya and more!)

Why do you want to be fit? What’s your motivation? What does “fitness” really mean anyway? Each person that joins a Wildfitness course will have their own aspirations and ideas about fitness. Maybe they want to be more energised or to get bigger muscles, to drop a dress size or to train for a marathon.

At Wildfitness we have a different starting point. Our ultimate wild goal is this:

To eat, move and live in harmony with nature.

It’s a bit lofty but we like to aim high! The urge to be more wild and more in “harmony” with the planet is blossoming wherever you look; from people leaving the gym to train outdoors, to a recent rush on seeds as people grow their own food, to an ever increasing awareness of climate change and the need for sustainability. So, practically, what does this lofty goal mean when we are thinking of how to get fit?

“Be strong to be useful”

Georges Hébert, a French visionary who developed the modern assault course, observed tribes in Africa and commented: ‘(African) bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skilful, enduring, resilient and yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature’. In the context of our evolutionary origins, we would have needed to be strong and healthy enough to feed ourselves and our family (hunting and gathering), possibly to fight, to flee, to travel over all sorts of terrain, to carry things, to climb, to jump, to balance, to swim, to dance and to play. Looking at tribal people today many are incredible all-round athletes who are resilient and adaptable. But where we are now in modern life, what sort of fitness should we aspire to? Hébert’s motto was ‘be strong to be useful’. What is it to be useful physically in today’s world? What should our modern fitness goals be?

Wild Goals for modern times
Be useful

Of first importance is to be healthy and vital enough so that your body isn’t a burden to yourself or to others. To be able to move around, pick up your bags, have a strong immune system, be free from pain and be happy in your body. This is a platform that everyone needs, for themselves firstly but you’ll also find this healthy vitality is infectious and makes a difference to those around you.

Be a natural mover
Natural movement is movement that our bodies are adapted for and perfectly designed to do – running, walking, jumping, balancing etc. Predominantly training in a way that suits our body’s design will best maintain our health. If you get a monkey to hop around like a kangaroo and a kangaroo to swing through trees, the monkey might get a sore back and the kangaroo will get shoulder pain (and other kangaroos laughing at him). In the same way humans develop structural problems from a) not moving enough and b) from doing unnatural movements e.g. rowing, biking, machine-based weights. Unnatural movements aren’t bad, they just need to be balanced by enough natural movement to maintain sound biomechanical skill.

Be a generalist
Learn to climb, jump, swim, lift, fight, dance. Learn to run over all terrains, over a range of distances. Gym-fitness, or the fitness of an athlete or sportsman confines you to a narrow ability that doesn’t utilise the incredible human adaptability which is ultimately what makes us such a useful animal. Introducing variety of movement is not only more fun but it makes your entire body feel amazing.

Be skilful
Learning physical skills will develop you as a human being and ultimately will develop your perception of yourself and the world. Skills make movement engaging and motivating and are the key to every phase of the physical journey. Become more graceful when you run, become an effective fighter and gain more confidence, learn how to lift and throw heavier weights further, teach your body how to be comfortable with very intense periods of movement, learn the skill of eating when you need to eat.

Be efficient
All animals in nature strive for efficiency, aiming to get the most out of everything they eat and every movement they make. A Wild metabolism is not a “raised” or “boosted” metabolism but one where everything you eat is efficiently turned into energy and health, and where your appetite reflects the food needs of your body. This creates a sustainable relationship with nature and will keeping you lean and vital. Similarly, improving the efficiency of your movement will make you graceful, with immediately more power and stamina than you had before.

Be resilient
To be comfortable and able to perform in a range of environments and situations is much more useful and gratifying than hitting targets under highly controlled conditions. For example being able to run a marathon barefoot, be it hot or cold, with no carb drinks is a ‘wilder’ goal than having to wear special gel shoes and have particular supplements every few kilometres. The first marathon ever was run by Pheidippides to deliver the vital news of Athenian victory over Persia, run spontaneously without any training or support (although he did die from exhaustion thereafter…..!).

Be a movement aesthete
Don’t focus on aesthetic goals in themselves; focussing on the quality of your movement will give you a much more beautiful body and it’s more fun, more effective (short and long term) and will result in less injury. The out-dated goals of being pumped up for men and skinny for women are not healthy and do not necessarily result in more beautiful bodies than those shaped by natural movement.

Be co-operative
Humans are inherently tribal and co-operative. Being ‘useful’ can be defined as our ability to help other people and our environment. Initially this may mean that we won’t be a burden to others or that we will energise people around us. But also if needed we are able to be helpful – carrying, lifting, gardening, rescuing or being a physical inspiration to others. Rather than training for an individual performance target, train as a team or with less specific goals. This includes co-ompetition which is where you can use competition to hone your skills while being respectful and encouraging of those you compete with. Martial arts has a very sophisticated ceremony to ensure co-ompetition.

The future of fitness

It gets me tingly to think of people becoming all round athletes, skilful, useful, co-operative, resilient, graceful; WILD. I don’t think it’s too much to say that it is what the world needs and it is the fitness of the future….

It’s inspirational, more than motivational.

Eat, move and live to be Wild. Krrrrr.

Tara Wood, September 2009. Founder of Wildfitness.

Productivity vs Activity (a poetic booster)

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When things feel blue and plateaus gets the best of you,

Hope is only but a glimmer and rings not true,
You tell yourself “hey, at least I’m doing something”,
But your actions are misdirected at nothing.
How do I overcome and really get things done?
Seek out, define what results you expect, bar none!
Action without goal is a rebel with no cause.
Can’t sit there alone and expect to get applause.
Formulate a plan, a strategy and tactics,
Trim all the useless junk, and only keep what sticks.
Set sorrow, self-pity and excuses aside,
Now set some long term goals, begin to walk in stride!

When reaction is the desired result.

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Today, I attended a Kali Workshop I hosted at my gym, Action Fitness. Kali is a Filipino martial art known for its quick hand work with bare hands, sticks, knives etc. and popularized by Matt Damon in the “Bourne” series of movies.

I had spent the majority of the week at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in New Mexico, assisting our Chief Instructor Pavel Tsatsouline in teaching kettlebells to PT instructors, air marshalls, border patrol folks, SEALs and more. Needless to say, I was a bit “brain fried” at the end of the week, including during the workshop today.
The lesson: it is amazing how one’s skills improve from teaching others. When you see your own mistakes, you become better not only at troubleshooting them, but also spotting them quickly. Additionally, the adage of “only perfect practice makes perfect”, a favorite of Pavel’s, rang even more true.
How this links to today’s martial art workshop lies in repetition, or rote if you prefer. In any combat sport, the intend is to maim your opponent (forget spiritual enlightenment for a second and get real). Movements have to be precise, or the consequences are immediate and rather unpleasant. (By the way, I don’t intend to brag and apologize if it happens to come across as such, but I have been practicing martial arts for well over 20 years). You have to practice every move thousands of times before it becomes part of you. Today, as I did a few months ago at another extended weekend Kali workshop, I went into some sort of daze-meets-trance, kind of sleepy to be quite honest (not for lack of stimulation, au contraire, but out of mental exhaustion). I was countering, deflecting, blocking, redirecting, striking, triangulating like a machine, with surgical precision. My automated moves were flowing, with the only awareness being the safety of my opponent/practice partner.
My excessive prose has a purpose: to illustrate that when you train with weights, be it your body, dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells, you also are fighting. Fighting the load. Fighting your craving for sweets. Fighting the excess deposits of fat on your trouble areas. Fighting aging, arthritis or whatever life threw at you. Your muscles are torn and are rebuilding themselves in that fight. If at any point your form goes out, you’ve created an injury that may take hours, days, weeks or years to appear. You don’t get the “instant gratification” of a punch to the chin, a kick to the gut or a dull-but-still-hard practice knife to the ribs. It takes years to master martial arts, but only an instant to get injured.
Martial arts are all about practice. So should your workouts be.
I am far from being a master, but I have been practicing the moves over and over so I can trust my body to respond, almost subconsciously, as it did today. The same should go with everyone’s practice of any physical activity. Tiger Woods still takes lessons and still practices his golf swing. I myself just improved my own kettlebell swing thanks to a few intensive days with highly qualified instructors. But I still have to be focused and I practice my swings, I don’t just swing the kettlebell.
I also saw that in an 80’s TV show called “Stingray”, where the hero was memorizing stuff by going into a “sleepy trance” so it becomes subconsciously imprinted!

A good trainer doesn’t need to smoke.

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I am not talking about cancer sticks.

I am talking about “smoking” someone in the sense of thoroughly destroying somebody by exhausting them for no other purpose than to just create a puddle of sweat.
Who do you think is the better trainer? The person who’s going to make you run a mile at full throttle, then have you do push-ups till you puke and squats till you can’t get on or off the toilet, waking up the next day unable to comb your hair or walk down the stairs? Or, would you prefer to feel all your muscles in the right places, by engaging them correctly while correcting any postural issues, using a weight you can lift with drills you’re getting better at and finish the workout with something left in the tank so you can go on with your day and best of all, go back to training the next day so you can continue on your path to success?
I’m not saying an all-out workout is bad. But do it only a couple of times a year, like at a national competition, or to get a world title in some special event. Even if it’s a hard run or a pull-up personal goal. Otherwise, it’s the law of diminishing returns. You’ll get better results training in the 50-80% range and go the distance rather than kill yourself with a “last chance workout”, which is like cramming for an exam the night before.
‘Nuff said.