Gym Bullies

A few weeks ago there were a spate of articles in the UK press regarding the prevelance of sexual harassment in Globo (aka commercial) gyms and the Netflix documentary on the Bikram yoga guru that really opened my eyes to what women endure on the daily. Also, not so long ago, I witnessed  another type of bullying situation that, I realized later, was not unknown in Globo gyms.  To me, the gym is a sort of universal right, the way access to clean drinking water is a right.  It’s where one goes to improve one’s physical and mental health.  When emotionally stunted trolls think they can interfere with that right, it touches a nerve.

The two types of harrassment I have witnessed in Globo gyms are varying levels of  male on female sexual harrassment and straight up male on male physical bullying.  I should preface this by saying I have never witness either behaviour in a strength training gym. Doing so in such an environment would be an excellent way to get summarily ejected from the premises and could quite possibly be very hazardous to the offenders’ health.

Sometimes everything in life seems to go pearshaped at the same time.  At times like those, it’s essential to have a healthy, productive way of working off one’s stress.  Let’s establish the baseline that everyone, absolutely everyone, deserves to be able to do so without harrassment of any kind.  One caveat, however – in serious sports training such as powerlifting, boxing, MMA, crossfit, gymnastics, etc you will be sometimes pushed to your physical limits.  This, however, is to expand your boundaries.  There should, and usually is, a clear boundary between this sort of training and “hazing”.

As guy, and not a particularly small dude at that, I haven’t experienced harassment in a gym for a long, long time (more about that later).  The most prevelant form of harassment I notice in globo gyms are various levels of sexual harassment – from the ubiquitous staring “creepers” to (occasionally) particularly egregious thirsty dudes who think they can chat up women during their workouts.  It goes without saying that 80 percent of women in globo gyms never venture into the weight room, and it’s probably for this reason.  Rather, they do classes or congregate in large numbers in the cardio area, relying of the power of numbers like wildebeest on the Serengeti.  Of the remaining 20 percent of women in the weight area, some have pretty strong personalities and God bless ’em.  It seems that even creeps know to steer clear.  Invariably, however, some thirsty dude you’ve never seen before will make a nuisance of himself to some poor woman.  (NB:  it’s usually not a regular because, at least in my experience, socially handicapped guys like this don’t last a long time).  There is a difference between normal friendly behaviour like nodding, saying “hi”, asking if piece of equipment is free, etc and thirsty-ass harassment.

A few months ago I was in the bench press area and next to me was a woman who I know very sightly.  Some dude (who I had never seen before) comes up and immediately appoints himself her personal trainer.  Now, he was a good looking guy which in his case engendered a sense of entitlement as in “no matter how clumsy and annoying my approach is, she’s going to dig me”.   This guy was all over her like white on rice with a nonstop line of bullshit that was painful to witness.  He went right up to her, started talking (making her take off her headphones) and began giving her “advice”.  Worse still, he knew F*** all about bench-pressing (which she was doing correctly, she obviously didn’t need his crap “advice” and didn’t seem to dig the attention).  It wasn’t a case of some cheeky, self-confident guy, the whole approach was oppressive and weird.

I’d like to say 2 things:  firstly, I’m not a hater, if this guy was smooth and had a good line of patter with “positive” energy, I’d be the first to give a silent golf clap.  Secondly, I’ve learned over many years to keep mostly to myself in Globo gyms.  I remain friendly, of course, but intefere in other peoples’ shit, nope.  This, however, was beyond the pale.  Luckily the guy would periodically go to the other areas of the gyms (I watched him, he was trying to “chat” up several women simultaneously with the same shit “advice” approach  – I swear you can’t make this up).  At one point this women was looking for a 10 Kg plate so I said she could take mine as I was changing plates.  I then said, hey, you know so and so who was a gym acquaintance of both of us and we started to chat about benching which, it turns out, she did indeed know a whole lot more about than this moron.  At this point your man comes back and literally interrupts us, dishing out more bullshit “advice”.  She ignored him and we continued chatting about proper form.  He tried again, employing the old “talking louder and louder” approach to interrupting.  I began to think I may have to ping this dude upside the head with a 20kg plate as there was something off here, this went well beyond a tone-deaf semi-harrasing manner of “chatting up”.  The guy was clearly off his meds.  He eventually left to go try his luck elsewhere in the gym.  The woman who was benching finished her sets and eventually left.

Now, this guy was about my size so I was not physically intimidated.  What was the intimidating was the very real possibility that the guy was crazy or having a manic episode.  I thought about the woman, though, who was maybe 55 kgs and 1m60.  What’s it like to be harassed and physically intimidated by a some big, possibly crazy dude who is clearly sexually interested in you?  Hopefully, this sort of incident is rare.  However, if I was that woman and it happened to me, even once, you better believe I’d steer clear of the weight room and possibly even attend a women-only gym.  I didn’t really understand it before but I totally get it now.  As I’ve told my daugher, if you must work out in Globo gyms, try to find one with really positive energy, with 0 tolerance for this sort of bullshit.  Better yet,  find a strength training gym.  I’m not saying this would never happen in a speciality gym, but if one chooses carefully the probability is much lower.

There is another form of gym “harrassment” which, thankfully, one sees very rarely these days.  When I started weight training as a 145lb weakling in the mid 1980s, weight rooms didn’t just “seem” intimidating, they were intimidating.  Weight rooms in North America were inihabited solely by two groups, US football teams and roided out bodybuilders.  The ambiance in your local weight room was there something akin to taking your first stroll out into the “yard” at San Quentin prison.  It’s hard to communicate just how neanderthal the mentality was.  Football teams are, I suppose, insular by definition.  They are team, after all, and perhaps more apt than most other sports to be “juicing”.  Bodybuilders in those days, however, had to been seen to be believed.  Huge, hulking super roid beasts decked out in resplendent mullets, perma-tans, ridiculous multicolored baggy “gym” pants, cutoff stringer t-shirts and, very weirdly, Rebook hightop gym shoes that were the same model their high-haired girlfriends wore to aerobics class.  It was a hugely Gay esthetic, but these same dudes would beat you to a pulp for merely suggesting that.  It wasn’t that one felt passively intimidated, if you dared to wander into the weight area you were straight up harassed.  “Who are you, what are you doing here, don’t touch that bench, I’m using it…hey, Tony, look at this guy” etc, etc. Also, I’ve heard recently that the roid rage phenomenon is rare, blah, blah.  Perhaps it is now, but I can tell with 100% certainty it wasn’t then.  Fight in gyms or anyplace that the bodybuilders frequented were common.  Perhaps the “gear” people are using those days was more apt to make them behave like mentally addled toddlers.  Suffice it say that after a few forays into weight room and basically being told to “F” off, I got the hint.  Happily, sometime in mid-90s attitudes changes and I soon found myself back in the weight room.

Bottom line – don’t ever accept harassment in the gym.  It’s everyone’s right to be there and to train without some asshole ruining it. It’s relativey easy to spot a gym that tolerates an evironment that allows for harrassment.  If that’s the case with your gym, find a new one.

 

Why Powerlifting does not = Chick Magnet: a Primer

In past posts I have expounded at length about the many benefits of powerlifting.  We’ve also examined the “why” of powerlifting; namely, it’s insanely fun to be able to lift heavy shit.  However, nobody every tells you the shameful truth underlying this otherwise laudable sport.  Sit back, gentle reader, and clutch your emotional support pillow as your fearless author lays some truth bombs on your (lard)ass.  Powerlifting maybe life, chico, but the lifestyle and everything about it is kryptonite to many women.  Why?  Glad you asked:

  • You fuscular, son – Powerlifting ain’t about aesthetics.  Every weightlifter knows that weight moves weight.  If you’re  serious about the sport, you will gain weight both in muscle mass but you’ll more likely than not have some fat on top of it – aka “fuscular”.  Which looks bulky AF and, as every powerlifter knows, makes buying clothes a neverending challenge.  The body type is decidedly not straight up fat guy, but neither does it scream Adonis.  So, if you take your nutrional and body comp advice from Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength, you will undoubtably lift more weight.  You just won’t be using those strong, strong arms to beat back the hordes of admiring women.
  • Strong body equals weak mind?  – I know, I know, logically speaking this doesn’t make sense but stereotypes die hard.  Lifting weights is for meatheads goes the old trope.  You must be some sort of emotionally and intellectually stunted moron to want to lift weights.  What are you trying to compensate for?  Obviously, lifting weights doesn’t automically qualify you as a genius, but neither is it evidence of being terminally dim.  Why, then, is this attitude so prevelant?
  • Classism:  Simply put, any sport that requires strength is for the lower classes, the hoi polloi.  (Ironically underlining how far we’ve deviated from the classical physical ideal of ancient Greece).  This explains the persistent classist attitude in the US regarding baseball vs. American football.  Baseball is famously the favorite sport of American intellectuals while football is seen as a very blue collar, working class past-time.  While I myself prefer baseball, I have to admit the football is actually the more intellectually and strategically interesting.  It’s the Art of War in real time and in 3D.  Nevertheless, tennis, running, baseball and cycling are all sports that get the upper middle class seal of approval.  Your girlfriend or partner would not frown on you discussing these sports at her BFF’s next cocktail party.  Not coincidentally, while these sports will make you fit, you will not be jacked unless you’re taking the same “vitamin” regime as A-Rod, Jose Canseco or Barry Bonds.  On the whole, however, being more muscular than the average and engaging in a strength sport is akin to advertising you’re working class (and possibly illiterate) in blinking red lights.  And that is a huge turn off for many women, although many would not admit it.
  • Intimidation:  This is weird one, but I understand it on the surface.  I’m not saying that powerlifters intimidate people the way MMA fighters do.   Most women, as we’ve illustrated, will have taken one look and classify you as a bulky simpleton with low earning potential.  Some guys, however, will manifest a similar response but with a “competition” angle.  More than once I’ve found myself in, literally, a cocktail party where some guy will ask me if I lift, what my PRs are, etc and then mention that he did better – back in high school.  My dear Sir, if that is indeed the case, kudos to you. Never, ever call this into question.The only sane and mature response to that is “Cool” and then swiftly change the subject.  Or you get the guy who will try to subtly spin the “you’re dumb”  or “you’ve got issues” tropes because that’s what some guys do in social settings.  Whatever.  Very rarely, you’ll meet a secure dude who will ask you questions about powerlifting either because he’s interested in the subject or maybe just being social.  Which brings up another important point, which is…
  • The first rule of powerlifting is you do not talk about powerlifting.  This means do not just casually bring it up in conversation or, God forbid, try to “humble brag”  about your lifts, training, etc to a fine young Thang.  For one, It’s a niche sport and a boring one at that unless you are actively involved in it.  Basic decency and rudimentary understanding of social etiquette require one to keep to topics that are relatable and, hopefully, even interesting to the other person.  Nothing quite screams socially stunted Incel as bragging about your lifts, unbidden, or worse droning on about your training.  And no, if she does Crossfit this doesn’t give you a hall-pass to talk shop.  For one, she probably knows tons of much more “shredded” guys from her “box” (I’m referring her Crossfit gym, you animals).  Also, you’ll invariably bring up the whole “AMRAP”ing heavy weights by an already tired athelete is a recipe for disaster, encourages bad form, etc, etc…and she’ll shut you off for contradicting Crossfit canon.  Currently Crossfitters are the notorious “fitness bores” of the lifting community…let’s keep it that way.
  • The exception to the rule:  On some rare social occasions the fact that you powerlift might come up, either from a acquaintance or a particularly efficient “wingman”.  Now, gentle, lardy, powerlifting reader (see, we read) this is your one and only shot to do discuss your nerdy, niche passion in public.  Don’t f##& it up.  And by that I mean respond to the question, as in “Thanks Julio, the competition prep is going well, I hope to PR in bench”.  And then quickly change the subject to say, the relative merits of Cabernet Franc and what it brings the overall Bordeaux “assemblage”.  This works because you will look a renaissance man, a multifaceted James Bond like character schooled in many different arcane arts.  I sincerely hope for your sake that powerlifting ain’t the ony thing you got going on, Bucko.

We all need a party-trick – or the fun of cultivating obscure, semi-useless natural talents

Talent is the natural aptitude or skill one has in any given action.  If one is really fortunate, one is able to combine their given talent with their livelihood.  If you have a calling, as the saying goes, you will never “work” a day in your life.  What I’m talking about is something that comes easier to you than it seemingly does to others although one must work hard to refine this talent.  Most of us, if we’ve lived at least semi-full lives, have discovered a number of things we are terrible at,  a smaller collections of things we are middle of the road average at and a very small list of things that, for one reason or another, we kick-ass in.  This post is a celebration of the cultivation of those weird, random talents.

When I was 11 I begged my mother for months to let me take martial arts classes.  It’s not that she didn’t want me to, it’s just that we didn’t have that much money at the time.  Finally, she relented, and we found a suitable dojo/boxing gym.  This place was open 7 nights a week – the first 2 hours for boxing, the 2nd two hours for Shotokan Karate.  I usually went a minimum of 5 days a week and attended both training sessions.  After 10 or 11 months of this the following things became apparent.  I was shitty boxer and at best I was able to attain a level that didn’t provoke outright embarassment in onlookers.  On the other hand, I was better in Karate…and what really distinguished me was my flexibity, speed and kicking ability.  My kicks were well above average, and my hands, even in Karate were, well, meh.  For those of you who are new to martial arts, Shotokan is a Japanese style that is not generally known for flashy kicks.  I , however, lived for such, so this being the early 80s I ordered books (yes, kiddies, no Youtube tutorials) written by well-known Korean Taekwondo practitioners that gave detailed technique breakdowns of many jump-spinning kicks, double jump spinning kicks and the like.  Soon  I started to do tournament sparring and it turns out I was relatively succesful.  I was painfuly shy at this point in my life so nobody at school had the slightest idea what I was doing with my spare time until my tournament results got some very localized media attention.  But perhaps even funnier, of the “party trick” variety, was the reception I got at first in the actual tournaments.  I remember once I destroyed this kid, a black belt, 3 points to 0 with rapid fire high kicks.  As we finished the head judge said “Hey, outstanding job for a yellow belt, you do Taekwondo?”  When I replied “No, Shotokan”, he did a doubletake and laughed.  The thing is, I trained 10 to 14 hours a week on this really obscure (especially at the time) skill that was really only applicable in this very specific setting.  I have never been a skilled fighter, I don’t have the instincts.  What I was very good at, however, was this very specific form of “tag” that is tournament karate sparring.

Another very, nay, extremely unlikely skill that I possess is the benchpress.  If you told me at 18 that one day I’d be that dude in the gym who benchpresses more than everyone else, I’d have laughed my ass off.  Until my mid-40s, I had a slimmer atheletic build.  I’ve always had fairly broad shoulders but otherwise I wasn’t big-boned, hairy chested or, at the time, overly burdened with muscle.  I was, and in some ways remain, the original metrosexual.  Benchpressing was for Neanderthals.  I was much more focused in my 20s and 30s on my 10K times than powerlifting.  Fast forward 2 decades in time and almost 8 years of Powerlifting training.  My deadlift is pathetic by almost any standard, my squat is respectable when I’m not injured but my bench is another matter.  On any given day in a commercial gym I can probably outbench anyone in the gym, even the heavier guys.  I might not out-bench everybody in a powerlifting gym, but I’ll at least make a good showing for myself.  I don’t grind out my benchpresses, they go up easily, even when I’m very close to my 1RM…until I’m over that limit and it doesn’t move.  I never train to failure and I only fail lifts a couple of times a year.  As my coach asked me the other day, “So what’s it like having this one weird thing you’re really good at?  I bet it doesn’t come up much in cocktail party chat”…

Finally, the last thing I’m weirdly good at is Trivial Pursuit or Jeapordy type games.  My cousin actually had a week long winning streak on Jeapordy program (RIP Alex Trebek) in the 90s so perhaps it’s in the genes.  So much so that I immediatey vibed with with the move Slumdog Millionaire when it came out.  I just happen to know a lot of weird, random facts for a number of weird, random reasons.  I clean up in pub quizzes, as long as it’s general interest and not too (which can happen where I live) UK specific.  I’m always getting the “WTF, how do you know that?!?!” reaction.  What can I say, I guess rampant boredom and no TV growing up had something to do with it…

We all need these party tricks, these obscure skills that maybe don’t garner much public glory but make us feel good about ourselves.  Firstly, because skills or talents are only discovered and developed because you’ve gone out there and tried many things until, lo and behold, here’s this crazy thing that you’re better at than most people.  Secondly, you need to work hard take the skill in question to the next level.  All of the skills I mentioned above were examples applying many hours of hard work to a specific apptitude.

Hello DOMS, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…

Over the weekend I had the profound pleasure of actually taking part in a privately held, very much improvised, socially distanced barbell workout.  A friend of a workout buddy owns a warehouse so 5 of us gathered to lift some weights for the first time in 2 months (Note: in the country where I live,  gatherings of up to 6 people are allowable under new measures as of last week).  The barbells were most decidedly not regulation size or weight and all of the other equipment, such as it was, was a monument of ingenuity and making do what was on hand.  Nevertheless, I was absolutely thrilled to take part.  Man does not live on bike rides alone…

“So”, you might ask, “how did it go after no heavy barebell training for the last 2 months”?  Honestly, not as bad as I had thought.  Yes, I am detrained and, yes, I lost strength but I was pyschologically prepared.  You can’t expect miracles if you’ve lifted nothing heavy in 2 months.  Also, the lifting itself (deadlift and bench press) was made more difficult by a short, non-standard 8Kg barbell instead of a longer, 20kg standard one.

Deadlifts were tough.  The weights were shorter than “bumper” plate height so consequently we had to bend down further than usual to pick them.  I did 5×5 at weight that would have been very easy 2 months ago, and it proved to be challenging. I was moderately gassed by the 5 rep of each set.  After convential deadlifts,  we put the barbell between stacks of pallets to do “rack pulls” at varying heights

I was pleasantly suprised with the bench presses.  I did 5×5 at a moderately heavy weight relatively easily, especially considering the short bar and the improvised bench set-up.  I guess muscle memory is a real thing and training the movement over years does pay off.  Hopefully I’ll be able to train in this improvised manner twice a week until gyms open again.

The funniest side-effect of this training was the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) that I encountered the day after the training.  My entire posterior chain (basically the muscles from my hamstrings all the way up to my Traps) were well and truly sore…And I was as happy as a clam.   I was correctly recruiting all the required muscle groups on my deadlifts, so my form hasn’t completely degraded.  Interestingly, I had no soreness in my chest, shoulders and triceps although in relative terms I was lifting heavier for bench presses.  Anywho,  it was great to be back in the saddle, metaphorically speaking by challenging my body once again.  Hobbling around and groaning like an old man is small price to pay.

Look, the confinement has meant that making baked goods and binging on Netflix are almost laudable, socially responsible activities.  I can dig it, however to enjoy the Yin of serial couch potatoing, I need the Yang of regular physical stress (aka training).

What not going to the gym feels like.

We are 2 months into this pandemic and gym rats the world over are agonizingly jonesing for an “iron fix”.  Yes, not being able to train really, truly sucks.  Some of the ways it blows are obvious and there is also some unexpected “suckage” which I will outline shortly.  Suprisingly, though, there a few silver linings to this flab-inducing, gainz-stealing cloud.  So, with no further ado, here is my take on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the great Covid 19 Gym Drought:

Obvious Suck Factors:

  • Bye-Bye Gainz:  You consistently train for years and months and are forced to throw it out the window.  This is beyond frustrating.  Literally 2 days before everything shutdown I did all time Bench and Deadlift PRs in the gym.  I was on track to smash  competition PRs in my scheduled May competition but alas…
  • Home bodyweight workouts just don’t cut it:  Sammy Hagar won’t drive 55 and I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for dreary, lonely bodyweight workouts.  Look, if that’s your thing, my hat’s off to you.  I do them, but no as regularly as I should and with little joy.
  • There goes what little social life the majority of weirdo Powerlifters have in the first place:  Hey, we all miss the social aspect.  If you spend that much time at the gym training it’s de facto part of your social life.  For many of us the daily routine was work, gym and then  home and now it’s work at home with no gym, for the vast majority of us.   Hello, cabin fever.
  • Endorphin withdrawal:  For most of us, training was a sustainable, effective method to relieve stress.  Also, the emotional satisfaction of hitting training goals and achieving PRs was/is indescribable.  It’s no surprise that alcohol consumption is sky-rocketing which, is unfortunate.  Alcohol as horrible, extremely short-sighted and wildly counter-productive method of stress reduction, but I get it.  The only reason I know this is I drank all the beer, all of it, and so am uniquely qualified to report that it don’t work, folks.  If I was still on the sauce, you wouldn’t go wrong buying stock in the beverage company of your choice right now.

Less Obvious Suck Factor

  • No more “Super Power”:  Okay, this going sound funny to the uninitiated..and hell, maybe I’m the only who feels this way, but here goes.  When you train in powerlifting for a while, you get strong, and it’s actually a lot of fun to be strong.  Lifting heavy stuff is a real gas.  And, let’s face, there is is more than a little pride mixed into the equation.  However, if you’re not training, you’re getting weaker and it’s a bit a pschological hit.  Not a major one if you’re relatively well-adjusted, but a bummer nontheless.
  • Going from Fuscular to, er, well, flabby:  Powerlifters do not train for aesthetic reasons but nonetheless one does get jacked from training, albeit perhaps still somewhat “fleshly” for some of us.  If you’re not training, you’re losing muscle, which means you’re just another Cheeto eating slob watching Joe Exotic on Netflix.

Silver Linings:

  • Injury Recovery – Let’s face it, if you train seriously for any period of time, you are walking around with a series of injuries in various stages of recovery.  2 months off of “forced” recovery will allow you to heal.  I am finally resolving a nagging shoulder issue, so there’s that at least.
  • More time for family – I am spending more time with kids which is great.  Before, during the work week it was work, gym, home, fix dinner, bed.  Now it’s it’s work, go biking with the kids in the early evening, make dinner with them and, yes, bed.  This is priceless, especially since they are teenagers.
  • (Re)discovering other physical activities – As I said above, biking is one of physical activities available to us, as is hiking.  We live near a number of forests so that is an incredible bonus.  There is no better stress reliever known, not even power-lifting, than walking or biking deep in a forest on a beautiful spring day.  I used to do this quite a bit before my kids were born and now we can do it together.  Also, and this is weirdly specific, I’ve become fixated on my ab-roller when at home.  I used to avoid ab training like the plague, but now it almost seems “new”.

Life imitates meme…or why the gym is always packed the first week of January.

It commonly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  And yet, in spite of decades of gym-going experience every December I find myself tut-tutting at all those lame “new year’s resolutioners” memes and snarky posts to forums and Facebook groups.  Every year I tell myself that this phenomenon is exagerated, it’s not really a “thing”.  After all, human beings aren’t lemmings and human behaviour, even group dynamics, is often far from being predictable.  Finally, and this is probably the biggest reason, I find it hard to believe that somebody would wait until January 1 to do anything.  I’ve started, and failed, quite a few good resolutions in my time but never have I waited for an arbitrary date to do so.

So I felt supremely vindicated from January 1st to 5th, as I trained away at the Globo gym near my work.  All the “usuals” were there, as as we always are, week after week but there was no tsunami of Gymshark-clad noobs.  “Yaaassss”, I thought, “people are rational, idependent minded beings after all”.  We aren’t swallows going back to Capistrano or salmon swimming upstream driven by some antediluvian instinct.

Then I went to the gym on Monday after work.  Or should I say, I spent 15 minutes trying to find a parking space any where remotely close to my gym (there are 2 other gyms within a 3 block radius as well) before giving up and parking far, far away.  As I battled my way past the front door the scene that presented itself was part Lord of the Flies, part Star Wars bar scene and part outtake of a “Black Friday riot at the Tulsa Walmart” youtube video.  Everybody and their actual grandmother was there, resplendent in fresh from under the Christmas tree gym-wear.  Heck, even the Prime Minister was there…Ok, to be honest, he’s a semi-regular so his presence was far less remarkable than the sheer mass of humanity that managed to pack itself into the gym that night.  No joke, I began to wonder if we hadn’t attained the building’s occupancy limit.

Unfortunately, it was my night to train bench press and yes, it was Monday (aka International Chest Day) so the six flat benches were all taken by the time I got there.  Luckily, it didn’t take long for a bench to free up because, as is always the case in this scenario, the following happens:  Noob approaches the bench, doesn’t think a second about warming up with, say, just the bar… and slaps on what he thinks is a good working weight but is actually much closer to his 1RM.  The young gent (feet up on the bench, of course, never planted firmly on the floor) then attempts to bang out a set but barely manages to get the bar off of his chest for 1 rep.  He then reduces the weight, but not enough, and manages to squeeze 2 or 3 more reps before deciding that the Pec Deck looks more inviting.

Back, however, to the subject at hand.  So, yes, a crowded gym in January is not just a cliche or urban legend.  It’s a fact of life, in the same way that airports are crowded just before Christmas.  It’s also true that by Febuary things will be right back to normal.  Aside from the glaringly obvious (guilt over holiday excesses, corny resolutions, promotional deals by gym owners) I honestly don’t why it is such a thing.  Gym training, like running, is not seasonal.  And speaking of running, the sidewalks aren’t suddenly clogged with joggers in January.  So, what gives?

In the end, I suppose, who cares?  I’m glad they are there, whatever their motivation.  It’s nice seeing some new faces and, quite frankly, I’m hoping that as gym going becomes more and more the norm, the market will mature and prices will drop in the country where I live.  I pay extortionate rates at my Globo gym and (considering the amazing value) very reasonable rates at the Powerlifting club. And finally, as somebody who is considering entering the industry at a future date, it’s comforting to know there is an absolutely reliable annual cash cow.

The evolution of a Powerlifter.

I happened upon strength training almost by accident.  I had been going to the gym for a number of years, nay, decades, more or less consistently.  So I went to the gym regularly, but aimlessly, without clear goals.  I’d do whatever I felt like doing once I arrived at the gym and the exercise choice was largely influenced by whether a machine or bench was free.  Typical bro splits, chest, arms and abs.  Nary a leg was trained nor a squat squatted.  A good program was something one watched on TV.

Then, one day some years ago, I couldn’t stand it any more.  I was bored, really, really bored with the gym.  The gym, or rather a big commercial gym, is a fairly ludicrous space in the best of times.  I’d feel faintly ridiculous wandering around from exercise station to the next, bro tunes cranking in my headphones, trying to get my pump on.  I came to the realization that there had to be a better way of training or, if there wasn’t, I should find a better activity to spend time and money on.  Like everyone else on the planet, I resorted to the time-honored method of Google searching solutions to my problem.

Hmm, powerlifting movements sounded interesting and I thought, hey, it might finally provide me with some structure.  I’d actually be training with a purpose.  I’d set goals and try to attain them.  Solid, I thought.  This was just seemingly minutes before the big powerlifting Youtube boom, so I initially combed through loads of forums and a few books to glean as much information as possible.  There was, however, one slight problem.

To whit, my bench press was somehow, from a technique perspective, not bad.  I had no idea, however,  how to squat or deadlift, I didn’t know anybody who did those exercises and, to be honest, it was intimidating.  Nevertheless, I began my first program (5×5) and gingerly stepped into a highly underutilized (in those days) squat rack.  My squats were ugly, but at least I felt I was on the right track.  In spite of all I had read, I still had no clue how to properly deadlift.  My deadlifts were dreadful: mad, bad and dangerous to know.  Furthermore, I was usually the only person in the gym squatting or deadlifting outside of a Smith machine.  You know how every gym seems to have a Vibram Fivefingers guy?  I began to wonder if I wasn’t a variation on that theme:  well-meaning but slightly misguided.

Soon, as my program progressed, I got those sweet, sweet beginner gainz.  My benchpress shot way up and even my terrible squats and deadlifts improved.  By this time, powerlifting had started to become a thing and people like Mark Rippetoe, Mark Bell and that crazy Ask Elliot guy were putting out content on Youtube.  So while I hadn’t yet met like-minded people, I could at least watch them train and pick up some pointers.

While it seems funny now, my training partners viewed my squatting as a ridiculously girly thing to do and deadlifts as needlessly complicated.  They’d make a few wisecracks, shake their heads and go back to their cable-pulls.  I was still in the “bench much more than you squat” club but nonetheless my squats and deadlifts had progressed to the point that I felt I required real coaching before I hurt myself.  So back to google I went.  When I had first started training squat, bench and deadlift, there were literally two powerlifting gyms in my area and for a variety of reasons, including proximity, I wasn’t going to train with them.  A new one had opened up in the interim so I decided to give it a shot.

If many people are intimidated by the idea of going to a gym, many experienced gym goers are intimidated by the idea of going to a powerlifting gym.  In your mind’s eye it’s going to be like Westside Barbell with a bunch of shaved head, tattoed convicts and snarling pit bulls. That’s ridiculous, of course, but if you don’t walk through the door you’ll never know.  I walked right in and said, ” look, I am an absolute noob. Tell me what do and I’ll do it.”  It was revelation to meet people interested in the same obscure thing.  We could sit their and talk for hours about belts, shoes, programs, technique, you name it. My squats and deadlifts finally started outpacing my bench as they should.

Fast foward a few years, I had done some competitions and inevitably, been injured a few times.  I’ve set some PRs that I’m proud of and once briefly held the benchpress WR for my age/weight group in my federation.  Sometimes, however, life has a way of interfering with one’s best laid plans.  For the last several months I’ve not been able to train seriously due to work and family issues.  I still go to the gym whenever I can, but I’m not able to stick to a serious, challenging program that would allow me to increase PRs.   My motivation to train for competitions wanes periodically, but my motivation to powerlift is unquestionable.

I realized a few things in the past year. I don’t think I’ll ever stop powerlifting style training.  I truly enjoy it and believe it’s an integral part of a healthy life. Furthermore, lifting heavy weight is sufficiently taxing and radical that it acts like an unerring weathervane for other parts of your life.  Not eating or sleeping well?  It’ll be reflected in your lifts.  Not focused due to emotional turmoil?  It’ll be reflected in your lifts.  It sounds funny, but lifting gives me extra motivation to get s*** together, if only to lift better 🙂  And finally, the best thing about powerlifting is not setting a PR, it’s the process itself.

 

 

Gym may be life…but keep it to yourself.

As I’ve said in previous posts, if you want to stick to a strength-training program it’s absolutely necessary to find your motivation.  Strength-training, per se, is not necessarily fun.  People who stick to strength-training programs are those of have developed an interest in which weight-lifting plays a part.   Often, these are athletes in heavily strength dependent sports such as American Football, Rugby, Highland Games, Track and Field, etc.  However, the most fervent gym-goers tend to be those whose sport is specifically gym-based, such as body-building, Cross-fit, Power-lifting and Olympic weightlifting.  It’s very common, once one has developed an interest in one of those sports,  to go through “gym-bore” period.  You’re excited to find this new interest that has a major positive impact on your life and you’re as giddy a kid on Christmas morning.  Do your loved-ones and co-workers a solid, though.  Keep it to yourself.  Here’s why:

  • It’s boring:  Yea verily, it’s boring.  Of course, it’s interesting to you and your gym buddies but nobody else on God’s green earth cares about your deadlift PR or your new programming.  We’ve all heard people droning on about their new diet..how captivated were you about that endlessly fascinating subject?  If the subject somehow comes up when you’re among non-gym goers, keep it brief and change the subject or you risk coming off as a narcissistic bore.
  • Gym is not LIFE, it’s part of life:  I don’t care how good you are at your sport, never forget it should only be one facet of your existence.  Outstanding champions such as Muhammed Ali, “Arnold” and Zydrunas Zavickas (Strongman) accomplished quite a bit outside the arena of sports.  Unless you are a coach and it’s your job, droning on ad nauseam about training makes you look one dimensional.
  • The douche factor:  Let’s face it, if you speak about your powerlifting training to people outside the sport, you might not only come off as boring but also like you’re bragging. Hence, douche-y.  Things are commonplace amongst powerlifters (say, a 200kg squat for reps) sound somewhat extreme to the uninitiated.  So, while maybe you’re not really bragging, but it’s going to sound like you are. And if people think you are literally “flexing” on them, you’ll either turn them off or they respond to what they perceive as intimidation.  “Oh yeah, we’ll I benched 360 lbs before…in high school”…
  • The frustration factor:  See above – if you get caught up in a “I’ve lifted mad weight” conversation with somebody who, shall we say, doesn’t look or speak like they have experience with training, just smile and agree with them.  While you may be tempted to press them for details, don’t.  For one, it’s an inane conversation for adults to engage in.  Really, 360 lbs?  Full range of motion?  Pause at the bottom, no chest bounce, no help from spotters?  Like quarter-squatters, just let them be.  It’s frustrating and a little bit silly, but that’s not your problem.  Also, if it just so happens they did lift that weight with proper form, you’ll look the world’s biggest insecure tool for trying to call them out.
  • Chick magnet, it’s not:  Note to the heterosexual males out there – the babes will appreciate those six pack abs and wide shoulders, but preserve some of the mystery.  She doesn’t need or want to know about drop sets and how much you spend monthly on creatine.  And for my powerlifting boys out there, women could care less about your righteous PRs, you lard asses.  Dudes will care, perhaps, but women…nope.  Sad, but true.  So if you think blathering on about your training will make the fillies come a-running, guess again.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

An anecdotal account of the effects of sleep deprivation on training and general health

The internet is awash with well being and sports training advice. All of the reputable sources of advice and coaching, without exception, stress the importance of quality sleep. “Yes, yes”, you think, “I get it…it’s the low hanging fruit type of advice…thanks, Captain Obvious”. Sleep, they say, is THE most important component of your physical and mental well being, and the most important factor of your athletic performance. Your programming, diet, all of it is for nought if you don’t have quality sleep. “A tad exaggerated, perhaps”, you think.

Well, if my recent experience is a good indicator, it’s spot on. I’ve always been able to sleep at the drop of a hat. My fondness for naps is a running joke in my family. Over the last several months, however, my ability to sleep was severely impaired. As I’ve described in previous posts, a perfect storm of personal and professional stress battered me for over a year. Little by little I completely lost my ability to nap (no matter how tired) and eventually a good night’s sleep seemed like a feverish dream from another life. It’s insidious because the most immediate effect of sleep deprivation is on your mental state. You lose the ability to focus, to concentrate which means, among other problems, you’re even less equipped to resolve whatever issues/stresses are causing your sleep to degrade.

My sleep quality degraded over a period of time, so the mental effects were noticeable but gradual. I always thought it’d be OK if I was just able to get a good night’s sleep. Indeed, I’d get a decent night of sleep every 5 or 6 days due to accumulated exhaustion and I’d wake up feeling like I had some sort of mental super-power. I began to use my powerlifting training as a means to physically exhaust myself enough to sleep. This worked for a short while but the lack of quality sleep exacerbated my depression brought on by stress I was encountering. I never stopped training, but I lost my motivation and began to just “go through the motions”. My workouts were subpar so subsequently my lack of quality of sleep reached critical levels.

It was a fairly rapid loss of strength 2 months ago that made me snap out of my stupor and seek medical help. It’s a scary thing to have 1/3 of your strength seemingly evaporate over night. Suffice it to say my doctor saw the state I was in, not to mention my skyrocketing blood pressure, and immediately implemented a number of measures, many of which were aimed at improving sleep. Firstly, I had learn to manage my sources of my stress and fix what I could while letting go those things that weren’t fixable. It’s literally a matter of life or death. Secondly I became very serious about sleep hygiene and, among other things, bought a better quality bed and pillows. I made sure I was properly hydrated, avoided alcohol (very detrimental to sleep quality) and began to take valerian (an herbal remedy) before bed-time.

It’s been several weeks since I implemented these measures. My blood pressure, while still high, has reduced from “off the charts” as it was when I first entered my doctor’s office. Slowly but surely my sleep is improving. The better I sleep the more able I am to address the causes of stress and, as a result, the generalized feeling of depression has lifted. If I wake up at night, I’m actually able to go back to sleep Enthusiasm for my personal interests, such a power-lifting, has returned.

Yesterday, 2 days from my birthday, I equaled my previous PR weight in deadlift. 2 months ago I could barely lift 70kgs less. My training partners have seen my lifts increasing week by week in 5 to 10 Kg increments and they have jokingly accused me of being on PEDs. It’s simple, if you don’t have quality sleep you don’t have health and if you don’t have health, you can forget mental and physical performance.

 

An ode to fringe activities…

OR THE LONELINESS OF THE POWERLIFTING WINE-CHUGGER.

OR HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE BY NOT BORING THEM TO TEARS WITH YOUR HOBBY/SPORT/LIFESTYLE CHOICE/DIET

Happy new year, everyone.

I made an early night of it last night so after a nice dinner with friends I went to bed shortly after midnight CET. As a consequence I was up early this morning which left ample time to reflect on last night’s dinner as well as my powerlifting training session later today. I was pretty excited about the wine choices for the dinner last night as well my upcoming training session but I knew, as everybody in a subculture eventually learns, to keep my enthusiasm to myself or be labelled a “bore”. Believe it or not, most people don’t want to discuss the need to reform French AOC rules or whether Sumo dead-lifting is cheating.

It got me to thinking when it’s appropriate, and not appropriate, to discuss one’s weird-ass fringey activities with the general populace. I’ve come up with the following observations.

  • Subcultures can be intimidating to people who don’t engage in that activity. In a weird way (we all do this) people think you’re judging them via a specific lense (powerlifter, wine enthusiast, martial artist, vegan, etc) when, unless you’re a real a-hole, you’re not. If an opportunity to discuss your interest comes up, let others ask you questions and when the questions dry up, move on.
  • It’s OK, in a very broad sense, to let people know about your interests and what you spend your time on. It’s not OK to give them constant updates and/or commentary about a subject that really doesn’t interest them. Anybody who has a beginning crossfitter or a vegan in their life knows what I’m talking about. People are generally happy you’ve found this awesome thing and, yes, it’s probably a good idea if everyone did it but ramming it down their throats doesn’t win any converts. We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another.
  • If you want to share your passion with other people, set an example first. See above re: intimidation. So people know you do this thing, that’s great. Just keep doing your thing and, from time to time, somebody with a genuine interest might ask you about it. This is a green-light, now’s your time to share. To give you an example, as a powerlifter people sometimes tell me in conversation that they’ve started going to the gym and they have this great trainer who has them doing bosu-ball hula-hoop jump spins and the like. The old me used to say ” Cool, but why don’t you also ask them to show you proper squat form, that’d be really useful” and, in 100 percent of the cases, the person reacted as if I’d insulted their mother. The proper response is “That’s great – keep it up!”. Why? If they continue to train they will eventually learn about compound movements and might just ask you about them. Then, and only then, it’s OK to discuss in detail. A few years ago I started going to a globo gym with colleagues. I’d do my usual PL style training in the corner and they’d go all YOLO with machines and dumbbells. I often got a lot of comments and criticism (hey, man, you’re not going to failure with every set, why squats, etc) but I just continued to do my thing. After a while they began to ask me questions and eventually asked me to show them proper form, explain programming, etc. Even then they were resistant to many of the ideas so I’d just shrug and do my thing. Fast-forward to now, they are all training for powerlifting. I’m not a vegan but cook/consume vegan dishes roughly 85 percent of the time. I’m familiar with the milieu, shall we say. The strict vegans who always make an impression on me are those who I find out are vegan indirectly. It piques my interest and more often than not I’ll ask about it.
  • Find like-minded individuals/Let your freak flag fly: Let’s face it, the only time you’ll ever be able to fully express your enthusiasm for your passion is amongst like-minded people so you must search them out or forever have the feeling of not completely scratching an itch. Whether it’s wine-tasting, a serious powerlifting gym, a cool vegan cafe or whatever, this is your chance to geek out to your heart’s content. Not to mention learn new things and meet new people

Anyway, I’m off in a few minutes to engage in one of the aforementioned fringe activities. I wish you all happiness and health in the new year as well as the chance to engage in your geeky passion(s) to the fullest.