Been down so long looks like up to me

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To those of you who started reading this post because you are fans of Richard Farina – my apologies.  This post will not discuss his seminal novel of the same name/title (see above).  For some reason when I sat down to ponder reverse culture shock this phrase/title literally popped into my head.  Score one for the subconscious, that industrious bastard is always cooking up something on the down low.  I think maybe the title came to me because (forgive me, it’s been maybe 30 years since I read the novel) on a broader sense the novel is about shifting paradigms, of examining the familiar from a different critical perspective.  Or maybe it’s just a really cool title.  Perhaps a little of both.

Anyway, I have been pondering this phenomenon of late.  Is it a real thing?  The short answer is “yes”.  Has technology muddied the waters?  Oh hell yes.  (“Muddied the waters”, man, the ol’ subconcious is working overtime today.  I just realized that the title of this post( and Richard Farina’s book) originally comes from an old Blues song.  Muddy Waters didn’t sing it, but you see where I’m going with this…)  Technology, and how it affects acculturation, is a subject fit for a book, not just a blog post.  Suffice it to say that when I was a kid, living outside of my “passport” country, my only real links to that culture were my parents and books.  Powerful forces, to be sure, but add satellite dishes and the internet and you have a very effective layer of insulation between you and the host culture.  This phenomenon is, of course, a very sharp double-edged sword.

Let’s assume, hopefully, that one has adapted in a healthy way to their new host country.  After living there for a number of years you should have learned the language and culture mores, made friends/social acquaintances of different nationalities and feel comfortable, “at home”,  in your host country.   Granted, you have increased ties to your “homeland” thanks to technology, but let’s not forget that those ties are “virtual” at best.  Let’s assume that distance (and maybe inclination) precludes you from visiting your home country often.  At what point does “reverse” culture shock kick in?  2 months, 1 year, 15 years?  And what is reverse culture shock anyway?  A sense of anomie in one’s own country?  This short article from Investopedia (of all sources) describes it fairly well: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/reverse-culture-shock.asp

To add some personal perspective to the issue, I will say that nothing is weirder than experiencing culture shock in your own culture.  By now, I have lived outside of my home culture country the majority of my life.  I do make it back there, albeit very infrequently.  The first few days are always a complete head-wrecker.  No joke, I sometimes lean on friends and family in certain situations to tell me what to do or add context, as if they’re cultural Sherpas or something.  It’s faintly ridiculous, of course, so it’s best to recognize the humor and roll with it.  To answer the question above, all the TV and YouTube videos in the world cannot (re)acclimate you sufficiently to a culture.  You need to live in that culture.  While reverse culture shock is indeed a thing, it’s not that big a deal.  You’ve got all the tools you need: family, friends, language, etc.  Reverse culture shock just means that your mastery of the culture has become a bit fuzzy and needs some fine-tuning, like trying to improve the focus of a local UHF TV channel back in the day.  (For you young’uns who don’t get that reference, look it up on the interwebs).

 

 

 

 

An Ode to Powerlifting Meets

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Powerlifting is the sort of sport that you generally fall into.  I’ve never heard of an absolute beginner walking into a gym with expressed intent of competing in the sport.  It’s a sport that you might gravitate to after you’ve spent a certain amount of time in a gym and have decided you have an interest in strength training.  Also, powerlifting gyms and qualified coaches are few and far between.  Unless you are very lucky, you’ll have to go out of your way to find them.  Lastly, compound movements like the squat and deadlift are relatively technical and intimidating to the uninitiated.  (It always blows my mind that people afraid of the squat (which is relatively easy to “bail”) and not the bench press, which involves lifting heavy weights over your face, throat and chest)

Sooner or later, you might realize that setting goals and getting stronger are powerful motivators.  So you search out qualified coaching in one of the more common strength sports like Crossfit, powerlifting or Olympic lifting.  As you surround yourself with like-minded people and get stronger, chances are that you’ll eventually be encouraged to compete.  As your gym mates will tell you, nothing focuses your training as much prepping for a meet and, besides, powerlifting meets are a lot of fun.  While I didn’t doubt that prepping for a meet makes you extra focused, I declined to compete because I told myself that I lift for myself, not for external validation.  Besides, like every powerlifter ever, I felt I should only compete when my lifts were “good enough”.  See, my squat is average for my weight and age, my bench press is actually well above average but I have a “poverty” deadlift.  It’s OK for a commercial gym goer, but it’s rather below average for a powerlifter.  “Ridiculous”, said my coach and the PL team members, “Nobody cares.  Just do it, get out there and compete”.

I finally allowed myself to be talked into signing up for a competition.  I noticed – and I remember this phenomena from my days of competing in martial arts tournaments – time seemed to telescope.  All of the sudden, 4 months did not seem like a very long time.  Every workout, every week of training and every phase of my programming became of utmost importance.  So, yes, you become very focused almost immediately.  Powerlifting is actually more athletic than most people would suspect.  It’s very common for a lifter to be good in 2 of the lifts and struggle in the 3rd.  It’s relatively rare to be strong in all 3 lifts.  Most commonly, you’ll see lifters that have a pretty good deadlift, a decent squat and an OK bench press.  So the challenge, when you’re training for a competition, is to maintain or improve your strength in the lifts that you do well, while striving mightily to improve the lift that presents the most problems.

Powerlifting is not bodybuilding so the most common body type is what I’ve heard referred to as “fuscular”.  Jacked, for the most part, but not exactly 6 percent body fat.  Everyone you speak to you will tell you that the biggest error a novice competitor can make is to cut weight for a competition.  Nevertheless, a week out from my first competition, I weighed myself and realized that I was on the borderline between 2 weight categories.  I had signed up for the -100 kgs class…and if I didn’t weigh in at 100 kgs or under, I would be put in the -110 kg class.  I shuddered to think what those guys deadlift, so I changed my diet.  Not radically, but no beer and no sugar outside of whole fruits.  I drank only water and black coffee and ate very cleanly, protein with lots of vegetables and limited amounts of rice and quinoa.  I realized when we got to the competition for the weigh-in that my team mates and most of the other competitors had been dieting as well.  As I weighed-in at 97 kg, the woman recording the weight said “That’s it, you’re good – time for a cheeseburger!”.

The vibe at a local level  powerlifting meet is indescribable. Yes, there are lots of jacked women and men walking around and yes, there will be nonstop rock and rap blaring from huge speakers near the lifting area but, nevertheless, it’s one of the most chill, laid back, kumbaya sporting events you’ll ever witness.   Everyone (including your direct competition) couldn’t be nicer or more encouraging.  It’s as if lifting really heavy things is roughly equivalent to eating a pot and Ecstasy laced brownie.  Everyone is happy, hungry, talkative, laughing, literally hugging virtual strangers, etc.  Bear in mind that I live in Northern Europe, so the behavior I just described is even more remarkable.  And while the physical effects of heavy lifting go a long way towards explaining this phenomenon, I think a contributing factor is the opportunity to be around like-minded people.  Powerlifting is very much a niche sport.  As I’ve said in previous posts, it’s a somewhat lonely passion and one that is sometimes prone to being subtly or even overtly discouraged by one’s family, friends and co-workers.  The complex programming, the nutrition, the endless tweaking of technique and the training itself take a huge amount of time.  Outside of one’s powerlifting team mates, nobody understands or even cares about it.  You hear plenty of semi-marathon prep chat, and not a little bragging, around the water cooler at work, but mention a 5 rep squat PR you just hit recently and an awkward silence will follow.  So a powerlifting meet is really just a large-scale geek out for powerlifters, a rare opportunity to let their freak flag fly.  It means that a few times a year you are surrounded by people who “get it” and are just as passionate about all the minutiae as you are.

So, yes, you will see some great lifters and big lifts.  You’ll also see lifters of many different levels of experience and ability.  Everyone there understands the dedication, passion and nerve it takes to compete so there is huge respect for anybody who goes out there gives it their all, whatever the weight.  Many people imagine that a powerlifting meet is the sole preserve of anti-social skinheads, but I have rarely seen (outside of Mardi Gras) such an example of people of all races, nationalities and sexual orientation genuinely getting along and having a laugh.  After your first powerlifting meet two things will happen; firstly, you’ll kick yourself for being such an ass and not listening  to those people who told you to “just compete!” and, secondly, you’ll be even more motivated for the next one.

 

Sofrito/Epis – The delicious secret weapon for Athletes – A recipe

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This is a recipe that I am publishing for all my brothers and sisters in the Strength Sport community.  It is a tasty method of injecting a tasty, highly nutritional component into your rice, stews, sauces and such.

What follows is a personal observation regarding the value of eating 100 percent organic.  Please jump to the next non-italicized paragraph if you just want the recipe.

When I was a young child to teenager going back and forth from the Caribbean to the US, it was the period just before (and the beginning of) the Obesity epidemic in the States.  There just weren’t that many overweight people when I was a kid.  My early to late teen years coincided with the paradigm shift in food production in the US and consequent rise in obesity.  I remember coming back to the US – every year or two – and literally noticing a greater percentage of obesity with each trip.  Meanwhile back in my “home” country, most people had a hard enough time eating every day much less worry about getting fat.      Amongst the vast majority of the population, having sufficient resources to fatten up would have been very welcome indeed.  Yet even amongst the upper classes (who were often fantastically wealthy) obesity was a rarity.

So people were generally slim and, furthermore, I remember noticing that younger adults who did manual labor (peasant farmers, construction workers, etc) were often incredibly ripped.  Those men and women could have made a fortune on Instragram had they been born a generation later.   The phenomenon that foreign adults remarked most frequently was a huge increase in libido(I was a teenager couldn’t notice a difference as my libido was already in the stratosphere).  The Caribbean was (and remains) a place were some people’s marriages went to die.  The often heard remark is that “there must be something in the water”.  Close, but no Monte Cristo.  My thesis that everyone was (and in the poorer more rural parts of the country, still is) eating 100 percent organic produce, meat and dairy.  We did this not because organic, local produce was a thing back then.  Big chain stores and processed foods were rare.  You bought most of your food in the outdoor market from peasant farmers.  You ate lots of fruit and vegetables, ate meat and fish occasionally (it was expensive).  You also get a lot of sun and therefore aren’t deficient in Vitamin D.  Basically, if you ate this diet in sufficient quantity (not too much or too little) it’s like being physically turbocharged.  You are firing on all cylinders.  Sofrito is the perfect example – it combines all of the proven health benefits of garlic, ginger, hot peppers, green herbs (parsley, cilantro, etc), onions and more.  A friend of mine eats a few spoon fools, uncooked, instead of taking vitamins.  It’s hard to think of a better, more bio-available way of getting quite a few vitamins and minerals in one go.

The base of much of Caribbean cuisine is “sofrito” or “epis” (as it’s referred to in the country spent most of my time in).  This preparation can be used in just about anything but especially in rice, sauces and stews.    There are many different variations depending upon the eventual recipe.  I whip up a batch of sofrito/epis at least once a week.  The components vary, but for me the back bone of any “sofrito/epis” is the fresh garlic and ginger.  I make a special effort to make my epis/sofrito as jam-packed as possible with various nutrients.  In case you were wondering, it  tastes amazing.  Below are the components of my current epis\sofrito recipe:

NB:  All components of this recipe should be sourced organically for the reasons I alluded to above.

Fresh Garlic, peeled (this should be one of the building blocks.  The amount is up to you depending on the eventual quantity. )

Fresh Ginger, peeled  (If at all possible not from China)

Fresh Curcuma , peeled – also you may want to wear some gloves when peeling and cutting, as it stains quite a bit

Spring Onions

Onions and/or shallots

Habanero Peppers – OK, this depends on how much heat you like.  I live in Europe where the Habanero come from either Kenya or the Netherlands – they are weak AF.  If I used 2 Habanero from the Caribbean or the Yucatan in my recipe, I’d be crying.  For now, however, 2 from my current sources provide a decent amount of kick.  Also, as with the Curcuma, keep the gloves on while handling these.  Anybody who has every cut Habaneros without gloves and then gone to the bathroom shortly thereafter can tell you why.

Bell pepper (partial) – for color and fiber

Cloves, 2 or 3 should do it.

Fresh cilantro and parsley

True sea salt (no additives).

Apple cider vinegar or lime juice

Olive Oil

A bit of water.

Put all of these ingredients in a food processor and mix to the consistency you see in the picture.  You will have to be the judge regarding the essential components and the liquids, but that is actually quite fun.  In most cases, saute this mixture in a bit of coconut oil before adding it to the rice, quinoa, stews or whatever.  Note that depending on the recipe some people may add tomatoes or what have you.  This an infinitely adaptable recipe.

Pro Tip – for the best and quickest Guacamole recipe known to mankind, add sofrito and peeled avocado halves in a bowl.  Thoroughly mix/crush with a fork until you achieve the required consistency.  You may want to add a pinch of sea salt to taste.

Random Musings on Gym Behavior – Part 1

30 years ago I joined my first gym.  It was a hugely overpriced affair located in Boston’s Financial District.  It was filled to the brim with big, bright,  shiny machines (Nautilus was a big deal in those days) and entitled Type A douchebags.  Forget even approaching the bench press in those days as: a) there were very few of them and b) they were permanently colonized by Roided out curl-bro neanderthals who had a predilection for silly baggy multi-colored “work out” pants.  This was decades before “leg day” entered the lexicon.  Since the gym was always, always crowded you had to learn a form of gym etiquette very quickly to avoid, shall we say, “unpleasant” experiences.  But it was there that I realized that gyms are amazing places to study human interaction.  African wildlife documentaries  always have watering hole scene as it’s an easy way to film a large number of species interacting in a relatively small space.  And I put to you that if I was young Sociology or Anthropology student, I’d do my field work in a gym for the same reason.

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In the past 30 years I have worked out in gyms across North America, South America, Africa and above all in many countries in Europe.  I’ve noticed some behavior is fairly universal while others are what you’d call site specific.  Some of these include:

  • Nudity in the locker room – Ah, the locker room…stomping ground of the archetypal Naked Old Dude.  Yes, they exist in ever single country I’ve ever visited and, no, they didn’t give single f***.  Clipping toenails, drying their hair (or worse) and engaging in extended conversations all whilst butt nekkid.  As for the under 65 crowd, I’ve noticed some cultural differences.  People from Germanic influenced countries and cultures are by far the most at ease being naked, at not just in the locker room.  Think of them as Naked Old Dudes in training.  In the US, Latin America, UK, etc people generally are not phased by it given that you go, take your shower, get dressed.  If you want debate last night’s game, for God’s sake put some clothes on.  And, perhaps surprising to some, the most reserved are Europeans from the “Romance Language” countries.  Wearing your boxers into the shower is very common.  I am, of course, a product of the cultures I am exposed to the most so I admit on more on US/Romance language side of the spectrum.  Ok, yes, one has to get nekkid to change clothes or take a shower but why, oh, why do you need to be over by the sink, shaving, without a stitch of clothes on.
  • Working “in” with a stranger – This is very common, necessary practice in US gyms, especially in bigger cities.  What this means in practice is that you very nicely ask the person who is using the equipment you’d like to use if you can work in as she or he rests between sets.  In Latin America and Africa this is fairly common as well.  In my experience, it’s fairly rare in “commercial gyms” in many Western European countries.  Not coincidentally, I find that Western Europeans are also much less likely to engage in conversations with random strangers than those other cultures.  The exception to this rule (speaking of Western Europe) are specialty gyms – power lifting, strong man or Olympic lifting.  The difference is you’re then in a subculture with its own norms.
  • Using the gym as a pick-up joint – I haven’t noticed much regional variation for this behavior.  Yes, there are some men and women who do, but it’s actually far less common than people think.  The big whopping exception to the rule are personal trainers.  I have known people who own and/or managed commercial gyms and judging from the “behind the scenes” tales they tell (as related to them by their staff), it’s probably even more soap opera-esque than people think.  Note:  I am not referring to strength training gyms as they don’t have “personal trainers”.  They have coaches whose job it is to teach the proper form and programming you need to achieve your sporting goals.  Personal Trainers work in commercial gyms and, aside from making you look ridiculous on a Bosu ball, I’m not sure if they serve a useful function unless it’s the service alluded to above.  Finally there is universal Gym archetype number 2 – the creeper.  This is generally a guy who is more interested in staring at women than achieving a new PR.  At a commercial gym, it’s undeniable that 95 percent of the women are there to take class of some sort and or run on a treadmill.  They avoid the weight room it can be intimidating to the uninitiated but also, I imagine, because it’s populated mainly by dudes and thus the chance for being ogled is that much higher.  Which is a shame as they are depriving themselves of a chance to get stronger.  If a guy is doing his thing in the weight room, chances are he’s all business and goal oriented.  I’ve seen many guys more interested at checking themselves out in the mirrors or taking Instagram pics than ogling the few women that venture into the weight room.  That lone guy in your Zumba class, though….