Lifting – a day in the life

barbell-grayscale

Yesterday I was reminded, repeatedly, about the value of keeping an open mind.  Last night I went to the big Globo gym near my work.  My programming called for bench press, safety bar squats (as my rotator cuff is still very much an issue) and accessory exercises.  However, the globo gym does not have specialty bars of any sort…and to me the leg press machine is only slightly less ridiculous than the Smith machine.  So, while they are not analogous, I opted for deadlifts instead.

A secondary complication was that I, once again, forgot my chalk.  Past a certain weight, chalk-less deadlifts suck.  Your hands get ripped to shreds and the grip issues mess with your form.  A buddy of mine lent me his Oly lifting straps last week so I decided to give them an honest try.  I tried lifting with straps, once, about 2 years ago.  I used them for about 5 minutes and then gave it up as being “too complicated”. Besides, real men don’t use straps, right? Did I mention that my deadlift is, at the best of times, straight-up pathetic?

I took a good 10 minutes to really figure out how to use the straps correctly.  Then I gingerly tried 1 rep at about 80%.  Wow – lifting straps, where have you been all my life?  Due to my only recently healed hamstring I’m coming off a 9 week deadlift hiatus so I’m fairly de-trained.  And, yet, I began to rep out weights close to my former “strapless” 1RM.  So the good news is I am really stronger than my lousy deadlift numbers would imply and strapped deadlifts are probably the best way of getting me of the plateau I’ve been on.  The bad news is I realized just how weak my grip is and that it’s a major sticking point.  If I didn’t compete, I wouldn’t care, but I’ll have to find a way to build my grip strength pronto.  Farmers carries, anyone?

Anyway, fresh from my awesome discovery regarding straps, I headed to the bench press area to do some very low weight, low volume deload sets.  So I start benching with the bar and I notice, hmm, this feels great.  No fatigue, no soreness and, you ever have those days when you’re just stronger than usual? It was one of those days.  Nevertheless, I reminded myself, I’m in a deload phase and next week’s programming is a killer.  Just as I was about to give into common sense, “K”, one of the trainers, installed herself and a client on a bench adjacent.  K is eastern european, non-surgically enhanced drop dead gorgeous and all around nice.  Amazing genetics refined by hard work in the gym – she’d give Elton John second thoughts about his life choices.  So, full transparency, I stayed on the bench and started to add weight.  Not because I am a creeper, nor was I was I “ogling” (not my style) and, no, it wasn’t some lame attempt to impress.  For one, women couldn’t care less about how much you can lift and, besides, she goes out with a guy I know.  Rather, and I know this sounds weird, I’ve noticed that I can usually lift a little more when attractive women are in the vicinity.  I think it’s probably universal for guys, must be some sort of evolutionary trait.

Anyway, I started making 20kg jumps after each set of 3…as I was getting towards more serious weight one of the biggest gym douches arrives with his posse.  They install themselves on another bench near mine and start their sets.  This guy is roughly my age, much taller and weighs about 25kgs more than me.  He’s never done anything to me, per se, but for some reason, I’ve just never liked him.  Soon, however, I’m up to my 1RM weight and I need a spotter.  If my deadlift stinks, and it does, my bench doesn’t.  So I had a fair amount of weight on bar.  I needed somebody with a decent strength and experience to spot for me.  Normally, I’d rather have had my toe nails ripped out with pliers than ask this guy for a spot, but I knew I was going to smash a new “touch and go” PR.  Swallowing my pride, I asked your man for spot and proceeded to best my former PR by 5kg.  I then added 2.5kg on top of that and failed.  It turns out the big guy a) knows what he is talking about (very good analysis of why I failed the last lift) and b) is a pretty decent, friendly dude after all.  He encouraged me to try again but it was getting late and I began to feel guilty re: blowing off my deload phase.

So the guy I thought was the biggest tool in the gym turns out to be pretty cool.  To be honest, he does have resting douche face but, then again, so do I quite often.  And lifting straps are best thing since Netflix.  All in all, it was a gentle reminder of the value of keeping an open mind as well as getting out of your comfort zone.

Obstacle or opportunity?

challnge

This post has been ruminating for some time now and has been inspired by conversations with my kids, some great feedback I received a few weeks ago from a fellow blogger and, believe it or not, the latest Chris Rock special on Netflix.  Chris has this riff about how bullies provide an essential part of kids’ educational experience.   It’s funny, of course, and like all great humor it’s 1 part exaggeration to 1 part truth.  It’s an old idea that periodic bursts of stress promote the most growth.  It’s the major principle underlying strength training as well the inspiration for that famous Orson Welles quote in “The Third Man”:  “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Habitual readers of this blog know that I have been dealing with 2 injuries for the last few months.  As an athlete, the correct response to being injured are rehab, analyze how  you injured yourself and, finally, continue to train those movements that you can safely do.  In my case, I haven’t been able to do a low-bar squat for 3 months now, and have only been able to start dead-lifting again in the past few weeks.  So I have spent the last few weeks refining my competition bench technique and training to a level that would not have been possible if I had to also concentrate on heavy squats and deadlifts.  At the same time I’ve come to rely on, from sheer necessity, a number of accessory exercises (safety-bar squats, belt squats, glute ham raises, etc) that I should have used in my training previously but never did.  Now that I am, very carefully, dead-lifting again my training is focusing on technique, technique and more technique.  As I will only doing benchpress in the next competition, I can now afford focus more on improving my technique and strengthening the main-movers of the dead-lift.  I’m not so focused on pulling the most weight for the next competition.  Improved technique, more experience in important accessory exercises, an appreciation for prehab and mobility training and a stronger bench press – I’m not saying I want to get injured again, but it can (if you have the correct mindset) teach you some important lessons.

I’ve always said that boredom is an essential parenting tool.  Yes, allow your kids to get bored or create situations (camping weekends without cell phones) that force them to rely on their creativity and curiosity.  Boredom is a subliminal teacher that teaches you lessons on the sly.  The smarter a person is, the lower their threshold for boredom, and that’s a good thing.  If you are bored, you will be forced to provide stimulation to your brain.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with kids these days besides the fact that we, their parents, allow them non-stop access to smartphones, streaming video and video games.  Without a doubt, boredom is what saved my high school career and what allowed for my subsequent success in university.  I grew up, not rich, in a 3rd world country in somewhat special circumstances.  The phone didn’t work half the time, we didn’t have TV (even if we had, there were only 2 channels which only played a few hours) so my only forms of entertainment were sports, hanging out with friends and books.  And did we ever have books – of all kinds.  My mother got her doctorate at Harvard so we often her schoolmates/colleagues visiting us.  So many people left behind books – all of which I devoured.  History, social sciences, politics, physic, philosophy, etc.  So I was not only reading these books, but was able to discuss them with my mother and her friends.  It’s obvious when I describe it this way that I was learning, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.  I simply had nothing else to do.  Later in my high school career I shot myself in the foot scholastically with bad attitude/partying, etc – and the only thing that saved me was this base of knowledge I had accrued.  My classmates were often amazed that the “less than model student” often had the answers to difficult questions.  Once, I famously entered a school essay contest because the prizes were all expenses paid week-long trip to a student congress type deal in Washington, DC.  We had to write about government.  My essay won first prize and my buddy’s essay (which I wrote for him) won 2nd prize.  Predictably we had a good time in DC as well as a few minor disciplinary problems.

The country where I grew up was, and sadly remains, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.  It also has one of the strongest, most vibrant cultures I’ve ever encountered and, like Renaissance Italy, absolutely radiates creativity and “thinking outside of the box”.  People are poor but find a millions forms of expression and, hopefully, a way out of their situation.  I am not singing the praises of abject poverty, not by a long shot.  Too much stress with no periods of respite break a person.  Also, countries where poverty and boredom abound but intellectual curiosity and expression are discouraged are volatile and unstable.

Motivational speakers love to cite, to the extent that it’s become clichéd, that the Chinese word for “crisis” signifies both “danger” and “opportunity”.  Some things are too good to be true as this appears to be a poorly interpreted translation.  A closer translation is apparently “a point where things happen or change” which decidedly more neutral.  Which I think is more logical as, in my experience, how you react to stress or obstacles is like billiards, a game of angles.  If you get the angles right you in billiards, you will sink your balls while positioning yourself to sink the remainder.  If your shots are just a little bit off, good luck to you.  So stress or obstacles can serve stimulus for growth if managed correctly.  This increased strength will set you up for further success when opportunities arise, provided you play the angles correctly.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_word_for_%22crisis%22

 

Coming to America…and then leaving.

In the mid-80s I was finishing my somewhat checkered high-school career in a 3rd, no, scratch that, 4th world country somewhere in Latin America.  I lived with my mother who is a highly educated, brilliant woman who, nevertheless, was not paid very much at that point in her career.  Anybody familiar with 3rd world countries knows that scratching out a living is a challenge.  If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere – forget NYC, which is a cakewalk in comparison.

Anyway, we had a standard of living that you might call middle-class for that country (whose middle-class was very small indeed) but would probably be considered poverty level in the US or Europe.  I should add that as blonde-haired, blue-eyed young man I rather stuck out in the neighborhood.  (NB:  I am American born to US parents, I just wasn’t born nor spent most of my formative years there).   Without straying too far into the minefield of political correctness, suffice it to say that without money in a place like this you are powerless.  I learned early on that many people of who have any sort of power love to see desperate people squirm.  I had a very hard time with that dynamic, it stuck in my throat.

It wasn’t all bad.  I wouldn’t have swapped growing up there, at the time that I did, in the way that I did, for anything.  It’s an amazing country, culturally vibrant, amazing beaches and blessed with a very funny, welcoming populace.  I was an overwhelming minority, and people brought it to my attention all the time, but it was usually not mean-spirited. It was so much fun that, upon discovering partying and girls, I pretty much kissed my high school career goodbye.  In spite of outstanding SAT scores and potential, I barely graduated from high school.  2 weeks later my long-suffering mother wished me well and put me on a plane for States.  I was 18 years old, I had a few hundred dollars in my pocket and vague plans of either living with my sister (who was going to college) or some high school buds who were in very similar situation.  I hadn’t bothered to apply to any colleges because my grades and financial situation meant it wasn’t an option.

Given my level of maturity and proclivity for partying, I lasted roughly 3 weeks with my sister before she gave me the heave-ho.  I didn’t have any hard feelings then, nor do I now.  It was best for everyone that I go.  So I took the train a few hundred miles up the East coast to join up with my aforementioned pals.  The five of us managed to score a small studio that was leased to one of the guys’ older brother.  We had 2 twin beds and 3 additional mattresses on the floor.  We had to be very careful about not drawing attention to ourselves given we’d have been thrown out if the landlord found out 5 guys were living in 1 studio.

Failure was not an option and that realization clarified my goals and game-plan almost immediately.  I knew I was in for a few years of hard-slogging so I resolved to make the best of it.  Crappy, minimum wage dead-end jobs weren’t going to cut it as they were a waste of time and potential.  I took the best-paying jobs a mere high school graduate could hope to score, but also ones that would hopefully allow me to progress to better jobs.  I started working in high-end restaurants, first as a dishwasher, then bus-boy, waiter, apprentice baker and eventually as a commis.  Restaurant work was exhausting, but it was an education.  There were periods when I held down 2 jobs.  All the while I lived in series of horrible apartments in crappy neighborhoods with, of course, room-mates who were in similar situations.

I eventually scored a mail-room gig in a bank in the financial district.  I mean, this was straight up old school – I don’t think mail rooms even exist any more.  Basically I delivered mail, and written memos (common use of email – and networked PCs – where still a year or 2 down the road) as well as performed a number of odd-jobs.  I busted my butt and hustled on every single task because I knew it was the only way to get noticed.  I eventually was promoted into “Data Processing” (the IT department as it’s generally known now) and I was off to the races.  I began to acquire valuable skills that enabled me to find better paying jobs, pursue my college degree (while working full-time) and, some years later, finally get an apartment all to myself.  This was the Holy Grail, a studio in a trendy downtown neighborhood.  It was also strangely lonely at first, after so many years of living with friends.

I finally had my own apartment, a college degree, a less than impressive used car and a decent job that employed both my IT and language skills.  I traveled often to Latin American, Africa and Europe for work.  I’m happy to say that all of my pals from the “5 guys in a studio” days had similar trajectories.  So there came a point when we were victims of our own success in the sense that people began to move away to follow their careers.  I had just turned 30 and I didn’t have a whole lot of reasons to stay.  Many of my friends were moving away and I had just ended a serious relationship.

This was at the height of the “internet boom” of the 90s.  I realized that I had been working very hard over the last 12 years, often taking, at best, a week of vacation per year.  I figured that I could probably find another job pretty easily.  So I quit my job to go backpacking for a few months through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico with these French girls I knew.  I have never, before or since, taken off that much time just to do my own thing.  For those of you who know Mexico, at the time Playa del Carmen was a village where we rented hammocks on the beach for 3 dollars a day (i.e. you slept in them) and there was virtually nothing in Tulum.  Hanging at the beach all day and sleeping under these huge palapas, surrounded by legions of hot euro-babes, I though I had died and gone to heaven.  Not to mention the cheap tacos, ceviche and beer.

When I got back to the US, I found out that I had scored a 2 year contract in Europe was welcome news as I was short of funds and I was itching to move.  So I did, and I’ve been here ever since.  I’ve only been back a few times given most of my family is living elsewhere.

I often wonder if my trajectory would be possible for a young guy starting out now.  I sincerely doubt it.  Firstly, I did not have to deal with globalization so I was competing for jobs on a national, not international level.  I was at the tail-end of the last generation when it possible to pull yourself out of the muck without impeccable academic credentials.  Also, by going to a very good state university (partially subsidized by my job) I graduated without crippling debt.  In my generation, having any college degree on your CV was good enough to get your foot in the door.   From what I hear and read in the US media, that is not the case any more.

As a father and somebody who interacts a fair amount with younger people, I always try to stress that excelling academically is actually the best way, to “hack” the system.   If you’re a young person blessed with the common sense to not go off the rails academically AND have a good idea of what you want to do in life, you have an enormous advantage.  I was able to find a reasonable level of success, but I worked extremely hard to do so.  Young people these day do not have the luxury my generation had of going to college to “find themselves” or earn less than practical degrees.  In the age of outsourcing, you best choose your academic path extremely wisely and pursue that career to the best of your ability.

 

 

Resolved.

DeathtoStock_Wired4

One cannot swing a deceased feline in the fitness-related blogosphere without hitting a few dozen posts about “New Years Resolutioners”, aka the 2nd most well-known seasonal flood after the Nile.  (OK, the construction of the Aswan High Dam largely took care of that phenomenon – just wanted to make sure you’re paying attention).  I don’t really have a dog in this fight since gym newbies typically do not gravitate to power racks or barbells.  If anything, it’s nice to see some new faces in the gym and I wish them well.  Also, it’s not quite the deluge that some would have you believe.  I’ve seen an uptick of new faces the last few weeks but mostly a lot of gym rats I haven’t seen in months have mysteriously reappeared.  Do gym rats migrate, following cheaply priced protein powder sources the same way blue whales follow krill blooms?  Where is David Attenborough when you really need him?

The reason people pick on the “new year, new me” crowd is that you need real motivation to train hard or stick to radical lifestyle and/or dietary changes.  A vague idea that you need to “get into shape” ain’t going to cut it.  So inevitably a big percentage of people will eventually give up.   The funny thing is, motivation is easier than ever to come by these days.  Google or youtube people who share the same goals as you –  after a few hours of watching videos from the thought leaders of your particular area of interest, you will learn about the basics you need to master to attain your goal.  If you really want get stronger, more jacked, lose weight, whatever, you’ll pick up a number of specific goals before even entering a gym.  If you’ve done your homework, you might even search out a specialized gym that would allow you to meet those goals.  “Getting jacked” is an idea – it’s the goals you set as you work towards that idea that are powerful.  It’s not “hard work” if you’re motivated.

Personally, I’ve never done a New Years resolution.  This is probably because today, my birthday,  comes soon after New Years and that is usually the day I reserve to declare my nebulous well-intentioned self-improvement ideas.  Call them wishes, because in my book once you’ve done your research and put a plan in action,  you’re doing, not “wishing”.  If resolutions are “wishful thinking” or percolating ideas for which you have not yet formed a plan, I resolve the following:

  • I will create 2 meaningful, well crafted blog posts per week.
  • I will get back into “active dating”.  Or at least come out of a self-imposed “social hibernation”.  Maybe I’ll start with micro-goals to drum up the motivation.
  • Read more – I used to read at least 2 books a week and this has slowed to a crawl in the last 2 years. Reading is a book, a real book, is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Books are a lifeline, sometimes the only one, that can get you through difficult times.  Really good books, the classics, are like squats for your intellect.  If you’ve read the likes of Melville or Homer and have squatted some heavy-ass weight, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

2018 plans that are already in execution:

  • Compete in 3 powerlifting competitions this year.  The first one (in a few months) may have to be bench only due to my injuries.
  • Recover from injuries and actively incorporate more mobility work.
  • Do a long-term, gradual cut (see above re: finding motivation.  There is a lot to learn before implementing a plan like this).  I am back down to my November competition weight already.  I can easily get down to 90 to 92 kgs without impacting my strength. I’ll still be in the same weight category, but such is life.  Might nudge into the high 80s – but dropping any more weight would impact strength.
  • Implement external business plan by end of Q3.  (More on this as we approach the implementation date).

Anyway, if you happen to be one of those people who is getting back in the gym in January, kudos.  If you already have your micro-goals mapped out then you’re 50 percent of the way towards your goal.  The physical effort is the easy part.  If you haven’t mapped out your goals, take a few hours to do the research.  Above all,  if you are going to a “Globo” gym, don’t let a trainer set your goals for you.  If you want to learn to squat, for example, and he’s insists on the Bosu ball and TRX,  find another trainer.   You’ll save time, money and frustration.    You might just adopt a lifelong “habit” or interest.

That’s it, I’ve taken the day off to chill, read and get through an extended deadlift and accessory exercises training.  I have a sneaking suspicion that some sort of dinner is planned for this evening.  Have a great weekend

 

Negativity as motivation

weights-1634747_640

As we ease into the 2nd week of 2018,  I contemplate my upcoming workout.  Rotator cuff issues mean that I still can’t low or high bar squat so my workout today will feature safety bar box squats and the Wenning belt squat station for a reasonable amount of weight and volume as well as working up to some heavy triples on bench.  On the bright side of the injury report, my hamstring seems to healed to an extent that I can start easing into some more meaningful lower body training.  2 days ago I did my first deadlift training in 7 weeks for light to light/medium weight as the objective was to see how the hamstring felt and above all concentrate on form, form and more form.  I did snatch grip DLs, conventional DLs and then high rack pulls and barbell shrugs with a bit more weight.  I also did glute ham raises and some farmers carries.  The surprising result is that my legs feel fine (perhaps because I have been training them continuously with light weights and/or body weight) but my upper back and traps are feeling it.  My rotator cuff injury means that a lot of back/shoulder exercises are out of the question for now which makes exercise selection a bit of a challenge.

Two simultaneous injuries suck, but powerlifting is life so off I go to the powerlifting gym.  It’s a bit of a hike from my house but I will go there today primarily because it has the specialized bars and stations I need to do the exercises listed above.  Also,  we can blast music at improbable volumes and use healthy amounts of chalk all in a pleasantly mirror free environment.  The best things about this gym, though, are  the people and overall vibe.  It’s overwhelmingly positive (much of this is thanks to M, the gym’s inimitable owner and head coach) and it’s a blast to be surrounded by motivated, like-minded people. It’s sort of like Cheers, everybody knows your name.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I still go to a commercial gym about half the time as it’s close where I live and work and therefore convenient. One of my team-mates recently told that she avoids this (commercial) gym like the plague because, even though it’s very well equipped, because it’s awash in negativity and gym haters.  She’s not wrong.  Many commercial gyms, and this place is no exception,  have the social dynamics of a middle school playground – cliques, rampant gossip, dirty looks, the works.

In a weird way I enjoy the dysfunctional ambiance which is useful as I’m obliged to train there so often.  It’s a dose of Yang to balance out the Yin of the other gym. There are a lot of type A personalities and some inflated senses of entitlement, both in the locker room and out on the floor.  It’s a struggle to stay Zen sometimes.  I find that it’s almost a form of moving meditation as I try to block out the extraneous foolishness and focus on training.  I just navigate around the gym in my ratty t-shirt, Chuck Taylors and track suit bottoms with the tell-tale heavy-duty wrist-wraps and chalk bag in my pockets.  (Chalk is sort of frowned on but to the gym’s credit, they haven’t hassled me about it.).  And, yeah, there are the odd fun moments when you quietly install yourself on a bench next to a bench being used by some Instagramming, lycra clad bros and, slowly but surely, use their 1RM for paused-rep triples.

A certain amount of stress is required as a catalyst for growth.  This is the underlying principle of strength training, of course, as well as one of life’s greater truths.  As the French say, to make great wine the grapes must suffer.  As a man, you will not meet quality women or do anything else of note if you fear rejection.  You have to really embrace rejection or failure before you can see that it’s your fear, and not failure itself, that is holding you back. Fear is the mind-killer, the gains-killer and the get me some of that fine booty-killer.

So, boo-hoo, I’ve got 2 simultaneous injuries that are the direct result of me having enough time and resources to train in an activity I really enjoy and – gasp – I sometimes have to do such training in a big well equipped gym surrounded by the terminally shallow.  First world problems, to say the least.  If confronting your fears is important, so is gratitude.

 

That time I did a Strongman contest

weight-1634760_640

About 18 months ago I did a very, very silly thing.  I participated in a local Strongman contest on a whim.  I just signed up a week before the contest and then I participated.  “How hard could it be?”, I thought naively.  I should preface this by providing some context at this point:  I know the organizer and for some mistaken reason I was under the impression that the contestants would be mostly my fellow Powerlifting (PL) team members and maybe a few other people.  So I thought it would be fun afternoon with a bunch people I basically know.  At the time I was doing a fair amount of overhead press, Atlas ball and some weighted carries in addition to squat, bench and deadlift so I thought I had an advantage.  Well, an advantage in the sense that I did more of this than some people in my PL gym so, since I thought they would be my main competitors.  Did I bother to learn about Strongman rules, strategy or do at least minimal contest prep?  Of course I didn’t.

I should also explain that at this point in time I was a strength-building “bulking” phase which is just a cool way of saying I was eating a lot (clean, yes, but a lot) and getting, well, sort of thick around the middle.  So, yes, I was relatively strong but my cardio capacity was even worse than usual thanks to the additional weight.  Additionally,  I had badly sprained my ankle 2 weeks before the event.

Sunday morning comes around and I nonchalantly roll up to the parking lot where the contest is being held.  First thing I noticed is that event looked a bit more “serious” than I was expecting – nicely set up, TV cameras, the works.  Second thing I noticed is that there weren’t many people from my PL team in attendance.  Those that were there were helping the organizers, not competing.  OK, I thought, no big deal.  Then as the other competitors arrived I realized that they were all Crossfitters and I easily had a good 18 years on the next oldest male competitor.  The horrible realization dawned on my that I had made a very foolish and potentially embarrassing decision to compete in a sport I know next to nothing about against a bunch of young guys with the strength and cardio fitness of race horses.  However, the only thing more mortifying than actually competing would have been to chicken out, especially in front of people I know.  My goals were clear – finish the competition and, for my self-esteem, not come in dead last.

Things got real even before the competition started.  The organizers took the competitors through some warm up stretches and light cardio.  In my “fuscular” bulking state, I was winded from the light cardio, and hobbling around to boot due to my sprained ankle.  It occurred to me as the events and rules were explained that Strongman is a lot more cardio intensive than I had anticipated and that, dear reader, did not bode well for yours truly.

The first event was the yoke carry over a 100 meters which I, of course, had never practiced.  Guess what, it’s harder than it looks, much harder.  Carrying a very heavy yoke over 100 meters takes a great deal of cardio.  (Strongman in general demands more cardio conditioning than people (or maybe just me) suspect)  After my carry I discretely went over to the side of the parking lot so fewer people would see me retching into the bushes.  I was the last to do the yoke carry so of course I was first up for the next event – farmer’s carry.   I was already winded to the point of seeing stars and now I was expected to pick up two weighted frames and move them 100 meters.  Ugh, my grip strength is my greatest weakness in the best of times, but in my tired state and with a sprained ankle, it wasn’t pretty.  I was dead last, by a country mile, in that event.

Two of the crossfitters were just absolute beasts, strong as hell and in all around excellent shape.  They were literally running away with the competition.  As the competition progressed I saw that the rest of my competitors were young (20 somethings), in much better cardio shape than I was but for the most part not as strong as your average powerlifter.  I did fairly well in those events that required upper body strength and/or resemble squatting or deadlifting.  So I placed well in one event that required us to pick up a 70kg ball off the ground and throw it over our shoulders for as many reps as possible (AMRAP) during one minute.  I came in second in the log press (pressing a weighted metal cylinder overhead for AMRAP during one minute) and probably would have done better if I knew how to do a push/press (i.e. utilizing your legs to help push the bar overhead).  People were screaming at me to stop doing a strict Overhead Press (which does not use the legs) but it was the only technique I knew.  Yep, a little contest prep would have gone a long way.

So I stumbled from event to event in an exhausted, hypoglycemic, trying not to retch daze.  Then, almost magically, the competition was over!  I had managed to get points in all of the events (not a given – some people, for example, couldn’t do even 1 rep of the log press and therefore got no points for that event).  Lo and behold, I managed to not place dead last.  OK, I was 6th from the bottom but on the other hand, I was old enough to be everyone’s father.  Aside the public humiliation that was my farmers carry attempt, I didn’t completely disgrace myself.

As I hobbled back to my car, every muscle and sinew in body was crying out in pain.  Uh-oh, I thought, this going to be even more sore tomorrow.  And indeed tomorrow was not kind.  I staggered into work and grimaced in pain every time I did radical things like get out of a chair or walk down a few stairs.  I am a manager in a conservative bank, where the sport of choice for people like me would be golf, tennis or running.  I am always the weirdo nursing some sort of injury like torn-up hands (due to deadlifting) but for the most part these injuries fly under the radar.  Impossible to remain un-noticed with the DOMS I was feeling from that competition.  I have never felt that physically trashed after a sporting event.  So big, big respect to all you strongman and strongwoman competitors out there.  You’re crazed masochists, the lot of you.

As I reviewed the video from the event I also came to the realization that there is a fine line between bulking for strength and looking like you’re wearing one of the tires you’re supposed to be flipping.  I also realized, in rather dramatic fashion, that I had an appalling lack of cardio conditioning.  I learned some honest to goodness respect for crossfitters.  It’s fashionable in some circles to talk trash about crossfitters because they are the jacks of all trades but masters of none.  You know what, if taught well and practiced with strict form, crossfit turns people into beasts.  If I was 20 years younger, I might be tempted to search out a really top-notch crossfit box.  Any sport that gets masses of people excited about compound barbell movements is all right by me..And, finally, it was fun to push the envelope a bit.  Wish I had done some contest prep and actual training for the events, but hey, hindsight is always 20/20.

 

Year End Random Musings

As the year 2017 draws to a close and the world is trying it’s utmost best to go hell in a hand-basket, I share with you the following utterly random and sometimes shallow observations:

  • Adversity“There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is merely the comparison of one state to the other. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss.”—Alexandre Dumas”   I know this sounds like a proud parent speaking (guilty as charged) but my daughter is highly intelligent, motivated, outgoing, opinionated, athletic, pretty and inquisitive.  She is self-driven and constantly striving to learn new things.  Consequently she has encountered a lot of success in school, sports and is a natural leader.  She hasn’t really encountered that many bumps in the road in life until now, with the exception of her parents divorce (which was amicable as those things go).  Recently she has encountered a health issue that, even though it’s temporary, is the sort of thing that  puts you on a crash course for learning some of life’s hard truths.  She’s learning a lot about the importance of character, both in herself as well as others.  She has always been a popular kid, but this experience has allowed her see who her true friends really are. (Lo and behold, her true friends “just happened” to be the ones her parents liked – to paraphrase Richard Pryor’s Mudbone “you don’t git to be old by bein’ no fool”).   Life is not fair and it’s periodically filled with physical and/or emotional pain.  She’s learning that sometimes the only thing to do is to hang on and to keep fighting.   Both her mother and I faced more than our share of adversity when we were my daughter’s age.  My Ex used that experience to forge an absolute iron will to succeed which she still has to this day.  I used my experience as an excuse to go off the rails and add self-induced adversity to the equation until I finally smartened up.  I’m happy to say that my daughter takes after her Mom, her Grandmother (my mother) and her Aunt (my sister) in choosing the correct reaction to adversity.  She is fighter, she knows her worth and she’s nobody’s fool.  I couldn’t be prouder of her.
  • Injury:  On a somewhat lighter, more sports related note, I recently injured my left rotator cuff in the weeks leading up to a competition, and then tore a muscle in my right hamstring a minute before my first squat in said competition.  The rotator cuff injury happened 3 weeks before which meant I couldn’t bench anymore (my best lift) and to be honest I probably shouldn’t have been squatting either.  I continued to train the movements I could do and hoped that I’d be able to compete in some, albeit diminished, form.  On the day of meet, I realized that I was able to bench if I respected absolute strict form (always the best policy anyway) and utilized lats, triceps and leg push as much as possible.  Then, a minute before my first squat, I managed to tear my hamstring simply by taking a 25kg plate of the bar when I was off-balance.  It literally hurt to walk.  While it was a stupendously stupid move, I continued the competition and was able to do a good squat of my opening weight on my 3rd attempt.  To say it hurt a great deal would be pretty close to the truth.  I then was able to bench press and consequently set a world record (WR) for the age\weight category in the federation that I compete in.  By this time, I was literally hobbling so I deadlifted 70kg once (a very humbling experience) to finish the competition and called it a day.  It’s funny, but I got much more props from fellow competitors, team members and judges for that injured squat than I did for the WR bench.  Fast-forward 6 weeks – my hamstring is healing nicely due to regular physical therapy sessions and intelligent training.  My rotator cuff is more of a longer term issue.  This effectively means I can’t do any movement that utilizes the shoulder to a great extent (low bar squat, overhead press and dips, for example) and I haven’t really been training legs hard due to my injury.  Faced with this reality, I’m doing what I can:  light safety bar squats, Wenning belt squat machine, strict form flat bench, farmer carries, glute ham raises (carefully).  I am also using machines for things like leg extensions and “light” leg curls, which is something I don’t normally do.  I’m concentrating more on core training than I usually do.  It’s frustrating, but doing nothing is out of the question.  Lessons learned:  mobility work is essential and tis a far, far better thing to listen to your body and back off a set than to be out of the game for a few months.
  • Dating or what’s with this older man/younger woman thing :  I know this going to sound disingenuous, but I never seriously considered dating a much younger woman until recently.   Let’s be honest, if I went on a dating app and stated a preference for pretty 25 year olds I’d get absolutely no responses except for catfish scams.  Unless, perhaps, I took one or two casual pictures in a recent model 911 with an understated Patek Phillipe on my wrist.  Sadly, as I know from at least one acquaintance, this approach works albeit it attracts exactly the sorts of women you’d expect.  It’s baldly “transactional” in nature, but provided he gets what he wants, he isn’t complaining..  In any event, about 2 years ago I stopped actively trying to rustle up dates as  I’ve been busy with work, my kids’ activities and, of course, powerlifting.  Also, I won’t sugarcoat this, dating women my age when I was 42 was fine but 8 years later it’s another situation entirely.  I know this is unfair and I know only too well how hard menopause hits some women physically and mentally.  A dear friend has been dealing these changes for about 2 years now and I can see how she is being whipsawed by the experience (see above re: adversity).  So a certain percentage of women my age are undergoing disorienting physical changes and consequently they’re not really in the mood for dating.   Almost completely by accident, I have dated some women in their mid-20s recently.  All of these situations were initiated by the women themselves and came about, I think, simply because I was out there, pursuing my interests and having fun.  I literally spoke to these women the way I’d speak to anybody else and wasn’t even considering an ulterior motive.  Yes, I understand one of the main reasons younger women date older men but I wasn’t picking up the tab any more or less than I’d do normally with woman closer to my age.   (News flash – some women, irrespective of age, will expect nonstop expensive restaurants, trips and gifts, while most others won’t.  When I was freshly divorced I fell rather hard for a physically attractive age appropriate woman who expected wining and dining of a certain level, nothing less was acceptable.  Never again.  I am not cheap, it’s the crassness and lack of imagination that I find objectionable).  So, other than money, why would a younger women date an older guy?  Maybe it’s because the 50-year-old me is probably a better guy to date than the 25-year-old me (more confident, more accomplished, happier, wiser and still in half decent shape).  Perhaps it’s because older guys know what they want, have certain amount of experience with women and are less likely to be drama queens.  Maybe it’s because these women are still in an experimental phase whereas women in their 30s are much more focused on getting married, preferably to somebody just a few years older.  I don’t really know.  And the end result in these cases was really quite positive.  Again,  had I gone on a speed dating or an internet site to meet these women, it’d have never happened.  Attractive 20 something women have a power of attraction that is akin to something like a super-power (this is a fascinating subject – the positive and negative aspects of this power – how it affects the person in question – and what happens when it wanes).  Pit that power against a few cheesy photos of a 50 year old man – it’s laughable, not a snowball’s chance in hell.  If I hadn’t been out there, pursuing an interest, displaying some sort of “worth”, absolutely no chance.  I firmly believe, also, that had I treated these women as potential “hook ups” it wouldn’t have happened either.  Finally, these women don’t “do” dating sites or speed dating – they really don’t need to the same way the The Flash doesn’t need to take the subway.  Nor do I have a need to date a younger woman at all costs.  I’d like to think that we see are capable of seeing each other as unique human beings and not as a type.  I find it creepy when people of either gender express a clear preference for a certain race or type to exclusion of all others.  Needless to say, I don’t discuss this older/younger thing that much with my female friends as it tends to be, as they say in French, “un sujet qui fache” (Loosely translated, a touchy subject).  For the record, y’all, I’d love to meet a happy, in-shape, cultured and intelligent woman closer to my age.  It’s just that those situations are not presenting themselves.  To be continued…
  • Training goals for 2018:  My goals for the upcoming year are to recover full use of my right hamstring and left shoulder, squat and deadlift for reps at least 60kgs more than my 1RM for bench, add 10kg to my 1RM bench press and, finally, to drop about 9 kgs bodyweight while preserving strength.  By the end of the year I want to be clearly the only game in town regarding my age and weight class.  As an aside, I have always found bodybuilding-style training tremendously boring, but since I’ve recently been unable to low bar squat, deadlift, overhead press, etc I have had to concentrate on more body building style training that targets isolated muscle groups.  You know what, I get it now, sometimes esthetic gains are nice and that whole pump thing is fun.  But being strong is more fun.

Happy holidays, everyone!  If you’ve made it to the end of this post you certainly deserve an eggnog or any other libation of you choice.  All the best to you and yours in the new year!