FITNESS COUNTER-ERRORISM: Graffiti, Trolling, Satire, Contradiction and Polemic Contrarianism in Internet Exercise.

A rather long throat-clearing…….

 

There is a human instinct for critique, it is part of our social negotiation. At its best, contrarianism, pamphleteering, social activism, debate and campaigning (call it what you like) has formed the backbone of inspiring counter-revolutionary movements and change. At its worst, it is unjustified mockery or just plain graffiti.

 

 

How do we rationalize this instinct with exercise in the age of the internet?

The ‘narcissism of the small difference‘ is as present amongst exercise enthusiasts and professionals as it is with any other collective. The phenomenon of feuding rival tribes on adjoining territory, elevating the importance of seemingly trivial matters, creates a situation where a bystander must surely be shocked at the vitriol resulting from the difference for example in squatting a barbell; one group onto a box, another group not.

I repudiate any claim however that it is ESPECIALLY present in the exercise community. I am yet to encounter a workplace, a class, a sport, a school or a community that was immune from a feud or disagreement of some sort, of some level, that appears trivial. Almost certainly, to the outside world, it will be a feud of confusingly small, near undetectable discrepancy.

Arguably, humans do not actually enjoy endless peace and consensus: they must pick at every edge, seek out disputation, and eventually, someone will punch a sacred cow.

Punch this cow for no good reason.

This is a good thing.

Even if there were something sacred, us mere hominids would not be able to figure out and decide on exactly what that would be. Tampering with custom may cause offense, but in the question of ‘how shall we do things?’, it’s never a waste of time to re-examine first principles and ask ourselves, ‘why do I do what I do?’ and ‘can we do a better job than that?’, else we are left with completely un-vetted orthodoxy.

 

The issue at hand……

 

In the internet age, one will see criticism in the many forms that it takes, and in a much larger volume: Much greater than most humans would experience in the past. Every form that discourse takes in our age is now supercharged beyond that endured by previous generations. The adage that ‘a lie goes round the world three times whilst the truth is putting its boots on‘, might need to be ramped up a few notches. Whilst once upon a time reading something was a case of exposure to someone else’s well-considered thoughts, we all now know that thoughts in writing are often people’s immediate peripheral reactions sent out publicly and un-vetted.

If you can cope with the volume of it, it’s an interesting salad of human thoughts and feelings.

 

Those interactions can cause some Jimmies to be Rustled, and now we arrive at the issue at hand.

When are you just Trolling? What is Graffiti? What is Contradiction? What is an Argument?

Some words from Monty Python are applicable.

 

 

 

Well an argument is not the same as contradiction…… an argument is a connected series of statements in order to establish a definite proposition it isn’t just saying, ‘No it isn’t’!…… An argument is an intellectual process, contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

Those sensitive to criticism can disregard a large amount of critique based on the fact that it isn’t really arguing anything. It is merely contradiction or Trolling or Graffiti?

 

The Prime Minister earlier this year referred to Twitter as ‘electronic graffiti’. I don’t think too many people are going to agree with that, the ability of a medium to work well in 120 characters or less is up for debate. Drive-by literary shootings seem to occur in both short and long formats. It would be a mistake to just think that insults are brief and wit is more expanded.

 

 

 

There are legendary feuds in the internet exercise community. They can be extremely entertaining for those not directly involved.

The Couch Thread is a compendium and anthology of every calamity to beset Crossfit. Running now at 1400 pages, it is everything that is good and bad about exercise critique. Amongst racism, misogyny and bigotry, there are valid questions and incredulous yelps.

Consistent with that theme, Drywall and Elgintensity are strongly satirical in nature and pull no punches. Fail compilations, might actually be performing a great public service. ‘Don’t do this! or else you’ll end up being mocked.’ You’ll be the cautionary tale.

Closer to home for me, catapult vs triple extension is the argument that never goes away. Then there’s debates on Low Bar vs High Bar, Raw vs Equipped, Paleo vs Food Pyramid Orthodoxy vs Zone Dieting and ‘whatever fits your macros’.

We can come to blows over, ‘Steady State Cardio for fat loss vs High Intensity Interval Training’ or why not something simpler? Squatting below parallel, knee explosion or perfectly fine?

Westside vs All Comers.

 

The quality of the discourse requires navigating past all the contradiction and trolling as well as the ‘Strawman Arguments’, before we even get to the content. But getting to the crux of all this, where is the line for critique?

There is an obvious sensitivity to criticism. ‘Keyboard Warriors’, ‘Know-It-Alls’, ‘Internet Experts’; you know what I’m talking about. Do you create a principle of not calling things to account? And if you observe this ‘Rule’, at some point you need to ask if it extends consistently to all matters at all times? Again, where is the line?

Are we allowed to make fun of this?

 

Or do we need to congratulate the fellow for ‘having a go’? Is what’s needed just a call for politeness? Or can we be civil at the same time as a call for honesty and analyze things at the risk of turning up the unpleasant. Can we escape the safe confines of the majority for a moment, and bravely step our foot out where the last step should have been, accidentally stepping on a noisy toy?

Isn’t it possible that temporary merciless satire of this attempt at a weight room skill COULD give inexperienced persons cause to avoid replicating it? Educational moments come in many shapes and sizes, but wouldn’t it be better that the person learns at least what NOT to do, so they can AVOID getting tattooed to the floor?

If Gym Fails cause us to ask, as it does with me, ‘what did they THINK was going to happen?’, then it has now become educational.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself if it’s almost unsportsmanlike to shoot such a large fat fish in such a small barrel. But if you’re doing something in the gym that appears as if you’ve just said, ‘Here, hold my beer while I have a crack at this’, and you put it on the internet, then its going to expose itself to criticism. Some of that criticism might break decorum, but even if it does, is that break in decorum any worse than the failure in practice that it being commented on in the first place?

***

Not every example is such an easy target.

Some times the example is heaped in esteem. And this is where this can get really interesting.

All professions have feedback loops that make up the basic mechanism that drive the evolution of them.

If you are an engineer, and all your bridges fall down, there is a strong feedback loop for improvement. If you are in medicine and your patients start dying, someone will come to ask some questions, in law, your clients all going to jail is going to result in some similar reprisal.

There is nothing like that in exercise prescription. Overwhelmingly, it is a convergence of three powerful phenomena.

#1 Adaptation, is extremely simple. Even the elderly and the infirm can get a training effect of some type. The pluralism of training tactics is testimony to this.

#2 Partly because of the first phenomena, there is a tremendous number of false positives. Even athletes with the most elite output and ability, gaining a training effect is exceptionally easy. This shouldn’t be difficult to understand; possessing the deepest narrowest fitness possible, any divergence from this is almost inevitable. It makes it easy to say, ‘There see…. we got a training effect!’

#3 If you’re going to have a profession, money needs to be made. Commercially, it needs to be demonstrated that value can be added. See points #1 and #2 on how that can be achieved.

 

Earlier this week I wrote an article critiquing the footage of the Australian Men’s Rugby team training in the gym. It was not graffiti, it was not contradiction, it was not trolling.

I gave examples of why I thought it was much less quality in general preparation than should be expected from the flag-ship Rugby program in the nation, and that I felt that the skills that they had chosen to display were not something that should be emulated.

It was an argument about the application to the content that has already been chosen. A key detail.

The responses were largely in solidarity with my own. It’s worth noting, that if you are reading THIS article, you are in the minority. Writing articles for the website for my own gym is essentially a hobby. Whilst the gym is a commercial entity, (but more actually like an athletic club) the articles are basically there for people who are already members, as well as being an outlet for me to form my thoughts into coherent prose.

What I did uncover with the posting of THAT article, encouraged me to finish writing THIS one; ideas for a commentary on internet interaction within the fitness and training community.

At every step when critiquing something within your own industry you have to ask yourself if you are trespassing on the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Ignorance begetting confidence more so than knowledge, is the explanation of David Dunning and Justin Kruger regarding the tendency of the unskilled to overestimate their abilities. On the contrary, skilled people generally (in western countries in particular) have a tendency to underestimate their abilities. You will often notice experts in a given field hedging constantly in their answers. “It could be this”, “I don’t have all the data. “It might be that, but I might be wrong.”

My language in the beginning of the article was fairly clear, Are you seeing what I’m seeing? What do YOU think of this?

We just need a straight answer from prescribers of exercise excellence. Is this consistent with your advice on movement quality and efficiency?

 

An Argument from Authority is a logical fallacy that values opinion based on credential. It’s only natural of course. If you don’t know very much about something, seeking out an authority on the matter is your best choice to start a process of becoming informed.

The critique of authority however, screws up the HTML code of exercise discourse. A Pollyanna approach is acceptable, gushing over a guru is acceptable, criticism is not acceptable.

 

We would be wise to keep in mind the fable of the undraped Emperor. It holds a special place in our folklore and the message is as relevant now as it ever has been. The story condemns the gullibility of the Emperor as much as it does the members of his court, reluctant as they are to call things as they see it,….. ‘doesn’t the Emperor look fine in his new clothes’, ‘We all think he does, only someone who isn’t fit for their job would disagree’.

It takes the boy, innocent of the robust social conventions of the adults, to call out that the Emperor is in fact naked!!!!

 

Hans Christian Anderson’s, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ has a timeless moral to its story.

Pluralistic ignorance somewhat explains the situation regarding people newly into the exercise industry. After a short period acclimatising to the new environment they privately look around and start to see some pretty uninspiring things, generally however they think that everyone else believes in what’s happening.

It doesn’t matter if its Boxercise as cure-all for everything, capricious boot-camp classes, wasteful looking PT sessions; eventually you’re going to notice something breathtakingly stupid.

There is a necessary protection of those in authority however. If you aspire to emulate that person, and you’re following the same pathway, any criticism is likely to be unwelcome, as it damages the very credibility of the pathway you are about to trade on. It will become necessary in that case to prefer hypocrisy: they might quietly disagree, but they will still give things tacit approval, afraid that a less than wholehearted obedience to the career path would be apostasy. ANY criticism is heretical: They’re committed and doubling down.

You know you’re on the right track however when they start with the ad hominem responses. Rather than argue assertions, a debate ensues over the ‘right’ to criticize, and indeed whether its EVER right to criticize, someone from your own field. That right is determined by who you are. This is not particular to the exercise industry, it transcends sport, workplace, social club and family; but mark it down in your notes on the issue at hand.

Make no mistake, the call for ‘respect’ is a call for censorship and a prohibition on critique. Do we really watch the Emperor stroll past in the nude? or do we call things how we see them?

 

Interestingly, it doesn’t take much to notice a strong, ‘Cry before you’re hurt‘ theme developing. Once you see, ‘Inb4 all the internet experts‘, you start to see an actual desire to be offended. It will almost certain be followed by rebuttals as brilliant as, ‘Keyboard Warrior’, ‘Internet expert‘ and an attack on credentials; seldom is the content ever addressed. Attacking and discrediting the person who is making the observation is far easier. When you think about it, its actually quite important that there IS a littering of graffiti and contradiction. For someone who actually does have a case to answer in the quality and hypocrisy of their work, being able to dispense ALL criticism into the same category gives the perfect cover.

A gym huckster NEEDS criticism of the lowest form; it hides the valid investigations. ‘You’re just haters

***

There is generally outrage when anonymous persons ridicule others on the internet. It seems a fair position to take, ‘If you have something to say, put your name on it’. That ethic appears on face value to be a reasonable demand. It does however have a very important alternate way of considering things.

 

Anonymity can be an oddly important tool, it stops someone from using an ad hominem argument. The same crowd who get angry at an anonymous remark that hits the target, is the same crowd who wants to play the man and not the ball anyway. I’m always quite happy for people to know who I am in internet discourse, but it wouldn’t matter even if I were to remain anonymous: the evidence stands on its on merit. Or as the line in Dr Strangelove goes, ‘I’m sorry sir, but those are the figures’

 

I wasn’t shocked at all by what I saw in the Wallabies training footage. What you see there is standard. I’m not impressed by 31 programs, and neither should you be. Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavours of ice-cream….. THAT is impressive. There is no way of telling really who is any good in the profession of Strength and Conditioning/Athletic preparation based on their credentials, who they have worked for, or number of trophies. The false positives are such in team sports that recruitment of talent and technical-tactic coaching, far outweigh the value-adding of general preparation. A general preparation coach may have excellent abilities in one area but there are so many things to have sound knowledge on, and so little is taught in the education modules, that you’re bound to see gym skills at professional clubs and rep teams like those in the Wallabies footage all the time.

Its just necessary from time-to-time to point this out, just to make sure people are paying attention.

You have to look very, very closely for true excellence, and when you find really good all round people you’ll quickly realize that the reason that they ARE any good, is because of the work they have done of their own volition; Not because of how many merit badges they have accumulated. The appeal to credential and authority is bankrupt.

They have 31 programs but WE have 31 flavours!!!

 

I hate to sound like I’m S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G  I-T  O-U-T but the case I made, and I make again here, is quite simple, and please re-read it several times before offering contradiction and ad hominem…..

If you have already decided on selecting skills for your training program, and you are promoting performance improvements, claiming to use sophisticated protocols, and preaching the avoidance and elimination of injuries, “make them bulletproof”, then you must be prepared for critique from people who use those skill selections to a far better level of quality, but with populations of far less natural ability, need, time and training history.

Its a weak response to say, ‘Well he’s winning, so he must be doing something right’, when the evidence more surely suggests something closer to, ‘Gee, that looks pretty uninspiring, I can do that better, they must be able to do just about anything and still play okay.’

 

The identification and questioning of the conduct of the gold-standard is not just a case of, Someone on the internet is wrong!
Its a case of pulling back the curtain on an industry and its education system that produce Exercise Hucksters and Workout Mountebanks that are considered experts and draw an income from credulous customers; be they individuals, professional sporting teams, amateurs or the public at large.

 

One of the greatest and most important movie scenes ever is in the Wizard of Oz. Toto pulls back the drapes, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”.

 

 

As stated in the article, it is important to appear to be ‘cutting edge’. Just doing simple things well wont impress the people doing the hiring. Instead people have a tendency of lamenting that a wheel, after all this time, is still just a wheel. You’re not bringing sexy back if you just doing simple things well. Impressive nomenclature, special looking tools and attachments are an easier sell than a situation where a new client is taught how to do gross movements competently but the complex explanation can wait.

 

 

 

When fitness-fascism arrives, it will be wrapped in a sponsor banner and carrying ‘The Literature’.

 

At its worst, ‘The Literature’, are sacred texts. At its best it is the reasoned and reliable account of proven material used for useful physical adaptation.

The use of ‘The Literature’ can be problem in cases where an appeal to authority is being made.  Formulating a hypothesis, creating a testing battery, gathering data, interpreting it, publishing results, peer-reviewing those results; what could possibly go wrong?

Well a lot. In particular, the issue in exercise is at the front end. Without experience, it is difficult to formulate something worth testing. Who really cares and wants to know about the effects of periodized abs training or how much momentum effects hypertrophic stimulus in lateral dumbbell flyes? Quality results to a stupid research question isn’t really advancing things very much. It turns science into pseudoscience.

The deconstruction and scrutiny of claims is both educational and necessary in the overall improvement of a population.

When that deconstruction and scrutiny reveals laziness, ineptness or self-conscious fraud, the effort has played a particularly useful role. When it uncovers genuinely held but fallacious beliefs, the sensitivity can be observed pretty quickly, and that brings us right back to the beginning.

 

Humans are going to critique things. There can be no prior restraint of calling something into question. If you try to make a complaint about complaining your own credibility is going to be effected and it will be obvious to everyone that the irony is lost on you. You look even worse avoiding a point of conjecture and making a demand for respect instead an analysis of what is said.

Look at every person is if they are a slightly more evolved ape; they are. In a generation we’ll look back and see that right now we were grazing on the low slopes and we can do much better.

 

Jul 15

AN UPDATE ON OUR MEN IN TEXAS.

Well worth updating those who might be interested on ‘Our Men in Texas’

 

The gym serves several purposes, one of them being a meeting place and equipment storage for our local gridiron club. Two of its former players have gone on to bigger and better things. You can keep up to date with their online diary blog here.

 

This is the summary of their training block while they were back home in Australia for a few weeks.

 

 

Jul 15

DEMAND MORE FROM YOUR NATIONAL TEAM’S GENERAL PREPARATION.

Your Honor, if it pleases the court, I enter into the record as evidence, today’s posting of the Men’s National Australian Rugby Union team; your Qantas Australian Wallabies, training in the gym.

 

It may be timely for a critique of the methodologies for the preparation of the flag ship Rugby program in the nation, as the short clip informs us, the World Cup looms. Fans will no doubt appreciate a look behind the scenes and anyone with an affinity for the preparation of athletes, will be keen to see something to aspire to and emulate.

 

The clip begins with the disclosure of the use of ‘force plate’ technology. This disclosure comes from Haydn Masters, ‘Wallabies Head of Physical Performance’. He tells us how the vertical jump gives a ‘…… direct, distinct unique force profile for each player’, and is ‘used for the next 3-4 months to improve going into the World Cup.’

We are not shown what a ‘force plate’ looks like. Here’s one.

 

 

Before we go any further, we first have to consider the importance of the coach’s statement. Albeit this is a 2 minute quick walk around of what is going on, the claim is fairly salient. The players have their vertical jump tested on a force plate and that data contributes to the design of their 3-4 months of general training. I think I do the coach no dis-service by writing that.

Is it possible that 31 participants (at least) could be asked to jump on a force plate and get different results? Is it possible that they have all interpreted the instruction differently? Is it possible that when it IS performed homogenously however, which is surely what you want, the differences are going to be so minor and predictable (the prop coming off an injury will get a different result to the healthy winger) that extrapolating out whatever minor little differences you might find and turning that into ‘injury prevention’ may not be that important. Is it rather that the biggest factor in injury management and prevention is previous injury history? NOT jumping on a force plate.

 

As for programming general training for healthy athletes; is there anything here demonstrating beyond novice skills that nears the realm of what force plate data can tell us to tweak?

 

Whilst that thought is precipitating in your mind, and we shall return to it, let’s take a look at what some of the weight room skills are like. Are they as precise and consistent with, the effort to collect precise high-tech data? Do you think they are in line with what a professional athlete should be able to do? Is this what a professional ‘Physical Performance’ coach should be able to GET them to do?

 

0:37 Is this a competent front rack position? Is there a lack of external rotation in the shoulder? Is this good scapula mobility? Will the player start to burn their wrists shortly? Is this okay? Is 70kg very much weight? Does the overhead position demonstrate more poor end-range mobility? Is there evidence for possible first rib entrapment? Are you okay with all this? Maybe you’re like me, a nobody: but should any of us emulate this?

 

0:47 The player is performing what looks like seated Behind the Neck Presses. Is this competent shoulder mobility? Should this be loaded with weight? Could you conclude that the player cannot externally rotate, abduct and retract their scapula enough to get either their elbow or wrist under the bar? Fortunately there is only baby weight on the bar.

 

0:54 A player catching a Hang Power clean with load over the wrists and elbow instead of on the shoulders. Wrist integrity? Again, fortunately this is very light. Are they getting a training effect from this?

 

 

1:05100% individual‘…….. exhorts the voice over. It sounds like a case is being made for elite individual snowflake status for the players. Are they demonstrating elite general level skills in the weight room? Isn’t it more the case that they are uncoached or novice level? The ‘force plate profile‘ being individual I strenuously argue in both its accuracy and relevance to what is happening in the training of these athletes as discussed above.

Does it look like these athletes are well coached and well into a career of skills in this environment? Or are they being coached on the run? Wouldn’t they be better off back at the starting line with an evolution from applying themselves and adapting to mastering things that work for everyone, and then progressing towards things that are necessary uniquely for them as individuals?

 

1:07 More Behind the Neck presses whilst a gobbledygook of buzzwords talks about a ‘needs analysis’. What is the need here? Is there perhaps a need for this exercise to stop?

 

1:1531 strength and power programs”, …… we’re working off of 2 minutes of footage here, but I ask, ‘do you see competence here?’

It is apparently out of the scope of this program, the people who thought it up, oversee it, participate in it and draw an income from running it, to understand that it is not exceptional for a grown man to be able to be able to push press 100kg for reps, squat 180kg, dead lift 230kg and bench 140kg. There are no attempts at some of these skills in the footage shown but I am making a confident prediction that this program is not capable of producing these basic results. That is the output for an average man with a job and kids and better things to do with his time. A professional athlete should demonstrate excellent general level skills and performance. You need 31 programs when you ARE elite. Not when, quite obviously, everything is coached on the run and you are a novice.

 

1:22 “Snap…… yeah nicceeeeeeee!!!!!!” It is unclear what is snapping here, perhaps some connective tissue.

 

1:24 A player cannot rack the bar in the front rack position. Goes to a thumbless grip because we can guess it has been hurting their wrist. This is a common problem with the players in this program. Not a particularly difficult thing to improve for the majority of people, if you know what you’re doing…… like, if you were the ‘Physical Performance’ coach for the top Rugby program in the land and his staff.

 

1:33 It is important to have 3 staff bear hug you to a back extension apparatus in order to do oblique training. That way you will be convinced that you need to have the staff there to perform this task at all times. It protects jobs.

 

 

1:40 Player making a….. well describe the attempt yourself, at a roll out using a barbell. Ask yourself if it appears whether the players know how to execute this skill. They don’t need to know what its purpose is and why it is included I suppose but is this what competence looks like? Could a better training effect be achieved another way? Is this just for the camera? Is this what you would expect from professional level athletes that have been identified as the best at their sport and gone through multiple years of ‘development’ and all that a ‘professional development program’ can possibly achieve?

 

1:50 Mucking around with band resistance rotational exercises. Ask yourself if you really think that this is something worth doing considering the lack of skill and ability in all other competencies demonstrated so far in the clip? This is the usual distraction from a program that cannot advance an athlete beyond novice level output in general preparation.

Watch the clip again. Are they just making this shit up on the spot? The poor player, you can almost add the speech bubble. ‘Da fuq are they making me do this shit for’?

This is a good reason for us to return to the force plate. Judging by the ability here of the coaches to teach the athletes a skill, how homogenous do you think they could get the testing of jumping on a force plate? What good is the data now?

 

1:59 More crappy push pressing with baby weight.

 

2:18 Mercifully it ends.

 

At least three very powerful phenomena are at play here:

1)   People will always resort to that which is most easily measured.

2)   It is more important to appear to be an elite specialist than it is to be a competent generalist.

3)   Superior genetics and technical-tactical skills in the sporting realm will always give cover to poor general preparation.

 

That is what is happening here, general training. There is no ball, no scrummaging, no line-outs being practiced: There is no tackling. If you are training generally then I put it to you that you do so with the most efficient practice possible. There is no ‘Rugby way’ of lifting a barbell. As soon as one hears, ‘We’re not trying to be weightlifters in here!’ the corollary we should all ask ourselves is, ‘what is the non-weightlifting way to move a barbell efficiently?’ and after all, we are trying to be efficient aren’t we? Aren’t we?

 

Of course we want to be, no one would disagree with that. But on one hand there is an argument that we’re not training like elite specialists so we can protect ourselves from critique of our weight room skills, then the next we’re claiming that elite individual programming is being used and is necessary. Make up your mind! You can’t have it both ways and in fact, you’re wrong twice.

 

If the general training of one athlete is the specific training of another then the difference will be of degree, not kind. Otherwise your plan for application to performance and injury prevention is a fugazi.

 

Your Honor: The prosecution rests.

 

The Wallabies may win the World Cup, yes, this training won’t make that much difference. Kicking, passing, tackling, ruck and maul skills, injuries, penalties will all be more important. But if you are saying that you are training for your sport, and you are using skills to complete that task, shouldn’t you be able to muster a standard that puts you above the local soccer team?

Jun 22

A CLOSER LOOK AT SPEED AND AGILITY DRILLS.

Everyone loves a good agility ladder.

 

 

But take the ladder away, block out what the feet are doing, just look at the torso and hips; what is the person doing?

Almost without exception, they’re looking down at their feet and their actual body is going almost no where: No where fast.

What exactly is being trained? ‘Footwork’?, ‘Fast feet’?, ‘Quickness’?

Let us be clear, the way in which many agility drills are trained is essentially only training one facet of what is necessary to move quickly in a field sport. Stride Frequency.

 

You’re basically getting a lot of foot contacts, all the while at a low actual speed across the ground.

In and of itself this is not particularly useful. Moving your feet up and down on the spot quickly is clearly not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to move the whole body (centre of mass) quickly, chasing and evading. In sports, this is the only thing that matters, as we’re not talking about a sport where form is scored: diving, aerial skiing, gymnastics…… we’re talking largely about invasion games; football codes, hockey etc (** ask me some time about why gymnasts often make terrible runners**)

 

Now take another look at someone performing ladder drills and the like. Does their foot contact look like this?

Ruh-Roh

You’re about to have a bad day. Think about the difference in forces on the interface between the ground and the foot on a ladder drill and compare it to what is happening in a game situation at high speed. They are nothing like each other. If you’re up on your toes like this on the field, you are not moving quickly and you’re now possessing the same problem as you do when you run like this in a linear fashion at speed; you’re over-stressing the plantar fascia and soleus. Shin splints and plantar fasciitis are about to visit you.

Landing high on the toe and compressing down to the heel gives us the same inefficient effect as training for speed on the sand….. you’re creating a longer contact time. You’re also throwing in un-due stress, and inefficient use, of the lower leg for free.

 

You could have a few more millimeters under the heel here. Don’t ask me how I got this pic done. Rest assured I almost fell over.

 

You neither want to be landing primarily on your heel OR on your toe. It should be forefoot first and then *maybe* heel depending on other factors. Hard deceleration we will come to another day.

 

Now, back to the ladders: what are they good for? Not that much really. Particularly if you are a very good athlete. Indeed there are people who are preparing for their sport who are not blessed with very good anything. They’re not fast, strong, agile, flexible, well conditioned or very adaptive. Yes: they will be better at their sport by using agility ladders. Coordinating themselves, starting to get an idea of tempo and cadence, starting to condition themselves and the lower leg structures, most of all build stride frequency.

 

A good athlete though can basically use them as a warm up and that’s about it. In fact, teaching a good athlete a bunch of drills and techniques that encourage them to take more steps in a smaller space, get up on their toes frequently, look down, and have no regard to the vertical displacement of their body is a terrible way to train them.

 

Watch this sequence of pics. A massively valuable ability is that of being able to make high speed cuts and explosive movements in opposing directions. Here a 90 degree cut is being trained. The athlete needs to learn how to effectively reduce their vertical displacement (drop their centre of mass), take a significant horizontal displacement step, push off and take a smaller step that creates a shin angle that can be pushed off.

 

 

The right leg has stepped out to the side, we can now ‘fall’ into the cut and push off at speed.

Note the angle of the left shin here. The more severe we can make this angle, the more we can push off at speed.

Run straight, drop center of mass and step horizontally, fall into the cut, take a small step that you can push off and accelerate out of the cut. DO NOT take a bunch of quick choppy steps. DO NOT try to stay upright.

 

Footwork that reaches, footwork that stutters, footwork that keeps our foot on the ground a long time: the Devil’s work!

May 25

SPEEDINESS, JUMPINESS AND EXPLAINING YOUR ANECDOTES.

I’m inventing words now, ‘Jumpiness’ pfft. If Speedy Gonzalez was a cartoon character, what cartoon animal can we have to take up the role of Jumpy…… let’s call him ‘Morris’, or how about ‘Walter’? Shall we make him one of those Jumping Spiders? That could be too terrifying.

YEEEE-HA!!!! I think we can assume that Speed Gonzalez had good genetics.

 

Strength, Speed and Jumping; it is important for you to understand the ability of these traits to be trained. It will increase your understanding and limit your frustration.

Strength is one of the most trainable capacities of fitness. The pluralism of strategies is testament to the fact that it is a very easy capacity to improve for the majority of people; almost to the point that it is not worth arguing about if ‘you just want to get stronger‘. Pick up rocks: get stronger. Push a car: get stronger. Change from drinking middies to schooners: get stronger. It usually becomes MY business when they say the want to get stronger efficiently and competently.

Speed and Jumping ability are a different creature. Whilst a strength expression is not overly concerned with time; asking only ‘How much weight and how far does it move?’ Speed and Jumping definitely are time dependent.

 

Nobody is timing your 1RM, but its pretty hard to clean and jerk slowly. A bit of ‘coaching lean’ helps.

 

It is the neuromuscular efficiency, how long it takes to utilize and recruit the musculature, which comes into play with speed and jumps. How your motor neurons are innervated into the muscle fibers and what type they are is key in every rapid pulse of exertion that you attempt to make. This is the reason that jump testing is a standard common measure for talent identification; it is largely untrainable and essentially a test of genetic deliverance.

Shorten the number of pulses and less trainable is the quality; hence the anecdotes of shot put throwers being capable of excellent short sprint abilities. As the expression lengthens, the importance of biomechanics and conditioning comes into play. Now strength has an influence on both sprinting speed and jumping ability, but not nearly as much of an influence as genetics; that neuromuscular ability that you are born with really is the biggest indicator of output.

You will see athletes training extremely hard over quite some time who will have much poorer jumping and short sprint abilities than someone who has hardly trained at all. This reality though is no reason to avoid training the qualities applicable to your overall goals; you train and improve the things that you can and your genetic cards fall where they may. Just because you only improved your vertical jump from 60cm to 66cm in 6 months and your friend who doesn’t train at all jumps 72cm without warming up shouldn’t distract you from all the other improvements you have made with your training: Strength, Running Skills, Jump and Landing efficiency, Conditioning, Muscular hypertrophy, Body fat reduction.

Consider these observations on how someone can improve their Speed and Jumping ability to figure out why you get the results that you get.

 

* You have gained 7 kg of bodyweight since your last testing 2 months ago and your speed has either stayed the same or declined slightly. Don’t worry, you’re moving more weight the same distance in the same time, your power has increased even if speed hasn’t.

* You have been training very hard, with a lot of volume, and your nervous system is very depressed; you feel over trained. Your jumps and sprints are pretty ordinary and there are team mates and peers who are doing better than you but they hardly train at all. Those same team mates do not have your work capacity and strength.

* You had a huge training block at the start of the year, you gained a lot of mass and a lot of body fat. You transitioned into your field sport and slowly gained some work capacity with an increase of conditioning work whilst keeping a low volume maintenance of strength work. After a bye week, deep into the season, you’re 5 kg lighter than at the beginning, still pretty strong and very fresh because the coach gave you some time off over the bye week. You set a PR in your vertical jump because you felt really good and wanted to test where it was,

* Someone on your team puts up monster testing numbers, but during a game, they do not stand out, they are inconsistent with their play and other players of less spectacular output perform better. The technical-tactical skills are the more vitally important components of field sports. Never forget this, but also realize that you can’t use your ‘craftiness‘ to win the high jump.

* You are morbidly obese, your vertical leap is 14cm, you lose 37kg, you jump 53cm. This result does not mean that the observation that jumping ability is ‘largely untrainable‘ has been invalidated, it means you used to be fat and now you’re not and obviously you’re an outlier.

Apr 27

Retro-Homunculus Linear Progression

The thought experiment goes something like this:

Imagine being put on a barge 200 nautical miles out past the ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ with a humane amount of water. You’re out there for 4 days. On the 5th day a rescue boat comes and saves you, how much body fat do you think you will have lost?

 

You didn’t think you’d learn about maritime borders on a gym’s website did you.

 

There is no equivalent to this in strength training. You could marinate someone in steroids and they’re not going to get that much stronger after 4 days. It is for this reason that strength, as a capacity of fitness should be emphasized over body fat percentage for essentially everyone except for the morbidly obese.

The concern over body fat and ‘getting too big’ manifests in the creation of the Homunculus mindset. A very small person. That very small person is sabotaging themselves with an irrational concern over getting bigger, in turn halting potential progress in getting stronger; which is fine except if they are combining this concern over bodyweight with the attempt to get stronger, then it has been irrational.

 

Every now and then we host a new lifter who was manufactured by an alchemist.

 

Linear progression is a sensible methodology for new lifters: this is both people who haven’t been to anything calling itself a gym in a long time or indeed, forever; as well as those who have never been lifters before and instead been stuck in a rut of exercise over training. Anyone who has not gone through something like a linear strength progression CAN and SHOULD do so to find the upper reaches of where their genetic strength potential could be.

The top end of linear progression is where things can get tricky. Mr and Mrs Homunculus will sometimes create a false plateau because of their lack of calorie consumption but the authentic linear stall can be dealt with in the same way…. A reset and more eating.

It looks something like this. You’re overhead pressing and you take the following work sets…

3×5@45kg

3×5@46kg

3×5@47.5kg but you only get 5, 4, 4.

You re-try and you get 4, 4, 3. Okay now its time to reset the weight.

3×6@ 43.5kg

3×6@ 45kg

3×6@ 46kg

3×6@ 47.5kg (you get 6, 5, 5 but that’s okay you keep going)

3×5@ 48.5kg

It took you 5 sessions to move up 2.5kg but that’s ok. You got it. This is still the fastest way to move between the 2 sessions.

The image of the sure and steady tortoise is one of the emblematic flag bearers of how sensible work gets done. Bodyweight up, bar weight up work methodically and reset where necessary. You can always spend a few days out in international waters in the future.

 

Look how happy that tortoise is!! LOOK AT HIM!!!!
That could be you with your lifting if you just ate a little more and training consistently.

 

What you might well miss is some simple math: 2.5kg per week x 52 weeks is 130kg. 130kg is a lot of weight to add to ANY lift and that jackpotting of weight on the bar is possible in one form or another as long as you employ the effort towards the things that take a long time instead of haring off in the direction of ‘gettin lean and jacked’ when you’re weak and unskilled.

Mar 16

PEDAGOGICAL REASONING AND A FUTURE OF BETTER MATURE-AGED ATHLETES.

So it’s time to swim against the tide again.

Today we attack the well-worn maxim below.

 

 

Its not important to know who JJ Watt is, he’s a very good professional NFL player in the USA. That HE is saying is not the issue, that this is a salient theme of opinion amongst the stakeholders of organized sport for children is the reason why I have chosen it as the flagship statement to critique.

 

Let’s take a look at this bit-by-bit and unpack it because I have contrary opinion of what the actual problem is.

 

My interpretation of this statement, and the general theme, is that there are two main concerns; one about physical development, the other psychological/social development. There is a fear and perception that children are being ‘pushed’ into taking a single sport seriously too early in life.

 

There is a repeating concern at the higher levels of organized sport that kids arrive at the top levels lacking certain skills, ‘peak-too-early’ and then fail at the sport; in particular accumulating injuries. Additionally, they will have a humorless sporting experience and mimic some of the landmark ‘child-prodigy’ kids who later fell from grace. (Think Tiger Woods post-sexcapade revelations, Nick D’Arcy, Jelena Dokic, Todd Marinovich)

 

On reflection, those careers on paper would be more than acceptable, its the behavior linked to the person that is concerning. But since Watt mentioned both physical and psychological aspects of concern, so shall we.

 

SOME EVIDENCE BEYOND ME JUST GAS-BAGGING.

 

From this article, Is it Wise to Specialize?, ‘here are five research excerpts’.

Of the 5, 3 are related to injury and the other 2 are psychological/behavioral based (continuing on with physical activity in adult life and burnout/stress). These are loosely referred to.

 

The article throws up several objections to sporting specialization and sites a study that can be found here.

It makes these observation:-

- The study found that 60.4 percent of the injured athletes specialized in sports, while only 31.3 percent of the uninjured athletes specialized.

- Uninjured athletes spent a total of 8.8 hours a week playing organized sports, while injured athletes spent 11 hours.

Importantly, However, this finding had a P value of 0.07, meaning that it fell just short of being considered statistically significant. Jayanthi said results of the current study are preliminary.’

 

Ultimately, it should be no mystery that athletes who take a sport more seriously will more likely consult a specialist for a physical malady. Sporting excellence does not, and should not, suggest optimal health; it merely suggests specialized adaptation.

The extra 2.2 hours per week spent participating in sport alone could account for the injury rate in the study.

 

 

CUTTING TO THE CHASE.

 

A single sport does not axiomatically preclude variations in the dreaded ‘ingrained motor patterns’ and inevitably create ‘over-use injuries’. Neither does participation in a single sport preclude social and personal development in youth. From the same related article by the Aspen Institute….

 ‘Models that include the multiplicative, complex, and multifactorial nature of talent development may prove to be the most valuable to children.’

‘Need to better recognize that talent development in youth is multifactorial and complex, and includes the interaction of numerous biological, social and psychological factors (Bailey et al., 2010)’

 

Anecdotally, the experience of Shire Speed and Strength gym has been that youth athletes arrive at the gym having spent their career to that point endlessly sampling various sports, often showing talent in some of them, but never actually developing the multitude of factors necessary for sporting excellence and mastery. They participate in sporting with a large running component but are terrible runners. They have poor mobility. They’re weak.

 

Of course there is a bias towards athletes consulting us here for help who have problems to solve, if they didn’t need help they wouldn’t come to us, but even beyond the consultancy, the dialogue with other coaches, competitors and parents is actually one of multiple sports and multiple unaddressed inefficiencies.

 

Overall I perceive a prejudice against kids. That they can’t be conscientious about sport. That they only ever want to have fun. That they can’t be taught complex skills.

 

I disagree.

 

The desire to want to learn, to start at a conservative point, to progress soberly and thoughtfully and to value and acknowledge that process transcends age; occurring across the spectrum of age-groups.

 

Maybe its the preference as a business model to want to teach kids in groups and the difficulty and time-consuming nature of laying skills out diligently precludes it. But the answer to this perceived problem of youth sport isn’t going to be solved by just ‘having a go’ at more sports. The same people who make this haphazard recommendation are the same ones who will get angry at ‘everyone gets a trophy day’ then rage, RAGE I TELL YA! At some league they heard of that doesn’t even keep score!

“Do-gooders, they’re everywhere!” “Yeah! Lousy no good do-gooders!”

 

Can’t we agree after the final score check, that there is common ground on this?

Playing sport: GOOD

Keeping score: GOOD

Trophies: GOOD but not for everyone.

 

We agree its good to play sport, and do it well, we want to keep score and kids need to learn to lose. But surely developing a child at a sport if they really like it means that they need to develop all the components of that sport and it is this which is missing in youth development. Things wont actually get better by playing more sports in an even less organized and planned way.

 

Mar 09

“Okay, here we go.” Coaching tips from Actors, Directors and Musicians.

Just follow with me here for a moment.

 

Early on with an athlete, a lifter; someone I’m coaching. The beginning is mobility and skills; the intensity and the volume comes later.

 

They’re here because they have already identified in themselves that they need help, so a coaching disposition that I find helpful causes me to think back to a few people who share the same approach as I do.

 

 

Clint Eastwood requires no introduction, Actor, Director and Producer, you only need to look up his history in television and movies to see how experienced and respected he is. This clip from his appearance of ‘Inside the Actors Studio’, shows him explaining his technique as a director: it is sage advice. There is no point putting a new lifter on edge. A coach needs to find out exactly what they are starting with, so putting someone at ease in a new environment is essential. There is plenty of time in the future to push some buttons and get a motivated training effect from them.

 

 

Dweezil Zappa, the son of the more famous Frank Zappa, has a similar technique when starting his sets. The complexity of music that Dweezil re-creates when performing his father’s music, through dozens of concerts every year, he does so with a calm readying for performance like Eastwood.

 

 

“Okay, here we go.” Just start, we don’t need to startle people when we first start working with them.

 

Feb 23

THE HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY FOR PROBLEMS WITH BARBELL TRAINING.

New lifters come to the gym and explain how they feel that they are having trouble with their lifting technique and skills.

My usual reply is, “you’ve come to right place.”

Quackery is everywhere however, and I have recently considered how things might work if I used homeopathic remedies to fix problems in barbell training.

 

 

Basically, what I would do if you were having problems with your squatting would be to file off some metal from an old barbell, mix it in some distilled water, slosh it around to dilute it, and then have the person drink it.

 

 

The exposure to a small sample of what is supposed to be giving you trouble is a like cures like concept that seems to want to borrow off of immunology theory in some bizzare way.

 

It might work if barbells were growing out of you perhaps. In short, people, don’t go drinking water that has metal filings in it okay? You need to train instead.

Feb 05

THE CANARY IN THE GYM COAL MINE.

*** This is a re-write of an old post from the old gym website from several years ago.***

 

 

There are warning signs all around us; not of impending doom from the perceived sheer danger of a weight room, but rather of individuals and how they may do themselves a disservice from the poor habits they have developed and the way they look at gym environments. In another article we warned you all of ‘The Battler’.


A good place to start for everyone coming to SSS is to take a look and see what sort of habits they have developed already and what sort of baggage they are bringing from other gyms. There may be some excellent ingrained skills that are not worth tampering with but usually there are a multitude of problems, and tell-tale signs abound of what those problems may be; both mechanical and philosophical.

 

Remember, there is always a bias against new lifters to any gym in that in many cases the reason they are looking for coaching and a new gym is because they detect a problem that they can’t fix themselves.

 

This is pretty much how happy they look too.

 

* The lifter stretching out their anterior shoulder, before during and after some sort of pressing variation. The unfailing indicator of residual pain and inflammation from a mechanical issue with his pressing mechanics.

 

* The lifter who almost hits their head on the bar when they lay back on the bench. If left to continue on their normal progression, it will only be a few moments before you’re pulling the bar off of their body as their legs flail like a squashed insect because they have too much on the bar.

 

* The person who when asked to go through their normal warm up routine, launches into a 25min body-weight calisthenic program that ‘gets their heart-rate up‘ and ‘activates the ________ muscles‘, but leaves them still unable to achieve basic terminal mobility positions.

 

* The skinny guy who throws a plate on each end of the bar before even warming up at the squat rack. A squat intervention is about to happen.

 

* The ‘Mixer’; the guy mixing up supplements before, during and directly after his workout and has it all laid out everywhere. Usually we can do something with ‘The Mixer’; at least they’re committed.

 

 

These warning signs don’t just occur immediately in front of you; the dead canary can be found any time you read an article, watch an interview or listen to a podcast or presentation.

 

This is what they mean when they say, “we don’t what do be like weightlifters here.”

 

* The statement when talking about the use of barbell lifting in the preparation of other sports, “we’re not training to be weightlifters here”, as if there were some sort of non-weightlifting way to lift a barbell efficiently.

 

* They double down when talking about running, “we’re not trying to be Olympic sprinters here”, as if there were some non-sprinter way to run faster. These same people then proceed to start executing a series of running drills just as a competition sprinter would except with no attention to detail.

 

 

* The ‘Tyre Kicker’. They usually come in to check out the gym and ask a question like “So are you guys a gym?” As if the view of the gym from the front door could suggest anything else.

The ‘Tyre Kicker’ may also announce themselves via the request for some sort of discount, “is there any movement on that price?” They haven’t lifted at the gym yet, their number #1 consideration on choosing a gym is price. They over look the fact that SSS hosts countless Exercise Science graduates and undergraduates looking for skills as well as Personal trainers and Coaches. They are oblivious that the going rate for a Personal Training session at a commercial gym is $60 for 45minutes and at Shire Speed and Strength, members pay nothing extra than the fortnightly rate to learn new skills daily in a one on one setting.

The ‘Tyre Kicker’ will be impressed with a gym keyring, a free towel and ‘atmosphere’. Those things will be good accessories to the lifting problems that they may never learn to solve.

 

Are you guys a gym? What else could this place be? Seriously, I have nothing.

 

 

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