Thursday, April 23, 2020

Beginners: Think Less, Not More

Nobutada: Please forgive, too many mind.
Nathan Algren: Too many mind?
Nobutada: Hai. Mind the sword, mind the people watching, mind the enemy, too many mind... [pause] No mind.

- The Last Samurai
You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. 
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a theory that I've been ruminating on. I can't tell if - in whole or in part - it is something I found in my brain or my ass. I don't think it applies to everybody. Few things do. Just like with everything, many roads lead to Rome.

This theory branches out from my observation over close to the last decade that the people who think the most about training seem to be the people who are the worst at it. They fuck around the most, they stick with their training the least, they do the least work, they change things too often. It seems to me that the people who are the most successful have a tendency to focus their efforts on really simple shit - eat properly, train hard, train consistently.

The theory is that it is easier for some people to just go do the right things - instead of pursuing the answers to a thousand masturbatory questions - because they were on a sports team as a kid. They didn't get to ask questions. Their coach told them what to do, and they did it, or they were in for it. Through this experience, they learned to just shut up and train.

Let me reiterate - I don't think this applies to everybody. I sure didn't play sports as a kid. But here I am, in Rome.

I'm rambling, but I guess that's what I always do. Rule #1 of doing this blog is that I just write and don't get to go back and edit.

Training is a physical thing. The quality or "efficiency" - excuse me while I spit at that fucking insufferable word - of your plan doesn't matter if you don't go out and do it, over and over, for a long period of time. You can't think or plan or research or optimize super duper hard and then it just naturally follows that you get big and strong. You have to actually train.

Thought and planning are not a substitute for effort and time. I feel like people who think too much somehow cannot grasp this, because they just cannot seem to stop trying to make that sieve hold water.

I sometimes get into arguments about overthinking, over-planning, over-researching. It always seems to be with some bozo who has spent years trying to do it their way and having nothing to show for it. But they still think that they're doing things the right way. And they always ask the same question:

What is the harm in researching and learning more and being more efficient and optimizing?

I have thought about that question more than it deserves to be thought about. I can come up with a lot of ideas. I can argue that it takes time, effort, and energy away from the most important part - the actual training. I can argue that it is often little more than productive procrastination. I could make some analogy about how you don't learn to juggle by throwing 30 balls at yourself on Day 1 that some fucking dildo who has been juggling for a month would WELL AKSHULLY me about. I can drop that quote by Patton about good plans violently executed today. I can say some shit about Hick's Law or how perfect is the enemy of good. I can lob out phrases like "majoring in the minors", "the last 5% that matters", "premature optimization", "analysis paralysis" and "god damnit".

But these people make me tired, and I've decided that I give up. I don't think they even care about the answer - they just want to either do a cost-benefit analysis or prove to themselves that there isn't an answer so they can feel even smarter when they do the thing they were already going to do no matter what you said to them.

I don't know what the harm is. I don't know why it's apparently impossible for so many people to both do a ton of research and learning and actually train hard enough, consistently enough, to get the results that they want. Above all else, I don't know how to explain that a strategy is problematic to someone who can't even get it by looking back at their own history of failure.

I know the harm is there, because I have seen the results of it for years. I know that there are a large number of people who cannot handle both thinking and training. I don't know why, and I've decided that I also don't care, because trying to drag people away from the cliff they're trying desperately to throw themselves off of is exhausting.

You cannot prattle on about efficiency and optimization at the very same time that you are waiting for peak efficiency and maximum optimization to get started. People do this, and it makes me insane.

The act of training is what is the most important. This must be understood. Not the specifics - The act. This is what should receive the most attention and the most time.

If you were to plop a human bread loaf in front of me that would for just once trust that I am not a deep cover Russian agent sent to deliver shitty training advice so Americans will become weak - because I swear to God that is the degree of resistance some people give when asking for training advice - this is what I would tell them:

Find a training program that came from somebody who knows what they are doing. This is not as hard as people make it out to be. Well respected professionals are easy to find and you can pick any of them. Failing that, pick anything in the r/Fitness Wiki. Then do the program. Don't ask questions, don't tweak it unless you absolutely have to because of equipment restrictions, don't think about it at all. Just go and do it. Don't go LARPing that you're an academic researcher, don't go read a bunch of shit about rep ranges and INOLs and MRVs. Don't spend more than a day picking something to do. Don't try to make your own routine.

What you should be learning first is the process of shoving your shrieking brain into a corner with a gag in its mouth, and going out to execute a plan with ferocity and dedication. This is a skill and a tool that every person should have in their toolbox. It is not the right tool for every job. It is the right one for this job.

Get into the habit of training consistently without dwelling on what you're doing, where you might be in six months, what you might be doing wrong, what you could do better - learn how to train based on trust. Your results are measured on a time scale that is long - you have to be able to pick and stick with something for a long time so it has time to bear fruit. Think about refining your approach to training later, when it matters. Because it may never matter.

This is a thing that I believe strongly - Most people can achieve their training goals by doing nothing more glamorous than walking in someone else's footsteps, and it is not until one is at a competitive level that it begins to matter which someone that is or where the footsteps are. There is no shame in painting by numbers, because reinventing the wheel is stupid. Using a wheel someone else already created and refined ahead of you is much smarter than pretending you can replace decades of trial and error and experience with a few days of reading.

You do not get bonus gains points for making up a routine on your own instead of doing an existing one - and I'm here to tell you, after looking over years worth of routine critique posts, none of you are making anything new or interesting anyway. All the hours you are pouring into doing research and carefully crafting optimal volume and exercise selection and timing is for shit, because what you're producing from it is also for shit. There are only two answers to 99% of routine critiques - "It's fucking retarded" and "It looks like one of any of two dozen existing, proven routines except you picked a different kind of curls".

I'm rambling again.

When I was growing up, I was "one of the smart kids", and everybody told me this. Looking back now, I can say with certainty that it did more harm to me than it did good. I understand the shackles of needing to be "smart" in everything by thinking, researching, and planning, and I know that I am more useful as a person having taken them off. These things are just tools and they are not the right tool for every job. "Being smart" is not found in trying to use the same tools to tackle every problem.

If you need to know what the harm in thinking too much is in order to take this advice, I don't have an answer for you. What I have is that I have watched tens of thousands of people spend so much time trying to be smart that they forget to do the most important thing in reaching their goals, and so fail. I have fallen into that trap myself. I do not recommend banking on the idea that you might be the kind of person who can think without sacrificing training.

Think less, act more. Act now, think later. Train constantly, think intermittently.

Monday, April 20, 2020

More Questions Strong People Don't Ask

There is a kind of person who is determined to be mad. They don't seem to care what they're mad about, they just want something to be mad about. It's been my experience that those same people tend to also be dummies who can't think good, and I suspect that is why they spend so much time being mad.

-

A point of clarification: There is a difference between pursuing, having, and challenging others to have strength of will, character, and mind, and literally being Biff Tannen.

There is a model sometimes called the Force Continuum that mostly comes up when discussing uses of force by law enforcement. A self defense coach I used to train with once said that everyone has a maximum level of force they are comfortable with, and most people will consider anyone comfortable with a higher level to be an asshole or abusive, and anyone only comfortable with lower levels to be weak or cowardly. In my own experience I have found that to be pretty spot on.

I feel this is relevant to think about, because one thing I have learned from the internet is that there are people who have lost their ability to tell the difference between the above two types of person. Put another way - a duckling knows no difference between a wolf and my son, the toddler. Both are bigger and stronger, but one wants to eat him and the other just wants to give the quackie some of his Fruit Loops.

Put yet another way - A stack of baby bunnies in a hat and trench coat aping at being a fully formed person knows no difference between someone with strength, grit, and resilience, and the machomasculine bully caricature that mostly exists only in movies written by guys who probably got beat up in high school. I know this because guys who I know to be very good people get consistently called toxic bully gatekeeper macho meathead assholes on the internet the moment something they say reflects that they are not made of glass and don't think anyone else should be trying to be.

So, here is a final word - Preference for strength and disdain for weakness do not make a person a bully. Neither do expressing them, giving advice to others based on them, or writing rants in one's personal blog. Conversely, having disdain for those who are strong is not a virtue - it is simply sour grapes.

***

Another point of clarification: There is a difference between curiosity and wondering about a thing, and then actually asking about it. Every question a person can think of does not need nor even deserve to be discussed, heard by others, or answered. A good life skill to develop is being judicious about which musings that bubble up uncontrollably in your skull are allowed to percolate out of your mouth (or finger-mouths).

Actual thoughts are largely beyond our control. To head off some bozos who are gonna act like I'm pretending to be Emperor Stoicism - no. Incredibly stupid questions come up in my own brain all the time, just as they do for everyone. It is the inability to recognize that a question is stupid or worthless, to let it go and carry on without asking it of others, that separates some people from others. And it is an uncontrolled need to ask some kinds of questions - and to care about the answers - that, in my opinion, is a red flag for potentially being... wimpy? Fragile? Cowardly? An L.7. Weenie? A wet blanket?

Below are some such questions.

***

"Is that person taking steroids?"

If you care about the answer to this question enough to want other people to weigh in on it, there's a good chance you don't have it in you to succeed in training - unless your only training goal is "Don't do nothing", at which point I don't know why you care about anything because nothing you do matters.

There is no point in knowing the answer to this. It doesn't change what you can achieve or what you need to do to achieve it. The only thing you can do with this information is tell yourself "I can't get that because I'm not steroids", which is a statement that has absolutely no value in the pursuit of success - only in the pursuit of being a sad bastard and dragging your ass.

"Should I bulk or cut?"

What you should do is be a god damn adult.

You have eyeballs. You can look in the mirror, decide which kind of shit you look like and make a decision about what to do about it. There is no good reason to outsource this decision to other people. There are no crack experts in bulkorcutology. No experience is necessary to eyeball Play-Doh wearing a person suit and tell it it needs to get leaner. You do not want "the advice of veterans", you want someone else to bear the responsibility of deciding because you are a coward.

If you want to blame something other than yourself if you bulk/cut and don't like how you look at the end, dart boards and dice are very inexpensive.

"Is [thing that is not remotely like strength training at all] an ok substitute for leg day?"

No. Unless it's this:

Hate BOSU Balls? Don't Use Manual Perturbations - Driveline Baseball

Dear everybody: Stop trying to get out of doing strength training in an entire half of your body. It's not that bad, you are just being a baby. If you want to be a baby about training your legs, just be a baby. It's ok. Your all biceps, chest, and abs routine wasn't going to trick Tinders (or Grindrs, I don't judge) into climbing into bed with you despite the gaping holes in your personality anyway.

"What would happen if I did X but didn't do Y?"

You'll explode. Every disc in your spine and the spine of everyone in a 20 foot radius will herniate, your knees will spontaneously reverse themselves, and the Doom Slayer himself will descend into your shoulder and tear your rotator cuffs asunder. You will contract leprosy, and your ass will grow taste buds.

Or nothing. Or, most likely, you'll get worse results than you could otherwise, and you already know that, so why the fuck are you asking?

This is a type of "What can I get away with?" question that's about tackling one factor well and another factor poorly. And if you dig into it with the person, the reason not to do Y is always just "I don't waaaannnnnaaaa". It's never "I can't eat vegetables because I live on a remote island in the Pacific and I have no way to acquire them" - It's always some childish shit like "vegetables are yucky and I forgot salt exists". It's never "I can't change my diet because my best friend framed me for treason and now I'm imprisoned in Chateau d'If", it's "I gave up after a day because cookies are too good to not eat whole boxes of".

"I saw somebody [doing thing], what's that about?"

Only a person doing a thing can tell you why they are doing that thing. If you really have to know - and here's a hint, you don't - ask them directly. But you won't. You will go onto the internet and ask strangers to speculate on a vague description of what you saw instead. You will tell yourself that it's because you didn't want to be rude, and that's not entirely a lie, but it's really just that you are afraid to say words at another person.

This kind of question reminds me of how my son likes to run up to me and say "Daddy whayoudoon" and then run off. It is something that a toddler does out of necessity that an adult should not feel a need to do and should also know better than to be doing - and even then, my toddler asks me directly when he wants to know what I'm doing. Now, granted, he does that because toddlers just don't give a fuck. But as an adult, you should do it because you're not to be afraid of dumb shit like talking to other human beings - or simply recognize it's a question that doesn't deserve to be answered and just move on.

"How do I train to be functional? I don't want to be a fat waddling powerlifter or a gross mass monster bodybuilder."


Chandler Shut Up GIFs | Tenor

You don't. Because that word doesn't fucking mean anything. A function is a specific action. But not to worry - based on my observations, I will answer this question for you with the most common functions that people who ask this want to perform.
  • Be a smug knob on the internet: Do some strength training and some running, but deliberately never reach results above low-intermediate levels. Yoga is optional but recommended - bonus points for hot yoga.
  • Accuse bigger, stronger people of having a disorder: Same as above, except you stop at mid-beginner level and deliberately never gain muscle.
  • Impress unfit people: Learn a couple of basic bodyweight moves that have a skill/practice component. Do lots of unweighted pullups.
  • Fantasize that you could be Batman: Do CrossFit, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Krav Maga. Train your vertical jump.
  • The mundane functions you actually perform in your everyday life: You don't need to train at all.


"Do you count the weight of the bar when you say how much you lift?"


Head Is Full Of Fuck (@HeadFullOfFcuk) | Twitter

Sunday, January 5, 2020

"Good Will Hunting", Part 2 - For Dingdongs

When ZBGBs browbeat me into making my thought-vomit into a blog instead of just leaving it sitting on my computer, I only felt okay with doing it if I first set a couple of hard rules for myself.

I'm breaking Rule #3 with this post, and I think I can justify doing it just this one time because A) This is really short and B) It's primarily for giggles.

I made a diagram for everyone who got all wrapped up trying to "WELL ACTUALLY..." the themes of a Mett Daymin movie because the post was about them, and zoomed past the point.


I hope my use of crayons and bright colors helps.

Friday, January 3, 2020

"Good Will Hunting" is Not a Documentary

How many times did your mother tell you not to touch the stove when it was hot?
How many more times did you touch it after you didn't listen to her and found out for yourself what it feels like?

- Sgt. Rory Miller
If you bury a gold coin in the center of a pile of shit, no one walking by is going to say, "Oh hey, maybe I'll dig through this big steamy pile of shit to see if there's something valuable there." They just see a pile of shit. "Potential" is the worst fucking measure of humanity, and yet everyone bitches about it constantly. Potential is absolutely nothing. Which means a person with potential has absolutely nothing. You're only as good as what you do.
- u/Cammorak 

When this first started brewing in my chamber pot many months ago, it was only about a very specific instance of arrogance. But as it simmered without boiling over, and I've spent time ruminating on it, it's become broader in scope. Looking back, I think it is fair to say that many of my rants are, in one way or another, about this. One might even go so far as to say that this is the All-Rant.

This is a rant about arrogance.

I have a core belief about the importance of direct experience as it relates to a person's ability to synthesize a useful opinion about a given topic. It's odd to me that this ends up being a controversial stance to take because it's something that nearly every part of our society is built on. Pick just about any profession, consider hiring someone from it to perform their work for you, and consider whether you want someone fresh out of education or someone who's been doing it successfully for 20 years. I can't think of a case where there is a contest here. Job interviews don't just want to know what information you can repeat - they want to know what you've done.

I must apologize. I forgot. This is an Appeal to Authority and everything I have to say going forward is therefore false because an infographic said so.

I've spent about 10 minutes at this point thinking about how to transition from where I'm at to the point I want to really rant about. I think that means I'm trying too hard. So, fuck it.

Good Will Hunting is a movie about a nobody janitor who has done literally nothing in his life but is smarter than everybody because he reads a lot. Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie. But that's what it's about. And it's just a goddamn movie, so some people need to stop acting like it's a documentary that was sent back from the future about their life as an internet lifting wizard.

There are people who, in the process of trying to adopt lifting as a hobby, decide that what they need to do to be successful is to assemble an encyclopedia of as many facts as possible, and then use that encyclopedia to construct their plan. I have ranted about this a bit before. What is left out from that rant is that I think this practice is incredibly arrogant. Allow me to explain by expressing in the least charitable way possible what a person is saying when they do this:
I know that there are professionals with many years of knowledge, experience, and/or concrete successes under their belt - professionals who have a solid track record, who have worked with high caliber athletes, who have put together everything they have learned into training and dietary methodologies. But I, a novice and a layman, am smarter than they are, and I can do better. In a short period of time, I will teach myself more than they have learned in decades by reading scientific studies. My encyclopedic knowledge of facts will be equal to or greater in value than theirs, and I will have the best opinions.
I can hear the voices of a thousand Abstract Warriors crying out, That's just gatekeeping based on a strawman!

It's not. It's the truth of what every novice and layperson is saying when they throw out established methodologies in favor of trying to create their own by reading.

I want to take a moment to say a few words about Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA. Schoenfeld is well known, well respected, and what he has to say about training is valued very highly in the fitness world. Somebody like Schoenfeld is what the really, truly smart people become (or are working to become) - not Will fucking Hunting. But the thing about him is that he also only barely looks like he lifts. But because of everything else he has done in the field, there is no reason to care at all that he is not big and strong.

This would be the part of House of Cards where Kevin Spacey looks directly at the camera.

If you are just a guy trying to learn about training on the internet, you are not Brad Schoenfeld. You never will be. It is arrogant to pretend that you - a layman - can be. Even more arrogant is the claim that all it will take for you to stop being a layman is the ability to parrot articles and study abstracts you've memorized.

See title.

Brad Schoenfeld is an outlier. You are not. Your lane is over there. And in your lane, you have to have done something before you can have anything truly valuable to say. The reason for this is - Lacking experience, your only possible source of words is the rote regurgitation of information derived from the experience of others. There is nothing a layperson can add to the conversation which is uniquely valuable if they also lack experience. What remains is aping something more experienced people are already saying - and likely saying better - which is almost always just noise and rarely signal.

Novice laypersons having the ability to add value to a discussion is a myth, repeated only by novice laypersons who want to participate and feel useful despite that they should not and are not. I know no one experienced who wants to hear from such people about their field(s) of experience. In fact, I know of no person who has not at some point gotten angry because someone who has never done a thing gave them advice on how to do a thing they do all the time.

Imagine asking your great grandmother how to fix your computer. Imagine asking your child how to manage your budget. Imagine asking a plumber to rewire your electricity. Imagine asking a gorilla how to solve algebra. Imagine asking a bartender how to treat your cancer. Imagine asking a 130lb guy who started lifting a few months ago how to bench 500lbs.

Now take the reverse.

Imagine being 100 years old, knowing almost nothing about technology, and telling someone how to fix a computer. Imagine being a six year old, having only the barest concept of "money", and telling your parents how to manage it. Imagine being a plumber and offering to rewire somebody's electricity. Imagine being ZBGBs and telling somebody how to do math. Imagine being a bartender and telling a drunk who just got diagnosed with cancer about the treatment you read about on Facebook. Imagine benching 95lbs and trying to tell a 400lb bench presser how to reach 500lbs.

Most of these imaginings are uncontroversially dickheaded things. But one of them is something that happens in internet lifting discussions all the time. And it should not. But it will. Because there is a kind of person who cares more about being able to (feel like they) win arguments than about actually knowing useful things, and that person thrives on the internet.

-

All that being said, there is another side of this coin.

It's perfectly okay to:

  • Be a novice
  • Be a layperson
  • Lack experience
  • Lack accomplishments
  • Not participate in conversations
There is nothing wrong with any of these things.

What is wrong - what I am raving about - is people who refuse to recognize what their current station is, and refuse to act in congruence with that station.

It is okay bench only 95lbs.
It is not okay to give people advice on how to bench when you only bench 95lbs.

I want to stress this heavily. It is important to be honest with yourself about a lack of experience and thereby a lack of useful knowledge. It is important to listen instead of speak when you lack experience. A person who does this is a much better person than one who denies it and tries to be a Helper anyway. Being silent can also be a way of helping - by not adding noise that others have to sort through or argue with.

If you are inexperienced and want to help others, the best way to do that is to spend time gaining experience that you can speak from when you give them advice. Learn to be ok with not being able to help now, but rather in the future. It makes you more useful to others than just being another dildo who mic drops PubMed links and starts slapfights.

Monday, November 18, 2019

You Are Dumber Than a Toddler

I'm going to tell you about my son learning to walk.

This may come as a surprise to those of you that aren't parents, but babies don't propel themselves out of their mothers' nethers, land on their feet, and start doing the Charleston in the delivery room. They can't run, walk, stand, crawl, hold themselves up, lift their head, or even roll around. They have to develop the ability to do all of these things over time.

The road to being able to walk is a long one for a baby that requires both physical growth and trial and error on their part. It never enters their head, at any point, that they are not going to be able to walk. They know it can be done because they've seen it done, and the premise they start with is that they can do it too.

The way I know this is that they keep trying until they're able to first stand up while holding on to something. Then they try to stand up on their own, then take a step, then take more steps. No matter how many times they miss, slip, fall down, bonk their head, stumble, or trip, they try again. Sometimes they try immediately, sometimes they take a break to grab their teddy bear, drink a bottle, scream, or take a nap. But no matter what, they try again.

And when walking finally does click for them, they aren't satisfied with those wobbly, uneven, stumbly steps. They want to walk like the big kids do, like mom and dad do - they want to run, they want to jump, they want to climb stairs, do cartwheels, stand on one leg, kick a ball, kick someone *in* the balls. They know all of these things can be done because they have seen them done by someone else first, so they try over and over until they get it too.

But learning to walk, walk well, run, climb, jump is not just about what they do do, it's also about what they don't do, which is a lot more than just "they don't give up".

My son has a cousin that's a little bit younger than he is. So far she's done all the major developmental milestones earlier than he has - rolling, crawling, walking, noises, words. At no point did my son see his cousin walking when he could only crawl, say to himself, "She can only do that because she got good quad insertions and hamstring genetics, and Uncle Bob clearly gave her extra grape juice, I guess I'll just crawl and let that fuckin' cheater walk without earning it and that'll show her," and then shove his pacifier in his mouth and go pout in a corner.

He's been to the playground and seen older kids running around fall and run into things or each other and get hurt. He's tried to stand up and whacked his head on the bottom of a slide and a table and a chair and the cabinets, and scraped his knee trying to take a step on the sidewalk. At no point did he say to himself, "The risk of getting a booboo while trying to walk is just too risky, it's safer to perfect my crawling form," and then grab his teddy and give up on trying to walk entirely.

There were times that he clearly got frustrated that he wasn't getting what he wanted. I didn't know that babies would do this and I assume he must've seen me or his mom, but some of the times he tried to take a step and fell, he balled his little hands into fists and shook them and grunted. But he didn't say to himself, "This is too hard, fuck this, I give up, I can already crawl, I don't need to walk," and then pick up his bottle and chug it down and never try to walk again.

You might be thinking, If you can read a baby's mind, why aren't you rich, dumbass?

Because my technology is too dangerous to fall in the wrong hands and I have since destroyed it.

Fortunately, I don't need to. I know that my son never did these things because he is currently running around my kitchen trying his damnedest to step on everything he could possibly slip or lose his balance on. I know that seeing others succeed faster, seeing others get hurt, getting hurt himself, and repeatedly failing didn't stop him from trying to walk because I watched him try until he walked a few steps, and then keep going. And now he runs. And he's still wobbly, and he still falls, and sometimes he gets hurt, and there are still things he can't do yet, and sometimes he has to ask me to help him get somewhere. But he also still hasn't given up.

-

Somebody out there is going to read this, and get where I'm going with it, and say, "Fuck you purplespengler, it's not the same, a toddler isn't blah blah blah blah blah".

You're right. It's not the same. A toddler completely lacks the mental and emotional development to have the thoughts that I described.

When I turn off my son's favorite Cookie Monster song, there are no words that I can say to him to explain that it's bedtime and I know he's falling asleep and if he doesn't go to bed he's going to feel really shitty tomorrow and be cranky, because those concepts don't exist for him. Only Cookie Monster and not-Cookie Monster exists for him, so he screams until I pat his back and put a pacifier in his mouth. Because a toddler also completely lacks the mental and emotional development to understand consequences, think and plan ahead, be rational, or exercise self-control.

And if you said "Fuck you purplespengler, it's not the same" when you realized my parable is about you, I want you to think about what it means that a toddler who has no control of their emotional state didn't give up on their goals and compare that to how little it takes to make you consider it.

And then when you read that, and you again think "Fuck you purplespengler, that's bullshit because blah blah blah blah", I want you to think about what that means too.

It means you're being a baby.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Barbellyaga

He's just your father, man. He's just as full of shit as anybody.
- "Crash" Davis, Bull Durham
Learning how to break another person's body is easy. The only reason it's hard is because we make it special. If you want to effectively learn to defend yourself, you have to stop making it special.
 - Sgt. Rory Miller
 Apply this sentiment to everything*.

This rant is inspired by a post made by someone who is but one in a legion, who are victims of a terrible disorder - Barbell Bogeymanism. This tragic mental affliction manifests itself as an extreme aversion to the use of traditional, effective strength training implements and a manic, obsessive pursuit of strength training using anything but, including literally flushing currency down their toilets rather than train using a barbell. This disease is made all the more terrible by the mental health community's refusal to accept it as real, namely due to the fact that it isn't goddamn real and is just a bunch of people being dinks for no reason.

In this case, the dink who has - to put it in internet terms - "tweaked my jimmies into maximum over-rustle" was faced with a stupid problem, and came up with a stupid solution. He had found out about a product that purported to be better than all known strength training methods. It promised him the gains of a lifetime, protection for his joints, reduced injury risk, and definitely not looking like an asshole - all for a mere $550. And for his money, he was to receive a veritable treasure trove:
  • Two feet of metal shaped like a tube.
  • A flat piece of plastic.
  • Four resistance bands.
  • That's it.
  • THAT'S IT.
I'm aware of the concept of the Curse of Knowledge. It's very possible that I've known enough for long enough that this is much easier for me than for a total layman. But I don't think I want to grant that. Because in my mind, when presented with:
  • A high cost product
  • A website that looks like someone just took an Internet Marking 101 online course
A person exercising normal common sense and worldly acumen should recognize this immediately for what it is, and bail out. This person did not do that. They bought it hook, line, and sinker. But, thankfully (?), the internet rescued them from spending $550 and helped them spend just $150 instead. On the same thing. But built yourself. That's right! For only $150, this brilliant individual achieved a strength training device equivalent to $60 in resistance bands and $10 on a pipe from Home Depot! Isn't modern technology wonderful and amazing?

By the way, he also admitted that he would rather have spent the $550 just to save the time it took him to build the thing. Put that in your craw and throw it up.

Which brings me to the point of this rant -
  1. Stop.
  2. Just go to a fucking gym.
  3. Just use a fucking barbell.
  4. Probably also just use some fucking dumbbells.
  5. Probably also just do some simple bodyweight shit.
  6. God damnit.
Picture a man that has a powerful need for a lemonade to quench his thirst. He knows that grocery stores exist - he even lives down the street from them. So he drives 20 miles to his local arboretum, purchases a lemon tree, plants it in his back yard, harvests the lemons, purchases sugar and a lemon squisher from the grocery store, watches some YouTube videos on the proper ratio of lemon to water to sugar, and makes himself a glass of lemonade. Ahh, refreshing!

It is a known quality of the above things that they can be used - effectively and reliably - to build strength and/or muscle. But for reasons that approach Lovecraftian horror degrees of being unfathomable to my mind, some people refuse to use them - going so far as to react to the very idea of them with fear and aversion.

These things need to be framed properly.

A gym is just a building. A barbell is just a long piece of metal. Dumbbells are just smaller pieces of metal. Get over it. Having aversions to these things is dumb. If you have goals that involve getting stronger or building muscle, and you aren't using the most time proven effective implements for doing that, you are being dumb, and you are probably making the world a worse place.

Whoa there cowboy, come on back to the ranch, what was that last bit?

Yes.

Inappropriate aversion to basic, time tested, nearly ubiquitous strength training implements like barbells and dumbbells, or basic bodyweight exercises, makes the world a worse place.

Because people like you make it possible for a company to sell a two foot piece of metal, four pieces of rubber, and a piece of plastic for five hundred and fifty dollars - and not just get away with it, but be profitable. Your hangups make it possible for a dickhole to sell a product that's worth $100 in actual equipment for $800. You are a human gazelle, except dumber - because even a gazelle has the good sense to take off for the hills when a giant drooling predator that wants nothing more than to eat it alive is standing right in its face. And if you are opening your mouth and talking about your aversions, and your search for gimmick alternatives - the ones that are based on nothing - you are helping to spread that thought AIDS to the rest of the world.

And that is what makes me the most angry - That people insist on making a building and metal special and in doing so, enable scumbags to run skipping through a field of doe-eyed prey just waiting to ejaculate their money into their open, waiting mouth.

Listen to me, hear me very well.

It's just a building with people grunting in it.

It's just a long stick made of metal.

It's not going to leap at you from the grasses of the savannah to maul and eat you. It's not going to follow you down a dark alley, knock you out, and steal your wallet. It's not going to kill you and fuck your wife, and burn your house to the ground. It's not going to kidnap your dog and give it a different, dumber name like "Crusher", "Mr. Flufferpumpkins", or "Paul". It's not going to come to your office and use your computer to look up strange pornography so that you get fired. There is no threat to you to be found in them.

It's just a building.

It's just a metal stick.

Just go to the building. Just pick up and move the stick of metal around in varying planes of motion and from varying bodily orientations. Maybe add some metal discs to the ends. There is nothing to be afraid of. It's fine.

You might think I am being flippant. I am. It serves a purpose.

You know what I've found is an incredibly useful skill in being a technology professional? Being able to tell my 90 year old grandmother what I do. If I can explain my job to a person who is slowly losing their mind and knows how to use a computer only to the extent necessary to read e-mails on a 10 year old version of Outlook, I can explain it to the Product Manager who is only slightly more technologically savvy. Turns out, that skill is also useful in finding ways to help people understand that the thing they've built a castle of complexity out of in their mind is actually just a rock with googly eyes sitting in an empty field.

That is what I hope someone, anyone, will maybe understand here. Because I've found that when I've got a hangup about something, and I boil it down to its most base components, to the point of absurdity, I get over it a lot quicker. And that is what some people really, really need to do - See how absurd it is to be hung up on walking into a building and picking up a metal stick.

Failing all of that, at least just quit looking to gimmick products for an alternative to real training implements and stick with bodyweight shit instead. You are better off 99% of the time - and it's even free!

-

One final note:

Are you seven hundred years old and have dust running through your veins where blood should be? Do you have a crippling disease that makes it wildly unsafe for you to engage in barbell training? Do you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder that causes you to have full blown panic attacks if you are surrounded by too many other people? Do you have a complete inability to access a training facility with free weights due to either severe financial hardship or the simple virtue of where you live and work in relation to them? Do you have fitness goals that have absolutely nothing, in any possible way, to do with getting bigger or stronger? Do you - genuinely, and not just as an excuse for being afraid of buildings and metal sticks - have any of about seven hundred thousand possible outlier life situations that make an avoidance of gyms and/or free weights totally legitimate and understandable? 

That sucks, and I'm sorry. This rant isn't about you. You know it's not about you. As the kids say - Don't fuckin' @ me.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Been There, Done That

Also as a little sidenote. Have you gone through the same process as the people you're modding (skinny to fit/big)? If so surely you would have some sort of respect for people doing it and not just walk around calling everyone skeletons, trying to destroy their self-esteem.
 - A sobbing weenie, to WeaponizedSleep
Deakins: You know, Hale, I considered bringing you in on this. You know why I didn't?
Hale: Because I would have said "no"?
Deakins: Nah, if you'd said "no" I'd have just killed you; I was afraid that you were going to say "yes". 'Cause you don't have the balls to follow through with something like this, we both know that.'
- Broken Arrow, 1996*

I like to think of this blog as a brain toilet, in that most of what ends up here is the barely controlled expulsion of thoughts about something that's gotten stuck in my craw in much the same way as one might expel vomit when one has had too much to drink. In this case it is closer to having an immediate violent reaction to eating a bad sandwich, smelling moldy milk, or feeling the squish of the dog shit your asshole roommate has left all over the yard. I read a thing and something bubbled up in me rapidly, and I don't want to spend the weekend thinking about it.

There are people who come to internet forums convinced that they have a problem that is unique in such a way as to require an equally unique, personal human touch in order to solve it. They believe that their problem is too unique, their situation too complex, to get answers from, say, an FAQ page or searching for past posts that are similar. They are rarely in touch with reality.

There is a philosophy that I developed through my career as a software engineer which has spread to much of the rest of my life which can be put very simply - I will never be the first person to do anything. Anything that I will try to do, someone else has done before me. Any problem that I may have, someone else has also had, and solved. Thinking this way has served me very well in keeping a proper perspective about everything I set out to accomplish. I feel more people should embrace this mindset and all that it implies - including and especially the part where it means that you are not as unique as you want to believe yourself to be - especially in an age where decades worth of people talking about their problems is available in the palm of your hand, even while taking a dump.

The sentiment in the quote above is one that comes up often when some kinds of people, believing they are more unique than they are, run head first into the brick wall of being told that the only person to whom they are Mommy's Special Little Guy is their mother, at the age of four. It is an irredeemably whiny accusation that sounds the same in my ears as the noises my toddler makes when I turn off Sesame Street in the middle of Cookie Monster - "The only possible reason you don't have sympathy for me and my special problem is that you've never been where I am right now." This sad, whimpering finger-pointing is particularly popular with perpetually frustrated skinny dudes who view putting more food into their food hole much as a crippled man might view Mount Everest.

For everyone I know who routinely is a target for this accusation, it misses the mark so completely that the walking Halloween decoration slinging it would likely miss water if they fell out of a fucking boat.

I'm going to be an old man for a moment. Pull up a chair, reach into my front pocket, grab a Werther's Original, and have a listen.

When I was in college, I ended up with a roommate that sounds like the kind of person that is totally made up because nobody is actually like this. But Terry (not his real name) was somehow real anyway. Terry was really, really into bodybuilding and also one of the nicest, most helpful and humble guys I've ever known. At that time I was around 120lbs at 5'10, and desperately didn't want to be. Terry gave me a workout plan he thought would be good for me, helped me learn how to do a couple of lifts I couldn't figure out on my own, and told me "If you wanna get big, you gotta eat big".

I walked in on Terry giving himself an injection that I assumed was steroids a couple of times. I had this in the back of my mind for every month after the first that I had trouble gaining weight and making progress. After five or six months of mostly going nowhere, gaining only a couple of pounds, I worked up the courage to get past my embarrassment of failure and begged Terry to help me get started with steroids so I could get big, because I just couldn't get big. I told him I thought I had a fast metabolism, something my mother had always said about me. He laughed at me. He told me the same thing I now tell every skinny dude who claims they have a fast metabolism - I clearly wasn't eating enough. I protested that I was eating as much as I could.

It was this moment that was a turning point for me. I will never forget the way that Terry said, "I'll prove you're full of shit, Spengler. Peanut butter or milk - pick one." I chose peanut butter. He told me that for the next three months, I was to eat exactly as I had been, except also eat a quarter jar of peanut butter in front of him every day that he saw me, and I was not allowed to weigh myself. If I didn't gain weight, he'd hook me up.

I was determined to prove Terry wrong, that he was being an asshole, and get the fast track to being shredded. It was hard and miserable at first, but I got used to it over time. And at the end of three months, I had gained almost 20 lbs, and it was not Terry who was the asshole but me.

I will always be grateful for that experience, because it showed me that I hadn't really been trying, no matter what I had told myself. It formed the foundation of how I approach pursuing my fitness goals - forcing myself to do things that I know I need to do even (especially) when they're hard. Not making excuses. Always looking first to myself, my actions, my mindset as the source of a failure to achieve. In the humble opinion of one ultimately random anonymous mouthpiece, this is the way a person - an adult - should behave.

All that is a very long winded way of saying - "Nah."

It's not because any of us haven't been there that we don't have respect for people who caterwaul all over the digital universe about how hard things are and how they can't do them and why won't anybody just give them sympathy and support. It's because we have been there and therefore we know, from our own experience, that the only thing these people are missing most of the time is a backbone and the will to force themselves forward no matter what it takes.

And that's what it's all about. It is not the people who don't know your "struggle", but the people with direct experience, who have been there, who least want to hear you bleat endlessly about how tough it is. Because, having been there, they know that all that bitch-squeaking is just an excuse, a deflection, a smoke screen so that you don't have to look yourself in the soul and see that the only reason you haven't succeeded is that you haven't mustered the balls to go through with what's needed. Blaming a lack of external support, sympathy, compassion for a failure to succeed is the act of a coward. And for many of the experienced, accomplished people that don't have the patience for caterwauling, all of this can be said just as much to the person that they used to be as it can be said to you.

I know that there are people out there for whom all this is preaching to the choir. I also know that there are people out there who might categorize what I've written here as "macho bullshit" or "toxic masculinity" or "being a jock meathead asshole". It is to the latter that, in closing, I say this:

  • Deliberate fragility is neither virtuous nor defensible, and it should be discouraged - not spread.
  • Strength, determination, backbone, and grit are important traits for all people to cultivate in themselves and encourage in others.
  • Some ways of thinking, acting, and being are so shameful that the only thing they deserve is vigorous disparagement, and the only thing those who cling to them deserve is to be ostracized until they change.
  • Having the kind of pride that it takes to see yourself as a problem, and try to be different, is a goal worth aspiring to.
  • It is more useful to treat obstacles as a challenge than it is to treat them as a threat.
  • Fuck you.


*Inclusion of this quote not to be taken as an endorsement for stealing nuclear weapons.

Beginners: Think Less, Not More

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