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.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On Trying

"Try trying" is a phrase you may have heard.

There is a small but nevertheless determined group of people who can only be described with the action of rolling one's eyes that has decided this phrase is a circlejerk, and that the best way to defeat something you see as a circlejerk is to become a circlejerk yourself. Sure.

There is a refrain that comes from these people, which they seem to believe is the Yugioh card that instantly wins and makes them right and then everybody bangs them or whatever. Can you guess what it is?


That's right, constant reader. The anti-try-tryers are righteous and you are not, because they are on the side of the most noble of causes - helping. Should you tell some poor, defenseless novice to "try trying", you will be blown away when they dispel your illusions and reveal to you that you are not being helpful and are therefore the Bad Guy. The Villain. Hitler himself, risen from his tomb.

But come close and listen closer, O Ye Pure, O Ye Crusaders of Helping. There is a secret, long hidden, which I have found buried on a tablet of ancient gold, that I must reveal to you. Are you ready?

That's the fucking point.

The purpose of saying "try trying" is not to be helpful. It is to be dismissive. One may as well criticize water for being wet. And in most cases I've seen, that purpose is righteous, because the only thing that the person on the receiving end has actually been trying is "everybody else's patience".

Simply asking for help does not mean that a person should be helped, or should be given the specific kind of help that they've asked for. Contrary to what you may believe, achieving your goals is not a basic human right. Contrary to what a teacher probably once told you in grade school, when it could still be true, in the adult world there are stupid questions. It is rarely enough to want and wonder. You have to try.

To understand this better, it is necessary to consider context. The important facets of this context are these:

  1. A person asking a stranger that they have no prior relationship or social contract with to spend their free time giving them help which is derived from their own invested time, experience, and sometimes money.
  2. An industry that is worth tens of billions of dollars revolves around the exchange of information, advice, and experience in the arena of fitness and fitness goals, and it is possible for a person's entire career (as well as, less likely, wealth) to be built on providing help, advice, and information to others in achieving their fitness goals.
  3. On internet forums, there is not only no offer of compensation to those that provide advice and help, but often a taking of offense at the concept of compensating anyone for advice and help, and sometimes not even an expression of gratitude.

First consider those three things as the foundation of our context. The next layer to build on top of that foundation is a simple, natural observation.

  • When #3 is the venue, a person in #1 is asking others to perform the same service that thousands of professionals get paid to perform, except without paying them anything.
This, friends, is rudeness and entitlement at its finest - setting the expectation of others to provide a service, equivalent in quality and personal attention to that of a normally paid professional, which is completely free of cost. There is at this moment a push at revolution in the world of creative works against "spec work" for very similar reasons - it is rude to ask everything and give nothing. Civil, polite social interaction is not all take and no give.

But, one Champion of Auto-fellatio might protest, if you don't like it, just ignore those people instead of being a dick.

No.

Here's why you should take that reply and shovel it - The person from #1 can pay those who help them, easily, in another form of currency which is immune to inflation and is infinitely replenishable - a respect for their time. That is all that's really being asked of them, and all that it takes not to be a slimy, stinky leech. This costs them nothing, and the rudeness of not doing so should be answered in kind.

And no, inspiring feelings of altruism and the satisfaction of helping another human in need are not adequate replacement.

Let me draw a contrasting picture. Some of those who, doing battle against "try trying", in fancying themselves to have an "S" on their chest would say - "If your friend / family member asked you for advice, would you treat them so poorly?" And the answer is no, of course not, you fucking putz. They're my friends and family. It's not the same and you goddamn well know it.

I have had numerous friends and family members, seeing my success in various fitness goals, ask me for advice, and I have gladly offered all the advice I have to give. Not once have I ever had to say to any of them "try trying". Because they understand the value of what they are asking of me and meet me in the middle - they treat me and the time I give them with respect - and they never give me cause to tell them "try trying". When I say "These are good articles to read / videos to watch about your question", they make a good faith effort to consume that content, give it their full attention, attempt to parse it, and only ask questions that they've thought about a bit and tried to answer with what I've put in front of them. When they fail to achieve their goals, they put the effort into recognizing when it's because they didn't put honest effort into the advice I gave them, and don't waste my time saying that what I told them didn't work.

But the people to whom "try trying" is directed don't do that, because the faceless usernames on the internet are not friends, or family, or even people to them - they are a personal question and answer box. They want to receive everything and give nothing. "Try trying" is a rebuke for a person who, in the age of nearly unlimited and immediate access to information thanks to sites like Google or Wikipedia, demands that others be a human Google search results page. It is for a person who communicates by their low effort question, "I know articles about this exist, but I don't want to spend the time to read them. Read them for me and give me the bullet points." It is for a person who tries nothing, and flails that they are all out of ideas. It is for a person who, upon encountering the smallest amount of difficulty, always and only looks for ways to make it easier instead of trying harder. It is for a person who "wants to have a human conversation" about mundane, banal bullshit like what vegetables, mobile apps, and bicep exercises there are, broad questions that can be summed up as "How do I fitness", or topics that have been discussed a thousand times before and do not need to be discussed again. It is for a person who cannot get into working out unless they have an app to tell them everything. It is for a person who wants all of the benefits of having a super best friend who trains, but makes no effort to be somebody worth treating as a super best friend.

I believe that that is a reasonable expectation to set - When you are asking someone to spend their free time on you but not paying them, treat that time with respect and don't waste it. It's not hard or too much to ask. And that is the core of what I feel the phrase "try trying" is about. It is short-hand for a longer chastisement about the rudeness of asking for infinite hand-holding for free:
You are trying to force me to spend more effort on solving your problems than you are willing to spend on solving them yourself, and giving me nothing in return to make that worth my time. You are wasting my time, and that is rude. Fuck you, try harder.
Or about a complete lack of effort in execution:
The results you want are wildly out of proportion to how hard you're actually trying to achieve them. You are wasting everybody's time asking for advice when you aren't even working at what you already know you need to do. Quit fucking around and try harder.
 And it is short-hand on purpose, because the purpose of saying the above would not be to help someone, but to be dismissive, and shortening it improves on the dismissal.

Yes, it is rude and unhelpful. But the argument of rude = wrong as a universal truth is silly and naive. If someone says "Fuck you", it is appropriate and acceptable to say "No, fuck you" in return. The rudeness of telling somebody "try trying" is, in almost all cases I've witnessed, reciprocal. The only difference is the nature of the initiating "Fuck you", because it is not overt. But it is nonetheless fundamentally rude to ask others to engage with you at the level of a normally paid professional, except for free and without any respect for their time.

This is what many fail to understand - Rudeness does not need to be direct and overt to be rudeness. If you were to say directly to someone, "My time is more important to me than your time, and I want you to spend your own time so that I do not have to spend mine, and I will also give you nothing in return. I may not even thank you.", there would be no confusion that you are being a shithead. Make no mistake - In asking a low effort question or fucking around, a person may not be saying it, but that is still what they are communicating. And "try trying" is the reply that they have earned.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reflecting on Five Years

I'm coming up on five years being a moderator for r/Fitness and I've been thinking about it. These are some of the thoughts.

Now that I'm thinking about it, it's a little weird to think that something that's been part of my life for that long came out of having a job that didn't give me enough work and left me with nothing better to do than tell several hundred people a day to read the Wiki. That's why I was invited to do it. Nothing more than that I spent about 9 hours a day for a month copying and pasting a link to the FAQ because my manager, while being a pretty good engineer, was absolutely terrible at being a manager and had no idea how to balance my team's workload. Everybody either had way too much work or nowhere near enough.

Almost of the other mods from that time have moved on. Svunt, phrakture, Mogwoggle all stepped down. MetaBoob is still with us but only pokes a head in occasionally, I assume for the same reason as the others - life is more important and Reddit is tiring. It's mostly just me and eric_twinge from that era, which seems like forever ago. I think we're both tired, too, but we're also really stubborn.

ZBGBs and I have talked a few times about life being more important, and I think about that sometimes. Not sometimes, all the time. I question if the time I put into Fittit is "worth it" at least once a week. The answer is usually "yes". Sometimes "meh". I think it will only become "No" if I start giving away time with my family to Fittit. So far that hasn't happened and I intend to keep it that way. But if the day ever comes where I find myself choosing Reddit over my family, that's the day I'm gone until I fix my broken priorities.

I'm a software engineer. I've spent the last several years doing everything I possibly can think of to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to keep Fittit tidy. I've built and rebuilt so many moderation tools in that time that I can barely keep track of them all sometimes. When I first came on board as a mod, I was so green to everything that I was going into my comment history to copy/paste removal comments into threads when I shut them down, until somebody told me about a moderator browser extension. There was a joke at the very first job I ever had, before I was a real programmer and was still dabbling - "Give <Spengler> a task you don't like. He'll hate it so much he'll write a program to do it better." And I'm gonna toot my own horn here - What I built for r/Fitness blows that extension out of the water. It is better in nearly every possible way for most of what we do. All of that is to say - I value what I'm doing on Fittit enough that I'm using the skills that feed my family to make it effortless so I can keep doing it for free.

Moderating, yes, is a thing I do entirely for free! It's weird to me that so many people don't seem to know it, but I don't work for Reddit. I'm just a volunteer, wading through a lake of human feces trying to find the gold nuggets for other people to use in my spare time. This is a good thing. If I worked for Reddit, I'd have to answer to Reddit, and let me be clear - fuck Reddit. Reddit doesn't care about anything that I care about. I don't want to answer to people to whom I am disposable.

On occasion, people question what I do care about. Clearly, the only reason I would be a Reddit mod for this long is because I'm a fat small dicked ugly incel virgin roid raging meathead idiot loserchad with no sense of humor living in my mom's basement who doesn't lift and the only way I can feel powerful enough in my otherwise worthless, lonely, miserable, sexless life is to click a button that prevents a large group of dummies from seeing lazy questions asked by a smaller group of dummies and preventing completely disposable accounts from being able to make comments on a small corner of a small website on the internet. Right? No other possible reason. It's because I'm sad and pathetic.

Describing the first fitness forum (if you can even call it that) I ever participated in is very easy - poop emojis. Because it was /fit/ on 4chan. That was a huge influence on what I do (or try to do) with Fittit. Because it's a shithole, and only garbagepersons hang out there. Maybe it's better now. I haven't been back. But I doubt it. The reason for this, I've decided through many years of consideration, is that it's a place where nobody cares about anything because they think irreverence is power and there is nobody telling the children to stop shitting under the dining table they have to eat off of. Everything that made /fit/ a burning trash heap when I was there stemmed from those two problems - Shitgolems are everywhere, and the adults are on vacation.  So one of my guiding lights for all of the last five years has been that r/Fitness should never become /fit/. Because you can't get good fitness advice from a place where you could get blasted in the face by dicks and asses, or stupid photoshopped frogchild memes, at any moment, and you definitely can't get it from a place where so few people who know what the fuck they're talking about congregate that one person can tell another, " SS is a great routine, ignore the champion powerlifting coach who told you it sounded dumb and gave you a program he used successfully" without being shouted down. That's a real thing that I watched happen.

Since starting as a mod, I've taken a lot of shots in the dark - shotgun blasts with a wide spray hoping to hit a target I wasn't even sure was there. It was when I was introduced to the concept of Help Vampires that I started to get a more clear direction to move in. I realized that one of most core sources of my experience on /fit/ was that nobody knowledgeable wanted to be there, surrounded mostly by idiots playing advice telephone that they had to fight with every time they tried to share actually good information, surrounded by the same 15-30 questions, nobody ever telling these people to fuck off. So I told them to fuck off.

Rule #0 was ultimately my idea. If your question can be answered by the FAQ, by searching past threads, or just by using Google - fuck your question and fuck you. Try harder. Almost half of all threads that we remove are removed because they are directly answered by one of those three things. Imagine having to try searching for a dozen different variations of what you're looking for across a dozen different search engines and sometimes still not finding what you need - because that's the internet I used as a teenager. Today you can pop over to Google, type the dumbest version of your question imaginable, and Google knows what you want - and people still want other human beings to tell them shit like "What exercises hit the biceps" and "What foods are high in protein".

Ultimately these questions are terrible, lazy, and rude. At some point somebody said "Sometimes people get tired of being used as a service", and nobody has ever said it better than that. People want to treat Fittit as a service, and to the extent that I can, I show them the door, because I believe with the highest level of conviction that if we didn't, Fittit would be a worse place in aggregate. Some individuals get mad and don't get what they want. Fuck 'em. I know that statistically, only 9% of people who have a thread removed contact us about it - only 9,100 people in the last two years. Fittit sees an average of 150k unique visitors a day and 2.5m per month. So it is with no hesitation that I say that these people being mad does not matter to me, because it cannot be allowed to matter.

Luckily, we have a small but high quality group of regular posters giving out good advice to hundreds of questions a day. Every single one of those people have said that they would have jumped ship a long time ago if we weren't as hard as we are on low effort questions. And that group has been growing over time for the same reason. These are the people whose opinions about how the community is run that I care about. I've learned to be judicious in whose feedback I listen to.

Even though I dismiss it now, in my first year or so, I used to take complaints a lot more seriously, until I started to notice a pattern - Nobody, zero people ever, has ever cared about integrity in moderation until something they didn't like happened. No matter how lofty someone talks about professionalism or consistency or transparency, they don't give a fuck about any of those things, they're just assbothered that their Cocoa Puffs were taken away. Nobody who goes to another sub and complains about being banned tells the truth. Nobody who complains about the content focus (looking at you, perennial "fittit should be called liftit" bitchers) contributes any content themselves. It's all personal for everybody who complains and no one is looking at larger pictures or long term goals in the way we are. Nobody cares about cleaning up, cultivating, growing a community as a resource. They just want their own personal needs served.

Besides it being personal, the reason I listen to the core group of regular, helpful people and not every Tom, Dick, and Harry is because of what I know about how people use and participate in r/Fitness. It's a drive-by forum. People dump a question, get an answer, and then leave. They aren't interested in being part of a community - they just want information or social connection. 79.5% of people only make a single post and 53.4% of people only make a single comment. Ever. 31.8% of people never even comment on their own post. We see more traffic in January because of the New Year's Resolutioner cycle than any other month of the year. All these things together paint a picture.

And more than anything, what those people want is to get bigger and stronger. This is something we've all always had a gut feeling about from observation, but the launch of the external Wiki proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt. Nothing - nothing - gets more traffic than the Strength and Muscle Building Routines page. By miles. It makes up 25% of all traffic to the Wiki - the next closest is 6%. So yeah, maybe it should be called r/lifting. Or maybe people who wanna talk about other stuff should talk about that stuff on Fittit instead of the smaller, more niche subs if they don't like it. I'd prefer they just shut up instead of being harpies about it every couple of months, expecting the moderators to do something about hundreds of thousands of skinny dudes wanting nothing more than to get jacked.

Now, I want to be really clear here - Despite some dickery, some rudeness, some hard lines drawn in the sand, everything that we (and I especially) do with Fittit is because we genuinely, seriously, want to help people have access to good quality information that can help them achieve their fitness goals. The Wiki is something I have put more effort into than anything else in the entirety of the time I've been a moderator. I've rewritten it in whole and in part more times than I can count. I have a giant backlog of bookmarks of posts, articles, blogs - you name it - from smarter, stronger, more experienced people than I will ever be that I'm constantly looking to use to update what we're telling people. I want the Wiki to be huge, and I want it to be counted among the best fitness resources on the internet.

Not because I want to make money from it, or be a famous fitness dude, or anything like that. Because I remember what it's like to be tired of being a skinny teenager and not knowing what to do. In my day there was no such thing as Reddit, and I had to rely on advice from sources that could just as easily be dubious as they could be brilliant, and experimentation, and failing over and over and over to rule out what doesn't work so I can find out what does. Most people only see me as purplespengler - the mod who is a dick sometimes and bans dudes. It's rare that anybody sees enough of the inner workings to really get what I'm trying to accomplish, that I have to have a very long game plan, and that I can't be concerned with "helping" absolutely everyone with absolutely everything if I want Fittit to be the kind of resource I never had when I was young, that I would have killed to have.

Every day I'm reminded by some whiny baby that the victories I need to look for in helping people have to be at an individual level. These are people who try to doxx me, write weird, creepy poems about me, send me angry messages about how they hope my family gets raped and murdered by animals, spend money on a website to tell the world they think I suck... This happens all the time. Nobody told me I was signing up for a legion of sewagepeople to tell me how mad I've made them on a daily basis. But it hasn't affected me for years because I learned to take those people doing those things as confirmation that keeping them away from my community was the right choice. And yes, I do think of it as "my community" - in the way that my home is "mine", my family is "mine", my friends are "mine". Ultimately I care about it and want it to be as good as it can be, for what it is.

Do I have days where I question if putting up with shitheels like that, reading and removing hundreds of threads and comments a day, pouring hours into writing and organizing information that not enough people will read, is all worth it? Absolutely. But when I get a modmail that says "Thanks for making the Wiki, it has really, really helped me", or people give their own money to Reddit to express how much they thought one of these blog posts was useful to them, or I look and see that thousands of people a day are reading all that information, or the regulars I know from Fittit tell me how much better Fittit has been in the last few years, or somebody posts a progress thread that thanks the community - that tells me that these five years have definitely not been wasted.

Monday, July 15, 2019

NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRDS

There was a time in my life when I was the biggest World of Warcraft nerd that you can imagine. It was around the middle of the second expansion that I got exposed to the concept of "theorycrafting" or "min/maxing" and it revolutionized how I played not just that game, but all games. Instead of simply playing the game, I also played a meta-game of spreadsheets, equations, simulators, math, numbers, and I was able to achieve character power and success I never had before. I lay this groundwork so that what I am about to say can land more strongly - because I am a nerd, and not just a dummy meathead or whatever who is shouting and drooling.

Nerds ruin everything.

It's been a long time since my WoW min/maxing obsession days but I still remember how to think that way. And it's because I do that when I read questions like this:

  • What's better for functional strength - powerlifting, bodybuilding, or strongman?
  • Should I do 5/3/1 or GZCL?
  • How can I optimize my PPL routine?
  • When do you become an intermediate?
All I see is this:
  • Should I play a Warlock or a Mage or a Shadow Priest?
  • Should I be Arms or Fury?
  • What's the Best in Slot gear at Tier 9 for my Ret Paladin? (fuckin' rerolling, that's what)
  • Is my gearscore high enough to do Heroic ICC?
To put it in the vernacular: Hi, my name is John, and I hate every single one of you.

If you're not familiar with the term "min/maxing", it's shorthand for "minimizing weaknesses / maximizing strengths". The concept is to build the most powerful possible character with what you've got, often also determining the best things to get. In practice, what this boils down to is little more than doing a bunch of math, which works out pretty well because that's what many games, especially RPGs, are based on. And for the most part this strategy is incredibly successful, across many different games. There are parts of it that can even be applied to aspects of real life with success. So people get into a habit of thinking this way. And then they get into lifting, and try to think the same way.

But there's a problem - Lifting is not a fucking video game. And you people need to stop, because you are driving the rest of us insane.

Min/Maxing is touted as being a strategy for making strong characters. But in my opinion, what it's really about is removing as much effort from gameplay as possible. This does not just apply to the dudes who make twinks (not that kind) to steamroll the game. Even for people who try to build the most powerful characters so that they can tackle the hardest possible content are still, ultimately, trying to reduce their effort level. Fundamentally, min/maxing is about trying to front-load effort through thinking, doing math, planning, and acquiring the right gear, to reduce the impact that their gameplay can have on their success. It is about determining the perfect way to create a character that can be as successful as possible, as quickly as possible, just by virtue of knowing all the pieces, where they come from, and exactly how you will acquire them and in what order, in advance, before you even truly do anything in the game itself.

Does
this
sound
familiar
to
anyone?

This is reason number one that lifting cannot be treated like a video game. The 80/20 rule is out in force, and for my money one of the top three of what gets you the 80% (it's really more like 90, IMO), alongside consistency and time, is effort. Min/maxing is about transmuting future effort in execution into present effort in planning, so that by the latter you have reduced how much is required in the former. But this is backwards and wrong. Success in lifting is heavily tied to effort in execution, and only tenuously at best to effort in planning. Focusing on having a "perfect" training and diet plan while leaving the execution of that plan as a given is flawed at best and self-sabotage at worst. I've said this so many different ways that I feel like a broken record, but I truly believe it needs to be hammered on again and again - effort trumps intelligence. The time to focus on your effort and execution is not after you have created a great plan and it fails, as you would when min/maxing, it is from Day 1.

It sounds stupid to have to say that video games are nothing like real life, but apparently on some level people don't understand this, and it is reason number two to please for everyone's sanity stop treating lifting like an MMO. The entire practice of min/maxing hinges completely and 100% on all inner workings of the game being both completely knowable and infinitely replicable. If DickSocks69 puts the same gear on his character as WarlockMasterXXX, the math and equations that determine their characters' potential damage will always be exactly the same. And both of them can always know exactly what those equations are, how any of the potential random factors average out on a certain timescale, and even what the most optimal rotation or priority list of spellcasting is. But human beings are not RPG characters that are built on math equations. You cannot take Jim and Bill and put them on identical training and dietary plans and have their results be exactly the same. Ever. There is simply too much variance at every possible level and too many factors that are unknowable. This should be obvious, but every single day people behave as though they don't understand that they are not an Orc Warlock.

Finally, there is an inherent attitude of min/maxing that is incompatible with the pursuit of lifting. As always, the context of this is having actual goals. The attitude I mean has many facets and can be described in a many ways, but one I feel that captures a lot of them is "When can I stop?" Part of the strategy of min/maxing is about minimizing the grind from character creation to the highest levels, and acquiring the best gear as rapidly as possible, because it is not until this point that "the real game actually starts". Min/maxing treats the process of a character growing as a waste of your time, a barrier that must be torn down. If you think of leveling up or iteratively improving the power of your gear as a parallel for training, it becomes about trying to skip as much training as possible. 

But this, again, is completely backwards, and ties back in to the first point about effort avoidance. Skipping training is wrong - You want to train more, not less. In a game, you can come up with character builds that manipulate numbers and allow you to walk into a level, lay waste to it, and rapidly advance through the game. But there is no such thing as a secret training and diet plan that is so well planned out, so firmly based in science, that it removes so much effort while giving you such rapid results - because effort and time are primary drivers in results. You can't, through the magic of perfect exercise and food selection, skip the years of consistency and effort it takes most people to achieve their true goals, in the way you can blast from Level 1 to 90 by dumping a bunch of +Experience Gain gear onto your character.

I see this way of thinking fuck with people constantly. Everyone I've ever tried to help with any fitness goal who was a nerd first, they have this exact same problem. And I say all this because I have been there too, and for me, it was only because I figured out how to break myself that I ever got down to the brass tacks of actually busting my balls in training and accomplished anything real. The challenge is not simply to understand that this way of thinking is not compatible with every pursuit, and why, but it is more importantly about learning how to find the switch in your head so you can turn it off sometimes. I don't have any advice to offer there other than to say that I know there's a switch because I found it. But I've only got a map for my own head.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Leprosy of the Mind

[Damage to the nerves caused by leprosy] can lead to the loss of parts of extremities from repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. An infected person may also experience weakness and poor eyesight. (Wikipedia)
I think most successful people would agree that one's mindset is one of (if not the) most fundamental "make or break" factors in pursuing a goal. And yet, I see so many trainees building castles of obsession about their training split, macro split, exercise selection (just do literally any kind of goddamn curl it's fine), water intake, salt intake, protein bioavailability, and every other possible factor except the entire laboratory of drums covered in Mr. Yuck stickers that are just rolling around in their heads, spilling everywhere.

There are ways of thinking and feeling and behaving that are poison, and these are some that are at the top of my list.

Needing to fall in love or have fun

Somebody once said, "It's called working out, not funning out." I thought this was funny.

No matter how many times somebody stumbles off the reservation with a trying, pedantic critique of an analogy, it will not dissuade me from my love of analogies. Here's one now - I have a number of pets, and two of them are cats. Because cats are sophisticated, they shit in a box instead of just kind of wherever they want outdoors. But Arm and Hammer lied to me, and there is no technology that makes cat shit stop smelling. Cleaning litter boxes is something I find unpleasant, and there is nothing that can make me love it. But I do it anyway, because something I do love is my house not smelling like cat shit.

If you want to fall in love, websites exist for that. Assuming you have some actual training goal (see: Mark Rippetoe's Training vs Exercise), the need to enjoy your training is something you must discard, much as I (with annoying frequency) must discard cat turds to keep my house from being disgusting. The thing to look for love, enjoyment, and satisfaction in is the results of your training - the ones you see now, and the ones you can anticipate in the future.

I am confident in saying that you do not love your job, and even if you do, you don't love it every day nor do you love every part of it. But you don't stop showing up for work, because you love a lot of other things instead - such as you and/or your family not starving or living in a stolen grocery cart. I feel it is important for long term success to be able to treat training as "just another thing I am doing today".

There's a great quote from a now deleted weightroom account on this subject that you would do well to read:
Getting good at pretty much anything involves doing boring shit over and over again to make progress. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you want to get good at playing guitar because you love performing on stage you still have to run scales, train your ear, learn music theory, learn that crazy song that your drummer likes even though you hate it, and do various exercises to improve your technical abilities. It doesn’t matter if you find it boring. If you want to be good, you have to do that stuff so you can do the really fun stuff well. And you have to do it in some capacity every day whether you feel like it or not.
If you have genuine training goals, you cannot allow your commitment or effort level to be at the mercy of how much fun you're having in the moment.

If you want to exercise and love it, you should do that separately from your actual training. Join a local sports club of some kind, pick up a physical hobby, or have days that are just solely about having a good time and forgetting how they contribute (or don't) to the results that you are trying to get out of your training.

Having casual means but a hardcore mindset

Some people have a disparity between how hardcore they try to be and how hardcore their life allows them to be. You can often find such people justifying their attempt to earn a PhD in The Minors with such phrases as, "What's wrong with trying to get the best results possible?" I'll tell you what's wrong - You are misusing your time masturbating over minutiae that will have a minimal, mostly marginal impact on your results, because the baseline of what you can manage is too meager for marginal improvements to matter. A very simplistic analogy is improving 10lbs by 10% is only adding 1lb, but improving 1000lbs by 10% is adding 100lbs.

But, they say, what is the harm? The harm is in the return-on-investment for the time you spend majoring in the minors and the additional cognitive load (and sometimes the money you spend on supplements or whatever) - it's bad. That time is better spent elsewhere, and that load on your cognitives is better borne by something more useful or productive than eeking out a 2% gain on a 30 minute workout.

Here's an example of a question that I think is next level absurd. This is not made up. This is a real question that a real person has asked.
How can I maximize my strength if I can only work out for 30 minutes twice a week?
The answer is you can't. The way you maximize your results is to take all that time and effort you're spending on researching optimal intra-workout carbohydrate intake and asking silly ass questions on the internet, and figure out how to find more than an hour a week to train.

Another example of this is, and again, this is a real question:
I have only $15 a week that I can spend on food, what should I buy to maximize my muscle growth?
MythicalStrength once said something that I absolutely love - that being big and strong is a luxury. Now, I'm not about to descend into something as dickheaded as saying that "poor people don't deserve to be fit", because I'm not living sewage, but there are certain realities about being impoverished with regards to what you can accomplish in training because of how heavily it restricts you. You can budget all you want and find the cheapest foods there are, but eating big so you can get big costs money.

These are just examples to help clarify what I mean when I say "casual means and goals with a hardcore mindset". Don't come at me about them. The overarching point is that you've got to be able to look at your life situation and accept how it restricts you in the most important foundations of training - your equipment access, your training time, your recovery time, your eating - and not throw time and energy down the toilet trying to find out the most scientific way to squeeze water out of stones.

Being afraid of imperfection

Surely, everybody has heard the phrase "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good". Another way of describing this that I like a lot is The Nirvana Fallacy. If you expect perfection from yourself, you will be disappointed. Instead, you must look for "good enough".

Sometimes, this manifests in the "deload and work on form" meme advice that so many strong people I know are engaged in an endless war with. There is a subset of mostly novice trainees that have been sold on the idea that form must be P E R F E C T with all lifts, at all times, or your spine (it's always the spine) will explode and you'll never lift again and you'll die. Look, it's true that you shouldn't just YOLO that high intensity deadlift rep off the floor, but you also need to dial it down a bit. Even setting aside the fact that the concept of "perfect form" is silly to begin with, high effort is going to result in some imperfection. And this is the danger of fearing to be imperfect - It will make you sacrifice effort, which will impair your results.

But the fear of imperfection goes beyond this. A far worse way that it manifests is when a trainee, expecting perfection of themselves, gets completely derailed from their plan and their goals when their imperfection inevitably rears its head. In this case, the need for perfection turns any instance of imperfection or deviation from a plan into a huge production. This is the "I keep trying to exercise and I make it for 3 months and then it's Christmas and I eat pie and it all goes down the toilet" story that so many have to tell.

I recently told someone who had this problem:
What you are doing to yourself is equivalent to stumbling a bit on a stone and going AH FUCK AGH MY LEGS ARE BROKEN AGH I'LL NEVER WALK AGAIN FUCK. 80% adherence for a year is better than 100% adherence that turns into 0% adherence after a few months.
Another useful perspective on one's inevitable stumbling is something my first martial arts teacher was fond of saying:
It's not a bad thing to lose your balance practicing and training and sparring. Even with the Masters, it's not that they never lose their balance. They've just learned how to recover their balance more quickly so it doesn't throw them off as much.
This all applies to so many different things - bad training days, getting sick, going on vacation, sleeping poorly, splurging on a piece of cake. On and on and on. Imperfection, and forging forward in spite of it, needs to be part of the plan.

Training ADD

I got this term from Jim Wendler and I think it's brilliant. Previously, I had sometimes used the classic word "fuckarounditis", but it doesn't really convey what I'm going for anywhere near as well. This is about changing, or considering changing, your training plan with too much regularity.

Being able to commit to a singular, cohesive plan and see it through over a reasonably long period of time is useful. Evaluating the results of and iterating on your plan is also useful. But there is a kind of person who can never stop tinkering - always making "tweaks", trying to "optimize", encountering new information and questioning what they're doing. This is not useful.

My favorite example of Training ADD is something that happens every time Joe Rogan has somebody on his podcast that talks about anything related to exercise (to be fair, it happens any time anybody with a large reach says something about exercise, but Training ADD and JRE listeners seem to have a very tight knit relationship). r/Fitness is bombarded with people who ask some version of this question:
I have been training using XYZ method for about two months now and I've been seeing great progress. But I was listening to the Joe Rogan Experience and Firas Zahabi (writer's note: it's always Firas Zahabi for some reason) talked about training in a different way than what I've been doing. Should I stop everything I'm doing and completely change how I'm training?
No. You should not immediately slam the brakes on something you've been doing, that has been working, just because you've encountered new information that is different. This is Training ADD.

Training takes time to produce results, and those results are a cumulative adaptation to the stimulus of training. Even further, sometimes, because of the nature of a given training method, there will be a large gap between times where you actually measure the results (5/3/1 Leader/Anchor methodology is a good example of this) of your training. For this reason, I feel it's important to be willing to give what you're doing, whatever it is, sufficient time (within reason) to produce results (or not) before you look to make changes.

This applies to training methodology, specific routine within the methodology, exercise selection, and even dietary protocol. The Fear Of Missing Out is an albatross that must be discarded, because it will sabotage your ability to be consistent. The adage to remember is "Rome wasn't built in a day", and also sometimes "Many roads lead to Rome". Just because someone else is taking a different road to Rome doesn't mean you need to immediately abandon the one you're already on.

-

There's a few more of these, but each time I start to write about what's left I find I have no steam for it and start thinking too hard for things to say. That's my cue that I'm trying to force it, so I'm just gonna bullet point them and call it a day.

  • Overestimating how unique you are
  • Treating training and goals like cramming for a test in college
  • Being afraid of experimenting (which I've said more than enough on in Crystal Balls Do Not Exist)
  • Needing to understand the "why" or have scientific backing for everything you're doing
  • Being excessively risk and discomfort averse
  • Letting fleeting "motivation" dictate action

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

You Do You

Though somebody recently told me, "Nobody starts a blog to not share it", and I guess that's probably true, the honest-to-God reason I started writing anything here was because things grind my gears and I don't like having gears that never stop grinding in my brain. I want to get them out so I can stop thinking about them, as was the case with my rant about vanity. Usually, this works very well, and I get to go on with my life.

This time though, an unfortunate alignment of the universe started those gears grinding back up again, because a few days later I stumbled onto a side-grind of that rant. So here we are. I'm paraphrasing, but tell me if this looks familiar.
You shouldn't do things for other people. That's empty. Work out for yourself. Take me - I don't care about what anybody else thinks, man. I work out for me.
Statements like this always strike me as so masturbatory that I can practically smell the sock this imaginary guy is ejaculating over himself into. There is a nugget of truth and value to be had here. But I find there's always an undercurrent of telling someone that their motivations are inherently wrong. There are definitely real people who genuinely don't train for anybody but themselves. Those people are almost never found posturing about it on the internet.

The Hodge Twins, in their prime, had a couple of catch phrases that ended up being memed into the stratosphere. One of them, which was always my favorite, was this:
Do whatever the FUCK you wanna do
From the bottom of my heart that's how I feel about peoples' motivations for working out, right down to the inflection he says "FUCK" with. You wanna go get some abs and shoulders because you think it'll help you clean up on Tinder? That's not what I'm about, but you do whatever the fuck you wanna do. It's okay. Fuck anybody who tells you you're wrong for wanting to look good to potential sexual partners so that you are more likely to bump uglies with them. Pick almost any other motivation and I'll say the same. Including if you actually do just work out completely for yourself and nobody else.

Many people need to be more real with themselves and realize that what they are doing, no matter how seriously they are taking it, is still just a hobby. They don't compete and have no intention to. They will never make a living based on their exercise or even receive any amount of payment. And that's okay! Do whatever the fuck you wanna do. But it is endlessly eye rolling to decide what is and is not a valid reason for participating in a fuckin' hobby. If some dude you'll never encounter again just wants to participate in your hobby for that Instagram mirror beach body, what is it to you? It's only lifting, hwhy you heff to be med?

It is insufferably pompous to be deriding someone because they do a thing for the attention or approval of other people. Mind you, there is wisdom in the advice that these statements started out as, before it was perverted into yet another way of bandying about one's own superiority - Living for the approval and attention of other people, when taken to extremes, can be an unhealthy way to go through life that will usually leave you feeling bad. But in the form I find often on the internet, it is nothing more than deriding the very nature of human beings as social creatures, as though it is somehow beneath you to enjoy attention and approval. This is one of the ways we form the social bonds that have been an important part of how humanity has survived and thrived, as well as how people as individuals survive and thrive. Imagine giving the finger to all of human evolution and progress.

Wanting attention and approval is so much a part of being a person that it's like making fun of somebody for having lungs. Like, can you believe this dick breathes air? How empty his life must be to fill his torso and subsist on such a massless substance as air.

But the most delicious irony of all is that in getting on the internet and sneering at somebody for liking attention and approval, these jerksocks with lips and fingers are just fishing for a different kind of approval from a different set of people and doing the same thing they're sneering at other people for.

And yes, obviously I like attention and approval. Just like you and anyone else does. Because I'm definitely a real human person. But I wasn't always okay with that. Growing up, I was brainwashed to cringe away from anything that smelled even a little like "showing off" or "being an attention whore" and I feel that did me a tremendous disservice - just as it does a disservice to somebody to be snidely told that working out "for anybody but yourself" is empty and vapid. I had to come to the conclusion that it wasn't actually bad on my own, and this is a bit of a rant at who I used to be - which is a person that some people currently are. Maybe it'll help somebody realize that the world is full of dicks and they should just do whatever the fuck they wanna do*.


*This post not to be taken as endorsement or permission to actually do literally anything the fuck you wanna do.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

It's Okay to be "Vain"

Show me a man who says "I don't care about aesthetics" and I will show you a man I'm going to say "i dOn't cArE AbOuT AeStHeTiCs" back to.

Controversial opinions:

  • Almost everybody cares about "aesthetics". 
  • There are people who don't. None of them are on the internet telling other people about it.
In the never-ending quest most humans are on to prove that they are better than every body else no matter how much of a garbageperson they really are, there are an equally never-ending number of ways to contort your bullshit into a pretzel until it sounds good instead of stupid (to oneself, at least). One that gets stuck in my craw regularly is when knobs decide that wanting to look like shit makes them better than people who want to look good. These people snidely say things like, "Oh, I don't train for aesthetics, I train for strength. I'm not like those vain meathead bodybuilder teenagers." I can practically hear the squishing sound of a head entering an ass.

If you've ever unironically said something like this, please, come here for a moment. Listen closely.

Bury yourself.

Get a shovel, go out into the woods, dig a hole, climb in it, and start filling the hole back up. Ideally, you will also hit yourself in the face with the shovel. Continue doing this until you are smarter. Because unless you're winning or at least doing well in competitions, nobody in the world cares how much you lift if you look like noodles wearing a person costume. Including your mother. She lied to you because you're her baby, but in her heart of hearts even she is thinking, "You'd think he would look a little better for all that time he says he spends in the gym".

Anyone who says they genuinely, completely, utterly, care absolutely zero about looking good (or even just "better") is either lying to sound good or being an asshole, especially if they say they care about sTrEnGtH instead (as though those two things are mutually exclusive). That is my honest opinion. I feel comfortable with the broad statement that every human being cares about how they look and wants to look better.

Repeat after me: There is nothing bad about wanting to look good.

It is not vain, it is not shallow, it does not make you a meathead, it does not make you an asshole, it is not just for teenagers trying to get their dicks wet, it is not sad, it is not an invalid goal. It's fine. It is normal human nature to care about looking good to other humans. 

From my observation, it appears to be people with modest goals, modest results, or modest means who are the most likely to end up as "fUnCtiOn / sTrEnGtH NoT AeStHeTiCs" jagoffs. I don't see anybody who has accomplished anything significant talking this way. It's always the guys who look like shoe-ins for the lead role in Fuckarounditis: The Motion Picture, and who strike me as trying to save face. It's always guys who are small (in body, mind, and probably also genitals) trying to attack guys who are bigger. Like most forms of lying to oneself, I find this sad.

And to be clear, this is not just for dorks who are running around acting like they're better because they lack significant muscle mass, visibly because they're flabby or just... at all. This is also for people who have "aesthetics" as a goal. It's okay to have your primary goal in training be to look better, be more muscular, be leaner, get abs, whatever. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. People who try are not your friend.

All that being said, though, this is also important:

If your goals are modest, that's okay.

If you have big goals but can't go balls to the wall because of modest means, that's okay. 

If your training goals don't involve building muscle or strength training, that's okay.

If you just generally prefer a less muscular or less defined look on yourself, that's okay.

You don't have to climb up your ass about it, make up excuses for it, come up with bullshit reasons why you're better than people who have accomplished more things or different things, or just generally be a dick about it. Just own it and accept it. Don't try to bring others down because their goals are different or higher or they are better placed to achieve them. In theory, we should all be in this together.

Monday, June 24, 2019

PubMed Was a Mistake

The idea of PubMed is a wonderful one that is a great service to humanity. But as the saying goes, no plan survives engagement with the enemy. In this case, the enemy is also humanity. Specifically, the humanity that finds itself on internet forums getting into arguments with each other in a proxy battle for the dominance they are unable to feel in real life because their spines and genitals are too small. In this realm of everyone trying to be the smartest idiot for sale in the Idiot Store, this theoretically excellent resource is reduced instead to:

Pictured: The fantasy of an asshole.
PubMed links, instead of being useful pieces of a puzzle that an educated individual can piece together to form a whole in the course of conducting research in a field, have become like Pokemon cards. Your opponent played Rectal Expulsion Volume Reaching Input Device Contact in Uneducated Subjects, Graham et al, 1992? What a goddamn sucker, you had A Meta-Analysis on Prevalence of Oral-Rectal Reversal in Youths, Cunningham and Ortiz, 2001 in your back pocket, just waiting to be slammed down into the comment box. Score - You: 1, Sucker: 0. Should've known that Graham types are weak against Cunningham types. Build your PokePub deck more carefully next time, idiot.

The internet has had a relatively extreme reaction to "bro-science" and "muscle mags" - training information that is "cutting the ends of the ham" or "get people to buy things" in terms of its level of quality. In rebellion, those who consider themselves intelligent have created the new cult of "evidence based training". In theory, training advice based on evidence is an excellent thing that I support wholeheartedly. This is not an "anti-science" rant. It is an anti-layperson and anti-punching-above-your-weight rant. It is important to keep trainees apprised of bad sources of information - those who don't know anything and are misguided, or predators who outright lie in order to make sales. It is important to acquire and share good information that has been tried and tested and has some evidence of being effective.

But the difference between theory and practice is that in theory there is no difference, and again the problem is the intellectual laziness of human beings. "Evidence Based" is a term that should cover a broad spectrum of information sources, but much of the time it's simply used as a fluff term for arguments like:
  • Citation needed - aka, link to PubMed or you're wrong and fuck you
  • I'll just leave this here - aka, here's a link to PubMed so I'm right and fuck you
  • <50 PubMed links> - aka, I just scored 50 points in this argument, how many links you got? 
A coach with a several decade track record of results in their trainees is operating based on evidence. That dude who got big and strong in your gym doing their own thing is operating based on evidence. These people may have read zero science. They may have never even questioned "why" the things they do work, and just have discovered methods that work through trial and error. This is also valid evidence. But to many novices who have spent most of their lives considering themselves intellectuals, what once was worth considering is now "bro-science" because it did not use an abstract as a road map.

A modest proposal - PubMed should be DNS black-holed outside of educational institutions or should at least be kept behind a requirement to show that your brains aren't made entirely of crayons and Elmer's glue.

I feel that the following statements are broadly true, with non-zero but minimal exceptions.

If you:
  • Are not reasonably well educated in a field
  • Have not been exposed to or engaged directly in the actual process of scientific research
  • Have not read the full text of the study
  • Cannot explain what the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of the study are
  • Cannot explain what the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of research in this field are
  • Have not read a significant amount of similar research
You should probably not:
  • Be on PubMed (or any similar other site) at all
  • Be linking anyone to PubMed (or any other similar site) at all
  • Be talking about scientific studies without massive caveat of being a total layman
  • Be using any study as a trump card in any argument
Because you:
  • Probably lack the knowledge and experience necessary to properly parse and evaluate what you're reading
  • Probably aren't capable of forming a useful opinion based on scientific study
  • Probably aren't actually interested in science as a concept or in furthering it as a method in the search for better information
And your goal is not to be "evidence based" if:
  • You treat studies like Pokemon cards that you can mic drop on people who argue with you
  • You ignore that scientific study is imperfect and cannot answer all questions or test all possibilities
  • You treat studies as the only possible source of truth and ignore empirical evidence
  • You ignore that some things are simply going to be unknowable, especially in advance
In summary: There's a reason scientific research and analysis thereof is done by those with high level education and not you or me.

(Somebody's going to accuse me of gatekeeping.)

The Sign on the Gate that Says "Keep Out"

Like a lot of words and phrases, the word "gatekeeping" started off as an occasionally useful term that, when applied in an appropriate context, described a very specific kind of behavior in a negative way. Then somebody used it appropriately on Reddit to great effect, got a lot of visibility, and the bottom feeders of the internet suddenly learned a new word that they could treat like the argument equivalent of this:

Pictured: The inside of an internet idiot's head
And, like so many others before it, the internet diluted the meaning of "gatekeeping" to, roughly, "any time somebody says somebody I like (especially me) isn't welcome somewhere".

"Gatekeeping" has a very specific qualifier in its - usually due to undue resentment or overprotectiveness - because the point of the term is to point out a case where placing a limitation on someone else's participation in something is broadly unreasonable. It is not a catch-all term for putting a minimum qualification on being able to participate in an activity or conversation.

If people in real life used the term "gatekeeping" the way people use it on the internet, you would hear things like:
  • What do you mean I can't tell you how to repair your car? That I've never actually worked on a car shouldn't matter - I've read all the manuals and I've got a YouTube video right here on my phone. That's gatekeeping.
  • What do you mean I'm not qualified to tell you whether or not your leg is broken? I may not have been to medical school, but I know a broken leg when I see one. That's gatekeeping.
  • What do you mean I can't be on the football team? I may not have ever played football in my life, but I've watched every NFL game since I was a kid. That's gatekeeping.
  • What do you mean you won't hire me as a nuclear power plant engineer? My dad was the janitor at a nuclear plant for 30 years and he told me all about it. I'm more than qualified. That's gatekeeping.
Nobody says these things in real life. 

Because they're stupid. 

But tell a guy who has been lifting for a month, or years but isn't strong, that his opinions on strength training aren't interesting and he should listen instead of talk, and you'll hear every possible variation of why you're being a gatekeeper and why the messenger shouldn't matter because it's about the information, man.

I'm here to tell you - No.

The messenger always matters, and sometimes the how of "mattering" is that who they are and what they've done doesn't matter enough.

If you found yourself with a terrible disease, and lamented it to a drunken stranger in the bar, and they told you:
My man, let me tell you what. You don't have to die. I had it my man, I had it bad. And you know what I did? My pappy he was in the War, the big one. He was a chemist, see - helped make the mustard gas. And he figured out that he could refine the gas a bit, break it down a bit, you know, dose me up with some needles, and that'd fix me right up. Gave me a bunch of sores, made me real weak, and I shit myself a lot, but it got me all fixed up good. Look into it man. Give it a try. You won't regret it.
Would you listen to that person? Of course not.

But what if your doctor told you that one of the best drugs for your cancer was the alkylating agent, nitrogen mustard, and that while it had some bad side effects your chances looked pretty good?

Same information. Different messenger.

"tHaT'S A RiDiCuLoUs aNd eXtReMe eXaMpLe aNd iS A StRaW MaN"

Every distinction of some people having authority on a topic and others not in the world is "gatekeeping" if you go by the definition that's used on the internet.

I believe, strongly, that it is important for every person to have an honest understanding of when they matter and when they don't. This is not simply when giving advice, but in going through life. Some people cry "gatekeeping" when they are told that they and what they have to say don't matter. But your schooling lied to you - The ability to regurgitate blurbs of information does not make you matter. In most cases, what you have done yourself is a reflection of how useful the knowledge you have is. This is the application to yourself or to others as a coach, teacher, or mentor. With only rare exceptions, you are a billboard for the quality of what you know.

There are times when it is not appropriate to speak, but to simply listen. I have compared r/weightroom's goal with regards to novices to that of a campfire - The grizzled veterans of war or the hunt sharing their tales and experiences with each other, while those who are green sit quietly, listen, and sometimes ask questions provided they're thoughtful. It's important not simply to understand when you are the veteran and when you are the youth, but to be willing to accept that you may have nothing useful to contribute to a conversation in the first place. And, realizing and accepting that, not talking just so that you can feel that you participated.

But to the internet, telling people that their opinions on how to accomplish something don't automatically deserve to be heard just because they have opinions is "gatekeeping".

Setting aside the incorrect usage of the term to begin with, in almost all cases I've witnessed "gatekeeping" is not even the pejorative that some try to use it as. A hard to swallow pill is that experienced people generally aren't interested in the opinions of the inexperienced. Professionals do not go to conferences to have conversations about their field with laymen - they go to have conversations with other professionals. The experienced trainee is no different. It is not an insult to tell someone experienced "You just don't want to hear from people who aren't as experienced as you, meanie!!". Uhh, yeah. Damn right they don't. Thanks?

Bottom line of this rant - Remove the word "gatekeeping" from your vocabulary, because it will almost always make you sound like a wank. It is definitely not going to get anyone to start listening to or caring about you who already was not. If you want to be listened to and cared about, provide value - be someone of value, who is interesting, who has done something, who has something useful to share.

Monday, June 3, 2019

A Purely Hypothetical Business Model

What I'm about to describe is totally not something that someone is already doing with great success. There is not someone who is doing this right now and raking in a ton of money in the process. Definitely not.

I want to plant a little seed. Put the following questions at the back of your mind and let them ruminate a bit.

  • Why would somebody sell training equipment equivalent to a $40 loadable dumbbell handle and ~$70 worth of weight plates, for $800?
  • Why would somebody sell a training plan that you can only access for a few months for $80, and unlimited access to the same training plan for $100?
-

Before you get too excited about all the money you're going to make, know that this business plan isn't for everybody. There's a key component that makes it work that is non-negotiable - you need both academic and empirical credentials. You'll want to have at least a Masters degree in something relevant to fitness (physiotherapy is a really good one), as well as having worked with a person or group of people who are important, such as a high level athlete or sports team. It doesn't matter for how long or how successfully - you just need to factually be able to say that you've done it. This is very important and the plan collapses without it. Your baseline credibility must be (effectively, if not actually) unassailable.

In any business plan, you need to have a target demographic. Yours has the following characteristics:
  • Male
  • Consider themselves to have above average intelligence
  • Consider themselves to be scientific or evidence based minded
  • Have lived a generally sedentary life or are generally unfamiliar with physical activity and exertion, possibly due to an injury in the past
  • Generally have modest physical fitness goals
  • Generally have an aversion to high levels of exertion and physical development
  • Have probably tried to work out in the past and not got the results they wanted, and generally believe it was because of something they didn't know rather than something they didn't do
  • Has a broad, general fear of injury and doing things wrong
The second and third points are why the credentials are non-negotiable - half of the work of selling yourself as someone to trust will be done by your targets, on their own, just by knowing that you have those credentials to stand on. Think of Dr. Oz - The guy is demonstrably a raging quack and yet people still trust him because they trust "Dr.". The last point is why physiotherapy is a great candidate for an academic credential - it will help reassure them that you have the knowledge to keep them safe and takes down some of the barriers to selling themselves on you.

Now, for the execution.

The primary goal of this business plan is to create a rapport and trust relationship between you and your followers. You want your followers to consider your credibility as unassailable, and your information sacrosanct. You will be able to leverage that relationship to empty their wallets.

To start, you'll need to be producing YouTube videos regularly. YouTube is important for the following benefits:
  • It feels more like a personal interaction to have someone talking to you, visually.
  • It allows you to present information in dynamic and interesting ways, such as demonstrating exercises, being generally charismatic, making dramatic examples, or drawing on whiteboards.
  • It gives you a reasonable excuse to have your own physical development on display at nearly all times.
  • It occupies time in your followers' lives and therefore more of their headspace.
  • Likes and subscription numbers are effectively free marketing.
  • It can generate extra income in the form of ad revenue, though this is a very distant last in terms of importance.
Here are some guidelines for producing the kinds of videos that you'll need to meet your primary goal. Many of these are variations on the theme of Sharing Secret Knowledge. You are letting your followers in to the Inner Circle, where the Secrets that they failed by not knowing will be brought out of the darkness for them to use with great success. This is the feeling that you will be looking to inspire in your followers, but should never say outright. Your target demo considers itself too smart to fall for "One Weird Trick" (even though that's exactly what they want and is exactly what you'll give them), so make sure that's not how you come off.
  • "The Best Exercises For <Body Part>" - These are a goldmine of content. There are many muscles in the body, many ways to work them, and many variations on those exercises. Because your target demo is generally unfamiliar with exercise, you can get away with presenting exercises that are staples to the experienced but uncommon enough that they will be novel. You can reuse this general idea for the same muscle group by presenting it in different ways. You can do "these are the best", "you're probably not doing these", "here's some fun ones" and so on.
  • "STOP DOING <EXERCISE>" - You want to make sure to play on your followers' fears of injuring themselves or doing something that isn't optimal, so pick some common exercises and make videos about why they're actually harmful or not good and shouldn't be done, or should only be done with certain modifications. These types of videos will be especially useful to you if your academic credential is physiotherapy related.
  • "YOU'RE DOING <EXERCISE> WRONG" - A variant on the above, these are your bread and butter "One Weird Trick But Totally Not A One Weird Trick" videos.
  • "THE TRUTH ABOUT <TOPIC>" - Or other "mythconceptions" themed videos. You can stretch these really far simply by constructing a strawman that borders on unrealistic and attacking it. These will be the main opportunity for you to demonstrate that you are "No Nonsense" to your followers - that you are there to dispel the ridiculous myths that plague the fitness industry for them.
  • In general, you should strive to fill your videos with as much information as possible. Simple anatomical and biological information is a great candidate for this. Use established but uncommonly known terms for things frequently but not overwhelmingly. Remember - Your target demographic considers itself to be above average intelligence and will eat up content that makes them feel smart. You want to be feeding them information that they feel they can show off when talking to others, or use as talking points if they get into an argument. They will often completely overlook the fact that this information has very little actionable, practical value to it because they feel smarter by knowing it.
Now, what is this all for? I said earlier that you will be able to leverage the relationship you create with your followers to empty their wallets. Let's put it all together.

Obviously, you need to have products to sell. These should be extremely high profit-margin items as much as possible. Branded supplements, training routines, and diet programs are top tier here. Supplements are dirt cheap to create and can be marked up substantially. Training routines and diet programs can effectively be created once and sold to (tens of) thousands of people at enormous profit for minimal work. You can also delve into training equipment, marked up with the value of your name.

Many of your followers will not purchase your products, and that is by design. Those that don't pay you directly serve as living, breathing advertisements to bring in others who will, and they will do it because you made them feel like you gave them everything they need for free. That is why the rapport and trust relationship is so important. Your goal is not simply to create or reel in customers - it is to create an army of free, "organic" advertising for your products. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful. When your followers are on fitness forums singing your praises, they drive more potential advertisers and customers towards you. And the whole time, they will be thanking you, not realizing that manipulating them into what they're doing is the real reason you did it. Every piece of content you've produced has been for the sole purpose of tricking people into selling themselves on either paying exorbitant prices for what you're selling, or being free advertising for you to find others that will.

The other way that you drive sales is through the good will factor. This is similar to how free-to-play games with microtransactions make some of their sales. Your followers will convince themselves that they owe you support (money) because of all the information (remember that last point from the YouTube section?) you've given them for free, out of the goodness of your heart. They might say things like "He told me all about this routine on his channel, but I bought it for the convenience and to support him". And then they will open their wallets and dump them into your bank account.

-

That was a bit of a long walk, wasn't it?

Do you remember what I asked you to ruminate on at the beginning?

  • Why would somebody sell training equipment equivalent to a $40 loadable dumbbell handle and ~$70 worth of weight plates, for $800?
  • Why would somebody sell a training plan that you can only access for a few months for $80, and unlimited access to the same training plan for $100?
You probably thought when you first read those questions that the answer was something like "Because they're a scumbag trying to rip people off". It is, but it's also not. The real answer is - Because they're a scumbag who knows how to manipulate people into being thankful that they were ripped off.

This is totally hypothetical, though. Totally.

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 d...